Wednesday, August 26, 2015

213. A Summer Miscellany: La Peste

Visiting Paris, you might want to stroll through the Musée d'Orsay, looking for pictures by, for example, Ricketts and Shannon.

The museum owns an oil painting by Ricketts, catalogued as 'La Peste'. The picture (114 x 165 cm) is signed in the lower right hand corner with Ricketts's initials 'C.R.'. 

Charles Ricketts, 'La peste' (painting) [Musée d'Orsay, Paris]
The catalogue does not mention a date, but informs us that the painting was part of the famous collection of Edmund Davis, who in 1915 donated it to the Musée du Luxembourg, also in Paris. It then started a long, and perhaps typically French tour around the city, being moved from one museum to another, - the Jeu de Paume in 1922 and the Musée National d'Art Moderne in 1946. Later it was allocated to the Louvre, and ended up in the Musée d'Orsay in 1980.

The painting was done in 1911 and its English title is 'The Plague'. Paul Delaney described the scene as 'blind victims groping their way among prostrate bodies of the dead and dying'. In his biography of Ricketts, Delaney included an illustration of it. Davis had offered the painting to The Tate in London first, but it had been refused.

I have never seen the original on display; the museum's website does not provide information on the painting being on view or not; and it is a pity that the museum's catalogue record has not been kept up to date.

The same goes for a painting by Shannon in the Musée d'Orsay. This is a portrait of 'The Sculptress (Mrs. Hilton Young)' that has been catalogued as 'Une Statuaire, Miss Bruce'. The painting dates from 1907 and, in 1909, was bought from the artist by the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris. Its journey from one museum to another was almost identical to that of 'The Plague'. The museum's collection also holds a fascinating oil sketch for the same painting.

Charles Shannon, ''The Sculptress (Mrs. Hilton Young) [Musée d'Orsay]
Only the faces (of the model, of her mirror image, and that of her clay model) have not been worked out, but the composition is almost identical to that of the finished painting. 

Kathleen Bruce had studied sculpture with Rodin. Shannon fell in love with her in 1906, and painted her likeness a few times. She, in turn, made statuettes of both Ricketts and Shannon. She married R.F. Scott, the explorer of the Antarctic. He died in 1912, and ten years later she married the politician Edward Hilton Young, and when Young was created Baron Kennet, she came to be known as Baroness Kennet. She had three names: Bruce, Young, Kennet - no wonder cataloguers have been confused.

It would be nice to see the painting with the sketch alongside one day at the museum, or in another museum.