Alphonse OSBERT (Paris 1857-1939)


24.6 x 41.2 cm (9 1116 x 16 ¼ in.)

Oil on canvas.
On verso of canvas: Signed, dated, titled, and numbered: n°294 / A.Osbert / Méditation/1907.

• Belgium, Private Collection.

Bibliography (Unpublished Work):
• Véronique Dumas, Le peintre symboliste Alphonse Osbert (1857-1939), Doctoral Thesis in Art History, Blaise-Pascal University, Clermont-Ferrand II, 1999.
Le symbolisme en Europe, Paris, Grand Palais, May-July, 1976,

“Working, producing, and creating is beneficient.
It’s somewhat like seeing one’s soul in a mirror
And the dream in which one would like to believe float past…”

Trained by Henri Lehmann in the Fine Arts, Alphonse Osbert did not, for all that, heed his master’s advice when it came to following in Leon Bonnat’s tracks. Upon arriving in Spain, the young painter found inspiration in the Old Masters such as Velazquez and Ribera whom he copied assiduously, especially for their rendering of anatomical power. In addition to such observation, the trip was even more enriching: it revealed light to him. By working on the relationship between light and spirituality, Osbert really found his path and assumed an undeniable role as one of the pioneers in Symbolist painting.

The year 1892 marked the beginning of his triumph. Recognized and encouraged by critics, the artist progressively developed his own poetic conception of landscape as a means to express the gentleness of Nature and the repose of souls. Sensitive to silence, he immerses his work in mysterious effects whose calm peaceful skies evoke a certain nostalgia through the image of suspended time. With a stroke as skillful as it is precise, the artist gradually refines his lines, makes figures paler, and delicately traces their contours.

Realized in 1907, our work falls within the artist’s first actually Symbolist attempts with his increasing interest in light effects as a means to communicate an emotion or sentiment. By going every year to Normandy, whence his parents came, Osbert was interested in abandonned landscapes and admired their silent beauty at each time of day. Thus, the titles of his works are often precise: among the many entries that he sent to the Salon of French Artists, can be found Evening Calm in 1919, and Solitude, Sunset, in 1922. As if covered in a fine silk veil, the pastel hues in his works attenuate their powerful coloring in keeping with a sensation of gentle well-being reinforced by the hazy blurred line of the horizon.

His work also expresses a pantheistic sense of Nature. Softly flowing water occupies a prominent place in his œuvre as a calm reminder of passing time along with the sweetness of a shared moment. His contemplative vision of the elements allows him to transform his works into sacred sanctuaries in which trees rise and figures are as fixed as statues. The figures, almost systematically female, are not specifically identifiable : they are the artist’s priestesses. Agents of solitude and poetry in the service of reflection, they are also allegories of the senses : sometimes alone, sometimes multiple, they can thus illustrate touch through their delicate movements, or, as in our work, hearing, thanks to their enchanting lyre which evokes the gentleness of songs soothing the spectator who is invited to participate in the artist’s reverie. As if emanating from a dream, the artist clothes his muses in white robes, the color of purity, incarnating Meditation and magnifying the effects of sun and water on the elements.

Widely recognized during his lifetime, Osbert frequented the most eminent end-of-the-century painters, including Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Maurice Denis, and Emile Bernard. Loyal to many artists’ gatherings which aimed to bring a new spiritual and decorative dimension to art, such as in The Feather, The Test, or the Rose+Cross, Osbert participated in the most important events and thus created a choice place for himself in the artistic scene. His talent made him famous throughout France and beyond its borders: Boston, Saint Petersburg, Tokyo, Madrid, Liverpool, Brussels, Milan, as well as Riga in Latvia where he was honored with a gold medal.

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