Coquelin Cadet: One of the 19th Century’s Greatest Muses

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In this dazzling highlight from Sotheby’s European Art sale on 24 May, the audience of Jean Béraud’s Le Monologue is enrapt by celebrated actor Ernest-Alexandre-Honoré Coquelin (1848-1909). Known as Coquelin Cadet (the younger) to differentiate him from his older brother, Benoît-Constant Coquelin (1841-1909), he is considered one of the greatest theatrical figures of the late nineteenth century and was a muse for countless artists. Click ahead to discover more about Coquelin Cadet through the works he inspired some of Béraud’s contemporaries, including Auguste Rodin, Edouard Vuillard and Anders Zorn, to create.

European Art
24 May | New York

Coquelin Cadet: One of the 19th Century’s Greatest Muses

  • Title page featuring a drawing of Coquelin Cadet, from J. Rouvier, Oh! Le Monologue!: Monocoquelogue dit par Coquelin Cadet, Paris, 1883.
    Throughout the 1880s, Coquelin Cadet published and performed a series of widely popular comedic monologues, making him a sought-after addition to elegant evening entertainments. Much like Béraud, Coquelin Cadet was a keen observer of contemporary life and was often described as both a great actor and flâneur. He translated his impressions of modern life into one-man performances, where intimate conversation was heightened by extravagant gestures and body movements.  

  • A photograph of Coquelin Cadet, from La Comédie Française 1860-1880, Librarie D’Art, Ludovic Baschet, Editeur, Paris, 1880.
    Coquelin Cadet's theatrical abilities were enhanced by his distinct physical appearance. A contemporary profile described his “small green eyes constantly on the look-out from their sockets,” and a “large mouth, with a toothy smile that went from ear to ear when he laughs,” as well as his anvil square chin and a lanky body which seemed to be made of mismatched parts but moved with a surprising fluidity (as translated from the French, Angelo Mariani, Figures contemporaines tirées de l'Album Mariani, Paris, 1894, n.p.).

  • Anders Zorn, Coquelin Cadet, 1889, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm,
    Donated in 1983 by Bo Lindh through Friends of Nationalmuseum.
    While not conventionally handsome, Coquelin Cadet possessed a magnetism which captivated Béraud and is captured in a number of other contemporary portraits by artists, the long list including Émile Friant, Anders Zorn, Auguste Rodin and Édouard Vuillard.

  • Auguste Rodin, Monumental Head of Pierre de Wissant, circa 1886-1887, Musée Rodin, Paris,
    Gift of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation, 1974.
    Coquelin Cadet is believed to be the model for Auguste Rodin’s Head of Pierre de Wissant, his distinct physiology and trained ability to hold an exaggerated pose providing endless inspiration (Albert E. Elsen with Rosalyn Frankel Jamison, Rodin’s Art: The Rodin Collection of Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University, New York, 2003, p. 141).

  • © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
    (Left) Édouard Vuillard, Coquelin Cadet in “L’Ami Fritz,” circa 1890-1891, Musée d’Orsay, (on deposit at the Département des arts graphiques du Musée du Louvre)

    (Right) Édouard Vuillard, Coquelin Cadet in Character, 1894, Art Institute of Chicago.
    Édouard Vuillard painted Coquelin Cadet numerous times, and the actor was among his first patrons. By their association with such widely celebrated figures in their compositions, artists, including Béraud, easily invited critical response and popular attention.

  • Courtesy of Sotheby’s, Inc. © 1989
    Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, A Portrait of the French Actor Ernest Coquelin Cadet, 1906.
    This intimate portrait by Joaquín Sorolla shows Coquelin at the age of 58. Painted in Paris in 1906, it depicts Coquelin wearing the Légion d’Honneur, an honor that Sorolla had received that same year.  

  • Jean Béraud, Le Monologue (Detail), 1882. Estimate $400,000–600,000.
    In the present work, Béraud captures Coquelin Cadet in full performance, his ungloved hand emphatically gesturing with mouth open in oration, compelling each guest, even those far in the background, to peer forward; their open smiles and laughs hidden by handkerchiefs prove the effect that this animated actor has made on his rapt audience.   

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