1798 Charenton-Saint-Maurice - 1863 Paris
Oil on paper on canvas
80,5 x 66 cm
Seal of the Artist´s sale , lower right corner
Our Study of peonies, which bears the seal of Eugène Delacroix’s posthumous sale (February 17-19, 1864), is related to number 221 of this sale: « diverses toiles : études, esquisses et ébauches » ["Various canvases: studies, sketches and drafts"]. A catalog annotated by Moreau, kept at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, has a handwritten inscription under the number 221 which indicates the name of Andrieu as buyer (ill. 1). This same number 221 is repeated a few years later by Robaut as the number 1805 of his catalog raisonné : he gives more details concerning the subjects of these paintings and their purchasers: « Paysages et fleurs - Esquisses et ébauches ; toiles dimensions inconnues, en dix lots » ["Landscapes and flowers - Sketches and sketches; canvases dimensions unknown, in ten lots divided among several owners"] (ill. 2).
Our canvas was exhibited twice in the 1950s, in Paris and Rotterdam: the contributors to the exhibition catalogs indicate that it probably came from Mrs. Andrieu’s collection, Pierre Andrieu's wife. In Pierre Andrieu’s posthumous sale (May 6-7, 1892), there are two studies of peonies (lots 6 and 12) (ill. 3). The lot 12 was recently identified with another previously unpublished Study of peonies by Delacroix, in horizontal format, bearing a "No. 12" label pasted on the canvas at the bottom left, as well as an Andrieu sale’s stamp on the back of the canvas (ill. 4). Our Study of peonies, like the one identified as lot 12 of the Andrieu sale, very close stylistically, were probably part of the sketches that remained in the Delacroix’s workshop until his death, and this could explain why they are not signed. Pierre Andrieu, Delacroix’s friend and pupil, who had few financial resources, concentrated on the purchase of these works preciously kept by his master throughout his life, but unappreciated by the general public. The seal of Delacroix sale on the front of the work, just like the choice of the medium (a paper, often used for the execution of sketches from nature) proves the status of our peonies, considered as a simple study, and not as a finished work intended to be exposed. In addition to their affordable price, in Andrieu's eyes they undoubtedly had a purely sentimental value.
According to Arlette Sérullaz, our Study of peonies was bought by Louis de Launay (1860-1938) in 18991. Graduated from polytechnic and member of the Corps des Mines, Louis de Launay was Inspector General of the Mines, professor and engineer in Moulins2. He made many geological tours in France and abroad to study mining districts on site. This scholar, elected to the Academy of Sciences in 1912, was also a poet, historian and philosopher. His works, translated into several languages, have made his discoveries known. He also built up a collection of art, like his friend Etienne Moreau-Nélaton. Arlette Sérullaz reports that, in his office, drawings by Delacroix and Jean-François Millet stand alongside paintings by Fantin-Latour, Albert Besnard, Etienne Moreau-Nélaton, sculptures by Jules Dalou, Constantin Meunier, Carrier, Paulin or Barye, antique statuettes, and models in wax or terra-cotta that Louis de Launay had modeled with his hands. This enumeration allows us to appreciate the diversity of this great scientist’s interests, known for his "encyclopaedic, fertile and curious spirit, attracted by all fields of knowledge". Fine connoisseur and amateur of Delacroix, he made copies and reproductions on tracing paper after about a thousand drawings of the artist. At his death in 1938, our painting was transferred by inheritance to his daughter, who married Pierre-Eugène Fournier (1892-1972), inspector of Finances and governor of the Banque de France between 1937 and 1940, then director of the Control Service of the temporary administrators and chairman of the Management Board of the SNCF during the war, before pursuing a brilliant career in banking and the community.
Numerous studies of plants sprinkle Delacroix's youth notebooks, but it was not until 1833 that the painter signed and submitted his first flower painting (ill. 5). His repeated visits to the country aroused his curiosity in the matter. The painter, who appreciated the contact with nature, frequently revitalized himself, from 1844, in his house in Champrosay, on the edge of the Sénart forest, and also enjoyed his little Parisian garden, rue de Fürstenberg. Georges Sand reported during a stay of the artist at Nohant in 1845: « je le surpris dans une extase de ravissement devant un lis jaune dont il venait de comprendre la belle architecture, c’est le mot heureux dont il se servit.3 » ["I surprised him in an ecstasy of delight in front of a yellow lily which he had just understood the beautiful architecture, it is the happy word he used."] Delacroix demonstrates a real naturalistic curiosity: after his walks, he noted in his Journal, for example, the « profusion de fleurs énormes » ["profusion of enormous flowers"] or a « camélia d’une taille extraordinaire » ["camellia exceptionally large in size." ] The artist tells, on June 1st 1853: « En ouvrant la fenêtre de l’atelier le matin, toujours avec ce même temps brumeux, je suis encore enivré de l’odeur qui s’exhale de toute cette verdure trempée de goutte de pluie et de toutes ces fleurs courbées et ravagées, mais belles encore ». ["When I open the workshop’s window in the morning, always with the same foggy weather, I am intoxicated with the smell exhaling from all the greenery soaked with rain drops and from all these curved and devastated flowers, but still beautiful "]. We imagine the painter, seduced by the wet perfume of our peonies.
Our painting is part of a series of flower studies drawn and painted "from nature", undoubtedly preparatory to the series of five still lifes executed by Delacroix for the Salon at the end of the year 1848 and at the beginning of the year 1849.
