A couple of weeks ago in Annecy, I bought my first three paintings! The inspiration for this exhibition originally stemmed from Annecy, so it is only appropriate that the first three paintings of my collection are bought there :)).
Around six years ago now, in 2015, my family and I were holidaying in Annecy. Whilst walking in the Old Town, we found ourselves caught in the rain (although Annecy usually has beautiful weather); the next thing we did was seek some shelter. Luckily for us, there was an antique art gallery just across the street.
I distinctly remember walking into the old shop filled with oil paintings, furniture, medals, and ornate frames. This was before I really developed an interest in art or started visiting museums, so the atmosphere of the gallery was an unfamiliar one. But the owner was extremely friendly and knowledgeable. He told us about his collection: stories about the individual artists, their styles and quirks, how to recognise their idiolects in paint. My parents ended up buying two beautiful oil paintings in his gallery: one by Léon Huber (Paris, 1858 - 1929) and the other by Eugène Pechaubes (Patin, 1890 - Paris, 1967).
Fast forward almost four years to 2018 and I am on my gap year working at McMillan Fine Art, a fine art gallery specialising in eighteenth and nineteenth century European oil paintings. I showed the owners at McMillan the two paintings my parents bought in Annecy (they needed a clean and new frames) and Cameron immediately recognised the artists! He asked how much we paid for them; and then told me that in London, these paintings could go for two or three times the prices in Annecy. Thus started a little dream of mine to go around Europe and buy paintings to then resell in London - which is what I am doing this summer!
I found the old receipts (from six years ago!) and called the gallery in Annecy. The gentleman was still dealing paintings there. Two weeks later I was back in his gallery. I stayed for a few days, looked at the paintings carefully, and consulted with the McMillan gallery owners back in London. The gentleman in Annecy had some beautiful pieces, and I ended up walking away with three new paintings - my first purchases as an art dealer! Here they are.
Theodore Weber (Leipzig, 1838 - Paris, 1907), Marine - Scène de Gros Temps dans un Port, Oil on canvas, 55cm x 33cm (canvas), 86cm x 61cm (frame).
This painting was hidden at the back of the gallery in Annecy, stacked behind two other paintings against the wall. Stuffed in a dark corner, the picture and subject looked dingy at first. When it comes to marines, I generally think of the majestic seascapes of the Dutch masters - the van de Veldes, Jan Porcellis (Ghent, 1583 - Zoeterwoude, 1632) - with the calm composure of the white sails towering over the powerful galleys (with dramatic cannon-smoke sometimes too!); or the sublime seascapes of Turner with tempestuous waves dwarfing the masts of a steadfast but teetering ship. Weber's picture on the other hand depicts a more industrial subject. A dirty trail of smoke floats off from a factory port, and there is even a company stamp imprinted on one of the sails. This is a distinctly later nineteenth-century picture; a marine fit for an age of manufactured industry.
But when I brought the picture outside, the oil suddenly glowed with a new life. Under a brighter light, the colours begin to shine in brilliant and playful balances. Flecks of pink dance around the canvas, reflecting off the clouds onto that thin strip of wood visible from the shed on the pontoon, and then into the top sail of the ship in the centre background. This play of dappled colours finds its way into the waves, which then shine in brilliant, speckled crests. Weber’s marine is a masterful seascape, meticulously rendered, aglow with a dynamic use of colour across the canvas. The dawning auroras of pinks, light-blues, and whites filter any sense of smoggy dirt suggested by the industrial subjects; the human endeavour amongst the waves is thus bathed with a sublime beauty. The scene shines as if the salt spray itself were shooting up, dashing specks of refracted colour across our view of the harbour.
Originally German, Weber made his career in France. He specialised in marines and seascapes and was a regular exhibitor at the Salon de Paris from 1858 until his death, earning numerous accolades during his career. In 1886, he was promoted to official painter of the French navy: ‘peintre officiel de la Marine et du ministère des Colonies’. His scenes are mostly views off the coasts of la Manche and Belgium. (see Dictionnaire des Petits Maîtres de la Peinture 1820-1920). But now onto my next painting:
Jules Bahieu (Dour, 1860 - ?), Intérieur de Poulailles, Oil on canvas, 54cm x 65cm (canvas), 69cm x 79cm (frame).
This romanticised genre painting has a great deal of charm. The chickens fill the canvas on multiple vertical levels, climbing up and jumping down the stone and wooden platforms as if on a carefully plotted theatre stage. These chicken-actors congregate in curious groups, bumbling about their business and chirp-chatting in a veritable fowlopolis.
