• France, Private Collection.
Émile René Ménard, Storm Effects, Coast of Provence, signed and dated 1928, oil on canvas, 105 x 201 cm. (3 ft. 5 5/16 in. x 6 ft. 7 ¼ in.) Paris, Orsay Museum, inv. RF1977-256.
Emile René Ménard’s art was shaped by a solid knowledge of ancient culture inherited from his father who was an art historian and editor of La Gazette des Beaux-Arts, and his uncle, a famous writer and philosopher who inspired the Parnassian movement. Ménard studied under the decorator Galand, and then Paul Baudry and Adolphe Bouguereau at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and finally at the Julian Academy. Although his first paintings were marked by direct references to the Bible or Antiquity, the painter evolved progressively towards the representation of a timeless universe which was influenced by his travels to Sicily, Greece, Palestine, and Italy, where lyrical pastoral themes evoked an ancient ideal age.
At the heart of an effervescent epoch characterized by the most diverse artistic trends, Ménard worked in a personal vein, marked by classical heritage as well as by a modernity which approached that of the Symbolists. A member of the Munich Secession, the painter participated in the Brussels Free Aesthetic of 1897, and then joined the “Black Band,” a protean movement which sought to respond to the luminous colored proliferation of Impressionism with a naturalistic soberness inherited from Courbet. For all that, Ménard did not disdain color, and, at the side of Albert Besnard, happily discovered pastels.
“He pushed the study of twilight hours further than anyone,” wrote Lucien Simon on the occasion of the retrospective of Ménard’s œuvre organized the year of his death at Charpentier Gallery. It is at the end of the day that the painter situates our picture, which is in line with Poussin’s historical landscapes and in the monumental vein of Puvis de Chavannes.
Our work may be the perfectly finished preparatory esquisse for a large canvas conserved in the Orsay Museum, unless the picture is a posterior enlarged version. In the center of the painting, a young shepherd plays the flute midst his sheep. The hilly Mediterranean landscape planted with green oaks descends to the sea; layers of mountains ring the horizon. The mysterious end of day atmosphere combines the shadows of a growing storm with pink, orange, and golden shards of sky. The scene is swiftly brushed with a stroke that evokes more than it defines, playing on complementary color contrasts to create relief and depth.
On many occasions, the painter made use of this storm effect, as in The Barrow (pastel, 46 x 61 cm. Briest Sale, Drouot Richelieu, June 13th, 1990, lot 197) and in the diptych of Pastoral Life (oil on canvas, 352 x 285 cm., Orsay Museum), a public commission for the Paris Law School. The figure of the shepherd caught in the poetry of twilight, along with the chosen chromatic scale, also makes our work comparable to the Shepherd at Sunset in the Brest Fine Arts Museum (pastel on paper laid down on canvas, 52.7 x 67 cm.).
Le mystère et l’éclat. Pastels du Musée d’Orsay, exh. cat. Paris, RMN, 2008.
Autour des Symbolistes et des Nabis du Musée: les peintres du rêve en Bretagne, exh. cat. Brest Museum of Fine Arts, 2006.
Jean-David JUMEAU-LAFOND, Les peintres de l’âme, le Symbolisme idéalisme en France, exh. cat. Brussels, Ixelles Museum, 1999, pp. 100‑104.
Catherine GUILLOT, “La quête de l’Antiquité dans l’œuvre d’Émile René Ménard”, Bulletin de la Société d’Histoire de l’Art français, 1999, p. 331 sq.
André MICHEL, Peintures et pastels de Pierre Ménard, Paris, Armand Colin, 1923.