Also included is an autograph letter by René Menard.
"Paris, February 19th, 1926. Dear Sir, My pictures intended for the Brussels exhibition left my studio yesterday. I would like to thank you for having left me my picture, “Bucolic” - which you just purchased - for this exhibition. I very much wish this canvas to be shown in Brussels. My paintings will be back at the end of March, and I will have yours taken to MM Personnaz and Gardin. The picture glass repaired. Please present my respects to Madame Carlos Mayer and accept my sincere regards. E.R. Menard. 126 Bd. de Montparnasse."
• Dr Carlos Mayer Collection, Buenos-Aires.
• Argentina, Private Collection.
1925, Brussels, Galeries des Artistes Français de Bruxelles.
Emile René Menard’s artistic vocation was evident at a young age and encouraged by his father who was Director of the Gazette des Beaux-Arts. The young man regularly stayed with him in Barbizon where Corot’s, Millet’s, Diaz’, and Daubigny’s painting were in keeping with his own sensitivities. The artist also inherited a fervent admiration of Antiquity from his uncle Louis Ménard, a pagan philosopher close to the Parnassian Movement. After training in William Bouguereau’s studio and leaving in 1880 for the Julian Academy, Menard exhibited in the Salon in 1883 for the first time.
René Ménard was a very likeable person, as jovial in his relationships as he was serious in his work. Camille Mauclair described him in 1914 in La Revue de l’art ancien et moderne as “a large vigorous man, with a ruddy complexion framed by a frizzy beard, sparkling, mischievous, ironic, good eyes, and a joyful healthy expression.” An Aesthete, he loved to surround himself with choice pieces, Persian tapestries or Medieval Italian stucco, Greek marbles, and Romanesque capitals. His career as a landscape painter illustrates a quest for classic perfection and a taste for an idealized Golden Age, the product of an independent spirit which drew freely from the great masters such as Poussin but made little reference to the torments of his time. Evoking Impressionism, Mauclair thus continues:
"It would seem that the recent quarrels on painting existed even less for René Ménard than for his friends. […] René Ménard was so classically oriented that he didn’t even notice all the feverish chaos which still endured…"
Even if René Ménard wished to interpret a dreamworld Antiquity, his landscapes are nonetheless reflections of attentive observation of nature by his poetic eye, as can be seen in numerous sketch books conserved by the Graphic Arts Department of the Louvre Museum. The artist traveled a lot, in the course of a career that led him to Sicily, Rome, Venice, and Ravenna, as well as Morocco, Algeria, Greece, and Palestine. The many sketches brought back from these travels were only transformed into paintings in the secret of his studio.
"I only really work at home, in my studio, in successive phases based on notes taken on-site, sketches caught at the fleeting moment when the intensity of the light completes the landscape. I then decompose it rapidly, according to its values and shades, going from the lightest to the darkest." (cited by Gaulis in L’Opinion, 1914).
Painted on the verso of a cut-down composition which figures a Carmelite nun next to a young girl in front of a window opening on to a park, our Bucolic fits into the corpus of these large Arcadian canvasses conceived in the studio. The title given by Ménard evokes Virgil’s Bucolics , which are themselves drawn from Greek pastoral poetry. Under a serene sky in the midst of a Mediterranean landscape traversed by a stream, a few cattle graze surrounded by shepherds. A perfect equilibrium flows from this unified conception: sky and earth form a harmonious setting where animals and humans are displayed far from any evocation of daily or familiar life. Other pictures which are very similar transmit this same serenity, such as Bucolic: Study for a Decoration painted in 1821 and today conserved in the Orsay Museum.
While Ménard’s early years were characterized by a smooth, spare, fluid surface, here the handling is livelier and reflects a freedom produced by maturity. The rich generous brushstroke makes the golden light of the end of the day vibrate. In the midst of the herd, a human figure is characteristic of Ménard’s conception: his age is eternal and reflects an artificially idealized humanity. Far from Genri Gervex’ nymphs or Paul Chabas beauties, Ménard’s young women have the detached hierarchism of Greek goddesses. One semi-nude leans over the stream to draw water; another in her supple tunic carries a jug on her head. The third has the discreet gracefulness of a chaste shepherdess. Beside them, a nude man is a reminder of the importance of the male figure in Ménard’s work in a period mainly versed in celebrating the “beautiful sex.”
The artist obviously was very attached to our Bucolic, which he sold to the Argentinan Carlos Mayer. After having been elected to the Brussels Academy of Fine Arts on November 20th, 1925, Ménard exhibited next to Aman Jean from March 2nd to 15th, 1926 at the Brussels Galeries des Artistes Français. As the autograph letter dated February 19th, 1926 demonstrates, he obtained Carlos Mayer’s authorization to present his picture at the Brussels exhibition before delivering it to him. Bucolic figures among a selection of oeuvres emblematic of the painter’s work: Pastorals; Shepherd in the Setting Sun; Bathers (Moonrise); Landscape from Antiquity…
“How can Menard’s poetics be summarized ? First of all, I would say a passion for nature, passion for beauty and a beautiful equilibrium… The love of good taste, grand taste, as Gustave Moreau said; a sense of modesty such as in the purety of the Greek nude - his ideal even though Menard found the means to add chastity to his figures; thus his personality stands out singularly from the rest of his generation.” (Georges Desvallières).
General Bibliography (Unpublished Work)
C. GUILLOT, “La quête de l’Antiquité dans l’œuvre d’Émile-René Ménard,” Bulletin de la Société d’Histoire de l’Art français, 1999, pp. 311-336.
André MICHEL, Peintures et pastels de Pierre Ménard, Paris, Armand Colin, 1923.
René Ménard. 1862-1930, exh. cat. Dieppe Château-Museum, 1969.