But even more amazing is how Bahieu captures the rustic nostalgia of the farm grange: through the textures of his paint. To replicate the old, mud-brick walls, dilapidated over decades of weathering and usage, Bahieu lathers the wet paint thickly onto the canvas. This impasto layer then dries unevenly; as the canvas ages, it is the natural craquelure in the paint that enhances the crumbling texture of the wall. When it comes to the picture’s main actors (our chickens), Bahieu employs deft, swift strokes. The individual feathers move with a composite dynamism that breathes life and energy into these birds; Bahieu’s expertise in drawing fowl shines through. Finally, most astonishing is how the artist renders the straw: thick drops of paint flicked off the brush! These strings of golden paint cover the canvas in erratic splays. Bahieu’s surprisingly modern technique evokes a bed of straw that feels both thick and brittle, random and pervasive. Almost like the splashes of paint in a Pollock painting!
That atmosphere of romanticised, rural life typical of academic genre painting is here amplified by a playful diversity. The birds, the walls, the straw are all painted very differently, yet masterfully come together to give a sense of dynamic space and texture. Bahieu was particularly known for these genre paintings of country life. Originally from Belgium, he set up his studio in Champigny and exhibited at the Paris Salon from 1885 to 1895. (see Dictionnaire des Petits Maîtres de la Peinture 1820-1920). My third painting:
Eugène-Henri Cauchois (Rouen, 1850-1911), Nature Morte à la Brioche, Oil on canvas, 60.5cm x 45.5cm (canvas).
Unfortunately, the photo here does not do justice to Cauchoi’s still life. There is a strong glare on the top left-hand side and the canvas is slightly cropped to the right; I will get a better picture of the painting as soon as I am reunited with it in London. But the image does capture what for me is the most striking quality of the painting: that austere, amber and rust-brown colour pallet. From these sombre shades, the titanic subjects of Cauchoi’s still life slowly emerge: the remnants of a discarded breakfast. The brioche glows in its crusty ambers against the dark mauve of the pressed grapes; the jam’s sticky cherry against the flaxen beige of the slice of bread; those rusting yellows of some desert wine; that shock of delicate blue on porcelain-white in the knife.
Cauchoi’s painting enshrines both the decadence of a Dutch banquet (à la de Heem) and the sombre austerity of Chardin’s (Paris, 1669-1779) pallet and forms. The composition and thick impasto overwhelm the space with heavy paint and cluttered shapes; diagonals meet in juxtaposed crossings as the porcelain knife draws a line that clashes against the conch-shaped pastry, further clashing with the group of vertical lines in the glass and desert flask. This cluttering is made even thicker by the heavy impasto layer of paint (see the texture of that brioche!). Chardin’s balance of light foreground/dark background is here reversed, as Cauchois gradates a program of dark on dark (left) to light on light (right). The result is a wonderfully heavy sense of decomposition in the brioche and grapes, with a matching, thick stickiness to the desert-wine and used glasses, knife, and spoons.
Still life in French is ‘nature morte’ – dead nature – a reminder of the transient in the beautiful. That sense of futile decadence emerges from Cauchoi’s hazy, amber shades. The breakfast is discarded, half-finished, even rotting. Yet it is beautiful too in its austere grandeur: the crumbling, rich brioche; the empty glass of desert wine; that beautifully rendered, delicate, blue porcelain on the knife. I love this painting. If my messy kitchen after a big night looked like this – I would call that a great success. Cauchois was an extremely accomplished painter, the best known out of my three French artists. He exhibited repeatedly at the Salon de Paris from 1874, receiving numerous accolades and prestigious commissions. More known as a painter of floral still-lives, Cauchois regularly fetches important sums at auctions around Europe. (see E. Bénézit: Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs). I am super pleased with this painting – in its new frame, it will look amazing in the gallery; I cannot wait for you to see it!
Some bad news though. The export process for my two Italian paintings will take much longer than anticipated; so long in fact that the exhibition, originally planned for mid-September, will have to be postponed to December. But this is in fact a blessing in disguise. I now have much longer to coordinate with my contemporary artists and organise the space more cohesively, especially since I have bought all my paintings. More on this to follow.
I will conclude my post with a final treat for those of you who have made it this far. One is a photo of me around a month ago in Annecy with the dealer in his gallery after buying my first three paintings. The other is the same photo, from six years ago, of my dad and the dealer in the same gallery. Thanks so much for reading. Lots of love and see you soooon x