Our work does not represent a bouquet carefully arranged in a vase, but rather scattered flowers, grouped without real staging: this beautiful bunch of open peonies, at the peak of their flowering, still seems rooted in a flowerbed, like the dahlias kept at the Hermitage (ill. 6). The peonies stand proudly, planted in a soil strewn with wilted leaves, while in the upper register, a few flower buds with cut stems float on a gray-blue dark background and saturate the space. Like another Dahlias Study from a private collection in New York (ill. 7), our work betrays, by its spontaneity and the vivacity of its treatment, the confused reality of the artist’s working sessions.
Our work presents the stylistic characteristics of Delacroix flower sketches made in the 1840s. We can find, in the Peony Study illustrated above (ill. 4) and in the Chrysanthemum Study kept in a Parisian collection (ill. 8), the same palette made of a shades of roses, mauves and gray-blue, the same lightness and the same unctuous glazes forming characteristic shadows. In these two studies, the painter also reworked the background after having executed the flowers, highlighting the patterns with some light gray touches (see details below). In our peonies, the use of a cold, intense light, almost supernatural, associated with a dark background, could evoke a night vision, and accentuates the striking aspect of this piece of nature taken in the moment.
Delacroix's flower studies give rise to large still lifes painted in the French tradition. Their decorative richness recalls the compositions of Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer (1636-1699): the Vase of flowers on a console (ill. 9), the Flower basket in a park (ill. 10), and the Fruit basket in a flower garden (ill. 11) were shown at the 1855 World Fair and kept in the artist’s studio until his death. A peony escaping from the overturned fruit basket in a park can be compared to our study (see details below). This is an accomplished work, but the comparison is interesting because we are tempted to think that our peonies, among other sketches, could have been used to achieve this masterpiece. The Metropolitan Museum's painting also demonstrates the artist's desire to create, as in our study, an overall dynamic: the artist pays attention to the succession of shapes and the luminous contrasts, opting for a particularly vigorous swirling movement.
Our peonies, which illustrate a favorite theme of Delacroix in the 1840s, offer an eloquent testimony to his freedom of expression and the intensity of his colors. We understand why his flowers studies have aroused the admiration of modern painters, such as Degas who owned several studies of flowers painted by Delacroix, Paul Gauguin who inserted a copy of the watercolor Dahlias in a vase in his album Noa-Noa, and finally Paul Cezanne who made a copy of the Louvre great watercolor.
1See her essay : Arlette Sérullaz, « Louis de Launay, hommes de sciences et amateur d’art », Bulletin de la Société des Amis du Musée National Eugène Delacroix, Paris, 2010, pp. 53-64.
3Georges Sand, « lettres d’un voyageur, à propos de botanique », second letter, April 20, 1868, Revue des deux mondes, Paris, 1868, vol. 75, pp. 577-578.
Vente Eugène Delacroix, 17-19 février 1864, probably part of lot 221 : « diverses toiles : études, esquisses et ébauches ».
Collection Pierre Andrieu.
Collection Louis de Launay (1860-1938), bought in1899.
His daughter Antoinette de Launay (1899- ?), married to Pierre-Eugène Fournier (1892-1972) (in 1954).
Private Collection, France
Chefs-d’œuvres des collections parisiennes : peintures et dessins de l’École française du XIXe siècle, dir. Jacques Wilhem (cat. exp., Paris, musée Carnavalet, décembre 1952- février 1953), Paris, 1952, n°37 : « Pivoines ».
Vier eeuwen stilleven in Frankrijk (Quatre siècles de nature morte en France) (cat. exp., Rotterdam, Boijmans van Beuningen, July to September 1954), Rotterdam, Boijmans, 1954, n°12 : « Les pivoines ».
The painting has been seen and fully accepted by Arlette Surullaz
Johnson, Lee, The Paintings of Eugene Delacroix: A Critical Catalogue, 1832-1863 Movable Pictures and Private Decorations, Published by Clarendon Press, 1986.
Related bibliography :
Delacroix, dir. Sébastien Allard (exh. cat., Paris, musée du Louvre, 29 March-23 July 2018), Paris, 2018.
Delacroix, Othoniel, Creten : des fleurs en hiver, dir. Christophe Leribault (exh. cat., Paris, musée national Eugène Delacroix, 12 December 2012-18 March 2013), Paris, 2012.
Delacroix, les dernières années, dir. A. Sérullaz, V. Pomarède, J. J. Rishel (exh. cat., Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, 7 April-20 July 1998, Philadelphia, Museum of Art, 10 September 1998-3 January 1999), Paris, Le Grand livre du mois, 1998.
Arlette Sérullaz, « Louis de Launay, hommes de sciences et amateur d’art », Bulletin de la Société des Amis du Musée National Eugène Delacroix, Paris, 2010, pp. 53-64.
Alfred Robaut, L’œuvre complet d’Eugène Delacroix, Paris, 1885, n°1805 : « Paysages et fleurs – esquisses et ébauches. / Toiles. – dimensions inconnues. – N°221 de la Vente posthume, en dix lots : 1,265 fr. à MM. De Calonne, Petit, Arosa, Marchal de Calvi, Burty, Ph. Rousseau, etc. »
ill. 4: Eugène Delacroix, Study of peonies, oil on canvas, 71.5 x 40 cm, private collection (part of lot 221 of the posthumous sale, No. 12 of the sale Andrieu.) label bearing the number 12 glued on the canvas (lower left).
stamp of the sale Andrieu (May 6 - 7, 1892) on the back of the canvas, private collection.
ill. 5: Eugène Delacroix,
Vase of flowers, 1833,
Oil on canvas, 57,7 x 48,8 cm,
Édimbourg, Scottish National Gallery.