Albert BESNARD (Paris, 1849-1934)

At the Opera

60 x 50 cm. (23 58 x 19 1116 in.)
Before 1900. Oil on canvas. Signed lower left: A Besnard.

• Sale Buenos-Aires, J.-C. Naon and Cie, November 4th, 1997, lot 4.
• Sale Buenos-Aires, J.C. Naon and Cie, November 30th, 2011, lot 95.
• Chili, private collection.
• France, private collection.

Albert Besnard depicted women several times in their opera boxes, places of light and shadow. In these pictures, he always concentrated his attention on faces seen up close in a confined space. With a few variations, he reproduced the features of this same redhead at the Opera in an oil and pastel of similar dimensions (62 x 51 cm / 24 716 x 20 116 in., unknown location.) Already since Henner, red was highly prized by painters who saw the chance to emphasize the whiteness of their sitters’ skin.

The oil presented here shows us a woman in white gloves, leaning with her cheek on her left hand, while holding a pair of opera glasses in her right hand and letting the sound slip through her. (In the pastel, the opera glasses have been replaced by a fan.) A little further away, deepening the space, another spectatrice seen in profile is also equipped with binoculars. The picture is flooded with warm coppery light which seems to emanate from the main sitter’s wild hair and inflame her cheeks.

It is true that the painter habitually used light ingeniously to metamorphose everything. Here it serves in the transition from the auburn of her hair to the red at the back of the composition, so as to bring out the hues of the young woman’s vivid complexion deliberately accentuated by the heavy black fabric of a cape thrown over her shoulders. As a virtuoso thorough observer, Bitter has, in addition, juxtaposed similar women by modeling them somewhat: the whites of the corsage, flesh, and gloves; reds in the hair, face, and background.
Chantal Beauvalot

Bibliography of the Work:
Chantal BEAUVALOT, Christine GOUZI, Stéphanie CANTARUTTI et al., Albert Besnard (1849-1934). Modernités Belle époque, exhibition catalogue, Évian, Palais Lumière, Paris, Petit Palais, Somogy, 2016, p. 124, cat. 26, ill.

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