An autograph letter by René Ménard is included with the painting:
« Paris le 19 février 1926 Cher monsieur, mes tableaux destinés à l’Exposition de Bruxelles ont quitté hier mon atelier. Je vous remercie de m’avoir laissé pour cette exposition mon tableau « Bucolique » que vous venez d’acheter. Je désirais beaucoup que cette toile figure à Bruxelles. Mes tableaux seront de retour fin mars et je ferai porter de suite votre tableau chez MM Personnaz et Gardin. La glace réparée du tableau. Veuillez présenter à Madame Carlos Mayer mes respectueuses hommages et croyez à mes sentiments les meilleurs. E. R. Ménard. 126 Bd de Montparnasse »
(“Paris, February 19th, 1926 Dear Sir, My pictures, intended for the Brussels Exhibition left my studio yesterday. Thank you for having left my painting “Bucolic,” which you just bought, for the exhibition. I really wished to have this canvas figure in Brussels. My pictures will be back at the end of March, and I will take your picture right away to Mr. Personnaz’ and Mr. Gardin’s. The picture glass repaired. Please pay my respects to Madame Carlos Mayer and accept my best regards. E. R. Ménard. 126 Bd. De Montparnasse”)
• Dr Carlos Mayer Collection, Buenos-Aires.
• Argentina, Private Collection.
1925, Brussels, Galleries of French Artists in Brussels.
Manifested at a very young age, Emile René Ménard’s artistic vocation was encouraged by his father, Director of the Gazette des Beaux-arts. Together, the young man and his father regularly stayed in Barbizon where paintings by Corot, Millet, Diaz, and Daubigny struck a chord with his own sensitivity. The artist also inherited a fervent admiration for Antiquity from his uncle, Louis Ménard, a pagan philosopher close to the Parnassian movement. After training in William Bouguereau’s studio, and then from 1880 at the Julian Academy, Ménard exhibited in the Salon for the first time in 1883.
As jovial in his relationships as he was serious in his work René Ménard had an endearing personality. “He was a large vigorous man, a face with a lot of color and framed by a frizzy beard, mischievous twinkling eyes which were both ironical and kind, a joyful, healthy expression,” as Camille Mauclair described him in 1914 in La Revue de l’art ancien et moderne. An aesthete, he liked to surround himself with choice pieces, Persian rugs or medieval Italian stuccos, Greek marble sculptures, and Romanesque capitals. His career as a landscapist illustrates a quest for classical perfection and a taste for an ideal Golden Age, the product of a spirit of independence inherited freely from great masters like Poussin, but also little taking into account the torments of his time. Evoking Impressionism, Mauclair continued thus:
“It seems as if the recent quarrels on painting existed even less for René Ménard than for his friends […] René Ménard is so classical that he hasn’t even noticed all the feverish disorder that still continues…”
If René Ménard wished to transcribe an Antiquity imagined in dreams, his landscapes are no less reflections of nature attentively observed by his poetic eye, as can be seen in the many sketchbooks conserved in the Louvre Graphic Arts Department. The artist traveled a lot, in the course of a career that led him to Sicily, Rome, Venice, and Ravenna, as well as to Morocco, Algeria, Greece, and Palestine. The numerous sketches he brought back were only transformed into pictures in the secret of his studio.
“I only really worked at home, in my studio, by successive stages, on notes taken outside, on sketches captured at a fleeting instant when the intensity of the light completed the landscape. Then I decomposed it rapidly, from its values, its shades, going from lightest to darkest.” (cited by Gaulis in L’Opinion , 1914).
Painted on the verso of a cropped composition which figured a Carmelite nun next to a young girl in front of a window open onto a park, our Bucolic fits into the corpus of these large Arcadian canvases conceived in the studio. The title given by Ménard evokes Virgil’s Bucolics, which themselves were taken from Greek pastoral poetry. Under a serene sky, in the middle of a Mediterranean landscape crossed by a stream, a few cows pass surrounded by shepherds. From the unified conception is derived perfect equilibrium: the sky and land form a harmonious setting where animals and men spread out far from all evocation of daily or familiar life. Other very closely related pictures transmit the same serenity, such as Bucolic: Study for Decoration, painted in 1821 and today conserved in the Orsay Museum..
If Ménard’s first years were characterized by a smooth, sparing, and fluid use of materials, the handling here is livelier and displays a freedom offered by maturity. The rich generous brushstroke makes the golden late afternoon light vibrate. In the middle of the herd, the human figure is characteristic of Ménard’s conception; it presents eternal age, the reflection of an ideal artificial humanity. Far from the nymphs of Henri Gervex or Paul Chabas’ beauties, Ménard’s young women have the detached conventionality of Greek goddesses. One of them who is half nude leans over the stream to draw water; another, in her supple tunic, carries a jug on her head. The third has the discreet grace of pastural chastity. By their sides, a nude man is a reminder of the importance of male figures in Ménard’s work in an era especially versed in celebrating the “fair sex.”
The artist manifestly was very attached to our Bucolic which he sold to the Argentinan Carlos Mayer. After having been elected to the Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels on November 20th, 1925, Ménard exhibited from March 2nd to 15th, next to Aman-Jean in the Galleries of French Artists in Brussels. As an autograph letter dated February 19th, 1926, attests, he received permission for Carlos Mayer to present his picture at the Brussels exhibition before delivering it to him. Bucolic figured there in the midst of a selection of emblematic oeuvres of the painter’s work: Pastorale, Shepherd in the Setting Sun, Bathers (Moonrise), Antique Landscape…
“How to summarize Ménard’s poetics? First of all, I would say passion for nature, for beauty and beautiful equilibrium…Love of good taste, great taste as Gustave Moreau said; a sense of modesty such that as the purity of the Greek nude, which for that matter was his ideal, Ménard found a way to add chastity to his figures; thus his personality conspicuously stands out from 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. Château-Musée de Dieppe, 1969.