Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer (Alger, 1865 - 1953, le Vésinet)

Portrait of Léon Bourgeois

45 x 35 cm. (18 18 x 13 ¾ in.)

Pastel on paper

Dedicated, signed and dated to M. Léon Bourgeois / with sincere and sincere cordiality / L. L. Dhurmer / 1901 lower left

• Léon Bourgeois (1851-1925) to his wife ;
• Sotheby’s, London, March 26th, 1980, lot 100 ;
• England, Private Collection.

L. Lévy-Dhurmer, [exhibition], Georges Petit Gallery, Paris, 1896.
Exposition des oeuvres du maître français Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer, Brussels, Gallery of French Artists, Dec. 20th, 1927- Jan. 3rd, 1928.
Autour de Lévy-Dhurmer: visionnaires et intimistes en 1900, [exh. cat.] Paris, Grand Palais, March 3rd, 1973, Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris, 1973.

Painter, sculptor, and ceramicist, Lucien Levy-Dhurmer was a polyvalent artist. Trained at the Municipal School for Sculpture and Drawing in the 11th Arrondissement of Paris, the young artist followed the instruction of Raphael Collin (1850-1916) and Albert-Charles Wallet (1852-1918), both of whom had been students of the famous Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889) whom he admired, and whose Birth of Venus he reproduced for his first exhibition at the Salon of French Artists. For a while he was interested in the art of ceramics by passing some time at the Clement Massier’s faïence manufactory who had founded the modern ceramic industry in Vallauris. He also researched the effects of metallic reflections on faïence.
He exhibited periodically at the Salon of French Artists starting in 1882, mainly with paintings, but also pastels, a technique in which the artist felt completely fulfilled. Furthermore his talent was applauded at the collective exhibition of Peintres de l’âme (Painters of the Soul) in 1896 in Paris, with a choice position among his eminent contemporaries such as Emile Gallé (1846-1904), Carlos Schwabe (1866-1926) and Alphonse Osbert (1857-1939).

The artist’s encounter with the poet Georges Rodenbach (1855-1898) marked a definite turning point in his career. Thanks to Rodenbach, Lucien Lévy, now Lévy-Dhurmer as he had added his mother’s maiden name to his, was able to take advantage of his first monographic exhibition. Here his talent as a draughtsman was fully revealed and instantly made him famous.
In addition to the exhibitions dedicated to him, the artist also took on a lot of private commissions. He did the portrait of his friend Rodenbach, the poet Renée Vivien, and important political figures of his time, of which our portrait is an example. It depicts Léon Bourgeois (1851-1925), a friend, patron and especially, an eminent politician who was the French Prime Minister from November 1st, 1895 to April 29th, 1896. Bourgeois also was one of the founding fathers of the Society of Nations, and decorated with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1920.

In addition to his allegorical figures such as Florence, Levy-Dhurmer’s private commissions illustrate the artist’s virtuosity in the art of the portrait and the psychological verity which emanates from his sitters. In our pastel, the artist concentrates on depicting Mr. Bourgeois’ social intelligence by giving particular attention to how he handles the gaze. From behind the narrow lenses of the sitter’s glasses, the calm benevolent gaze instantly conveys bonds of friendship which existed between the two men.
Here a profound sense of peaceful tranquility exudes from the artist’s own poetic universe. The sitter appears midst lively multicolor lines in pastel which are carefully scattered around his face like confetti. He thus seems caught in a whirlwind of color which is reminiscent of the artist’s mysterious universe which can be found in most of his portraits influenced by the Preraphaelites and the Italian Renaissance.

The artist’s palette grew lighter with time. As in his pastel Self-Portrait, his sitters came to life in a fugitive, hardly intelligible, almost unreal vision. Irradiated in sunlight, the sitter seems to bathe in a halo of light like an apparition. The artist’s mastery of pastels lets him render fabrics: clothes are barely sketched through broad black strokes and flesh is worked in stumped hatching which creates a vaporous almost evanescent blurr which spreads to the sitter.

You certainly know, Sir, what the aesthetic character of the Rose+Cross is; you only have to write to me in February then, and I will go invite your works to your place (…)”

Although cordially invited by the famous Josephin Peladan, the artist never exhibited at the Salon fo the Rose+Cross. Daily themes, realistic depictions, or those straight out of a dream, Levy-Dhurmer’s mystical universe never ceased to fascinate his contemporaries, including the artists Emile Bernard and Gustave Moreau whom he had met through Rodenbach.
Levy-Dhurmer had a particular predilection for using pastels. The harmony and intensity of the colors they brought out led to many commissions right up until his death at the age of 88 years old.
transl. chr

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