• France, Private Collection.
At the age of twenty-seven, Henri Joseph Harpignies abandoned a career as an industrial merchant in order to follow the life of an artist. He cut his teeth painting from nature with the painter Jean Achard, then finished his training in Rome. Back in France in 1852, he settled in Paris where his qualities as a painter rapidly assured his reputation. His long career, crowned with constant success, blossomed in watercolor painting which he practiced with great freedom.
Enamoured with the countryside, in constant contact with nature, Harpignies roamed through many French regions. One could find this fervent admirer of Corot in the forest of Fontainebleau even as he preserved a personal style which was independent of the Barbizon School. In search for a place to retire not far from Paris, Harpignies discovered the Allier in 1869. He stayed in Hérisson every year until 1879, the date at which he acquired the property of La Trémellerie in Saint-Privé, in the Yonne, on the banks of the Loing. The artist spent every summer until his death at Saint-Privé, ideally situated between the valleys of the Allier, the Aumance, and the Nièvre. This jovial man who was constant in friendship, was also a wise teacher and welcomed many students to his home.
Harpignies painted this watercolor one year after he settled at La Trémellerie. At sunset, the artist posed his easel along the banks of the Loing. Behind the apparent freedom of execution lies careful construction. The sky occupies a large part of the landscape in shades of light hues varying from blue to yellow, on the denser horizon appear indigo clouds. Two converging diagonals punctuate the foreground: the Loing, in which the last hours of the day are reflected, and a country track bounded by an embankment on which is sketched the silhouette of a fisherman. The artist, who worked with a restrained palette, marries Veronese green here with emerald green, muted by mixing with natural sienna. A few elongated trees suggest the depth and confer vertical balance to the composition.
Among the many views realized by Harpignies in the neighborhood of Saint-Privé, our watercolor can be compared with the oil on canvas conserved in the Museum of Fine Arts in Reims, From Saint-Privé to Bléneau – souvenir of the Yonne. In a similar ambience, under a vast limpid sky, a female silhouette moves away from the viewer along a track bordered by an embankment, in the heart of a landscape characteristic of this region which was so dear to Harpignies.
Jean-Louis BALLERET, De Corot à Balthus, Paris, Cercle d’art, 1997.
Catalogue de l’exposition de 25 tableaux, 40 aquarelles de Harpignies présentés par Lucien Moline dans les salons du Grand Hôtel de Roubaix, Roubaix, 1928.
Paul GOSSET, Henri Harpignies, peintre paysagiste français, s.l., 1982.
Henri-Joseph Harpignies paintings and watercolors. A Loan Exhibition, Memphis, The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, 1978.
Harpignies, exh. cat. Maubeuge, Fercot-Delmotte Museum, 1977.
Henri Harpignies, 1819-1916, exh. cat. Valenciennes, Museum of Fine Arts, 1970.