Alphonse OSBERT (1857-1939)

The Morning Prayer

40.2 x 27.2 cm. (15 13/16 x 10 11/16 in.)

1905
Oil on canvas

Signed, dated, titled and dedicated, lower right: À ma fille chérie / Cette prière du matin en souvenir de sa première communion / 8 juin 1905 / A. Osbert [To my darling daughter / This morning prayer as a souvenir of her First Communion / June 8th, 1905 / A. Osbert]

Provenance :
• France, Private Collection.

Bibliography (unpublished work) :
• Le symbolisme en Europe, May-July 1976, Grand Palais
• Véronique Dumas, Le peintre symboliste Alphonse Osbert (1857-1939), Doctoral Thesis in Art History, Blaise Pascal - Clermont-Ferrand II University, Clermont-Ferrand, 1999.
“Working, producing and creating is good for one.
It’s a little bit like seeing one’s soul in a mirror
And seeing the passing dream in which one likes to believe …”

Trained by Henri Lehmann at the School of Fine Arts, Osbert nonetheless did not follow his master’s advice in terms of following the path opened by Leon Bonnat. By going to Spain, the young painter found inspiration in the Old Masters such as Velasquez and Ribera whom he copied assiduously, especially in the rendering of the power of anatomies. Beyond these observations, the trip turned out to be even more enriching: it revealed light to him. By working on the relationship between light and spirituality, Osbert really found his way and his place as undeniably one of the pioneers of Symbolist painting. The year 1892 marked the beginning of his triumph. Acclaimed and defended by the critics, the artist gradually developed his own poetic conception of landscape as a means to express Nature’s tranquility and the restfulness of the spirits. Sensitive to silence, he immersed his work in mysterious effects in which throughout the image, calm soothing skies evoke a suspended moment, a certain nostalgia.

His works are the silent depiction of dreams and emotions suspended in time. In choosing graceful female figures, Osbert evokes gentleness, while the curved lines evoke the calm and tranquility of peaceful havens in which they appear. Throughout his painting, Osbert seeks an aesthetic inclusive of the environment which approaches pious emotion. In this passion for sensitive painting, lines and colors interpret a form of idealistic and spiritual imagery in which figures resemble priestesses incarnating an invitation to meditation.

In our oneiric landscape probably inspired by the area around Vichy, an inexhaustible source of themes for his landscapes (ill. 1), the female figure is depicted in a three-quarter view, her hands crossed on her bosom, and head turned towards the sky, as if called to meditate. In a line as skillful as it is precise, the artist gradually refines his lines, makes his figures paler, and delicately traces contours.

This work constitutes sensitive evidence of the tenderness between the artist and his daughter realized as a souvenir of her First Communion. Beyond being just a painter, the artist becomes a poet by revealing his dreams, using Nature as a reflection of the state of his soul and his pious sentiments. The lines play a major expressive role in the artist’s work: horizontal lines express restfulness and harmony, whereas vertical lines illustrate the bond between earth and heaven, here between his daughter and God.

Osbert worked from life, evoking here his daughter’s features by pastel coloring between shades of mauve and blue, a hue which was omnipresent in his work (ill. 2). Like a few of his contemporaries, such as his friend Alexandre Séon (1855-1977), Osbert developed and applied his own chromatic symbolism, and only worked with hues which let him express his inner emotions. Thus he hoped to touch the viewer’s soul. Blue, considered the deepest color, is the symbol of melancholy, white that of purity and used here to incarnate his daughter’s innocence and youth, and green is hope. Caught between sunrise or sunset, between silence and contemplation, Osbert’s works systematically seem like an Arcadian dream of an ideal world in which all material detail is superfluous.

From its discovery in 1888 to his death in 1939, Alphonse Osbert remained very attached to Symbolism. Broadly acclaimed during his lifetime, he frequented the most famous end-of-the-century painters, including Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Maurice Denis, and even Emile Bernard. Loyal to many artists’ groups which aimed to give art a new spiritual and decorative dimension, including La Plume [The Feather ], L’Epreuve [The Test] and the Rose+Croix [Rose+Cross], Osbert participated in the most important events and created a choice place for himself on the artistic scene. His talent earned him fame throughout France and beyond its borders: Boston, Saint Petersburg, Tokyo, Madrid, Liverpool, Brussels, Milan, as well as Riga in Lithuania where he distinguished himself by winning a gold medal.

We would like to thank Madame Valerie Dumas for having confirmed the authenticity of our work which will be included in the catalogue raisonné being prepared on the artist.

M.O.

See more