43.2 x 22.9 cm (17 x 9 in.)
Oil on canvas. Signed and dated lower right: "Loir Luigi"
Formerly acquired by the Richard Green Gallery in London
Originally from what was until 1867 the Austrian Empire, Luigi Loir was born into a family in the service of the Charles X’s daughters-in-law (Marie-Caroline de Bourbon and the Duchess of Angouleme,) exiled in the city of Gorritz, nicknamed the “Austrian Nice,” which was known as a royalist refuge. Young Luigi’s parents had followed the Bourbons in the Duchy of Parma, entered France in 1860. Luigi was only 15 years old when he decided to remain in Parma to study at the Academy of Fine Arts where his teachers rapidly noticed his gift for drawing and naturally rated him among the best students of his class. Three years later, he joined his father in Paris and became known for the realization of painted ceilings beside the illustrator Jean Pastelot (1820-1870), and then made a choice place for himself in Parisian society by working as an illustrator for the greatest authors of his time, including Jules Verne for his work, Voyages Extraordinaires, which appeared in 1882.
When Loir exhibited in the Paris Salon in 1865, he was only 20 years old. However five years later, during the 1870 Campaign, he enlisted in the 18th mobile Battalion of the Seine, an experience which deeply affected him. Upon returning to civil life, Loir tried to forget this painful period and hoped for the simple joy of the lively Parisian streets. In addition to the many official commissions which he honored, Loir also liked to paint subjects from daily life, lively boulevards and alleys. Café terraces seething with excitement captivated him. The streets of Paris constitute marvelous examples of the largest part of his production in which he could mix the most beautiful examples of Parisian historic architecture with the tranquility of life as it passed by.
“If Jean Berand painted the Parisians of Paris, Luigi Loir painted the Parisians’ Paris.” Théodore de Banville
Our work is an example from his more productive years. Luigi Loir focused on life in the vicinity of great monuments from the history of Paris. A subject which was dear to painters can be seen in the background of our composition. The Val de Grace, a 17th century church situated in the 5th arrondissement of Paris, had been known before the Revolution as the Royal Abbey of Val de Grace Church and had subsequently become a military hospital.
That we known several versions of our work on different supports illustrates the importance of the subject for the artist. A painted version of similar size is conserved in the La Salle University Art Museum in Philadelphia (ill. 1). Slight differences reside in the handling of the brush which is more precise than the looser touch in the American version. Other details are then apparent, including the dab of color in the little girl’s hat in the foreground and a few blue openings in the sky of our version.
The painter seems to have positioned his easel in the same spot at two different times of day: our canvas could be an afternoon version as opposed to one made at the beginning of the day in the Philadelphia version and in winter. A version in a private collection today presents the same street under snow (ill. 2). We also know a drawing by the artist (ill. 3), probably preparatory to our painting, which is conserved in a private collection and which has several compositional differences, notably in the organization of the figures which he might have seen when he did the drawing, but the placement has been changed in our painted version. Praised by the critics, Luigi Loir was soon very comfortable in his art. This view of the rue de la Santé was so appreciated that it was also engraved (ill. 4).
In a few brushstrokes, Loir sketched the silhouettes of passersby in the street. Our picture is a version painted from life in several distinct stages: the contours were carefully traced, and then the artist added color according to changes in the weather. Thus he could give life to this street from which a tranquil luminous post-war atmosphere emanates. Our work reflects the real interest, inherited from Impressionist techniques, in capturing the moment to fix on canvas.
Evidence of economic and social upheavals during the Belle Epoque during the era of industrialization, the new look of post-war Paris reinspired artists such as Luigi Loir, along with Toulouse Lautrec, Valadon, and Maurice Denis. Appointed a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1898, Luigi Loir would be represented by some great dealers, including the Bernheim-Jeune family who followed his work assiduously until his death in 1916.