An Artist’s Afternoon on the Banks of the Seine

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A tour-de-force of 19th-century painting, Marie-François Firmin-Girard’s Le dimanche au Bas-Meudon presents an unprecedented opportunity for collectors to acquire a masterpiece of the era. The painting is a celebration of life during the Belle Époque, and this artist leaves no component unexplored, from the still lifes on each table top to the faces, gestures and costumes of friends and family. The painting is also in original, untouched condition, and as far as is known, has never before been reproduced in colour. Click ahead to discover more about this painting through its fascinating details. –Mark Buck

European Art
21 November | New York

An Artist’s Afternoon on the Banks of the Seine

  • Marie-François Firmin-Girard, Le dimanche au Bas-Meudon. Estimate $250,000–350,000.
    Le dimanche au Bas-Meudon   is an ambitious, panoramic canvas first presented by Firmin-Girard at the Salon of 1884, where it was so well received that he chose to exhibit it again at Paris’s Exposition Universelle of 1889. Unseen in public for well over a century, the reappearance of Le dimanche au Bas-Meudon provides fresh insight into the work of Firmin-Girard and, as was likely his aim, invites an appreciation of the pleasures of Paris and its environs during the artist’s lifetime. 

  • Bas-Meudon
    Bas-Meudon, a suburb of Paris, was frequented by many artists, including the Impressionists. Alfred Sisley's La Seine au bas-Meudon, painted in the autumn of 1878, possesses all of the hallmarks of a great Impressionist landscape, with the light reflecting off the water and filtering through the clouds. While Sisley positions himself in the hills looking back at La Pêche Miraculeuse, Firmin-Girard’s perspective is anchored by the vibrant group of Parisians escaping the hustle of the city and enjoying a leisurely afternoon in the suburbs. 

  • La Pêche Miraculeuse
    In Le dimanche au Bas-Meudon, Firmin-Girard illustrates the crowds that gather on a late summer Sunday afternoon at the riverside brasserie, La Pêche Miraculeuse. Mentioned in the legendary memoir A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway loved to visit for the fried goujons and white wine. The restaurant was a magnet for Parisian artists and writers who enjoyed the summertime ritual of visiting this rural escape once or twice per week. 

  • L’homme orchestre
    One of the central characters in the scene is l’homme orchestre, the busker piled high with drums and cymbals, bells hanging from his hat and a pan flute strapped under his chin, playing the hurdy-gurdy. A young girl, perhaps his daughter, passes a seashell in front of patrons and collects tips to confirm their appreciation. In the late 19th Century, l’homme orchestre became a popular subject (the term was officially recognised the year of this painting), perhaps because of the compelling psychological, socio-economic and theatrical tensions that he arouses.

  • The Artist’s Friends and Family
    Considering every possible detail in this composition, Firmin-Girard included his own parents, son and daughter, who is reaching down to pet a white cat. A poem published upon its exhibition at the Salon suggests that a number of the figures in the scene are known artists and friends of artist, such as Paul Vayson, Prosper Galerne and Paul Sain.   

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