Georges Petit Gallery


   Small room, small pictures, and I was going to say, unjustly, small art.
   No, there are in this limited group several artists of great talent such as Messrs Edelfelt, Dinet, Zorn; and if we are disconcerted at first glance, we are then enchanted with the variety in this evidence of present-day art.
   I ask myself exactly what must be the state of mind of a young man, intending himself for painting, who visits the Louvre in the morning and rue de Sèze1 in the evening?
   "What good," he asks himself, "is classical education, the science of composition, long years spent studying the old masters? A bit of instinct, some taste (and who lacks that these days?), a few Japanese albums, lots of snapshot photographs, isn't that all that is required for those dazzling sketches that attract the public and make reputations?
   "Why listen to all that solemn stuff that those old codgers tell us, only to have to free ourselves straightaway from school formulas, backwards looking education and rediscover in the face of reality an original and personal view of things?"
   The rebellion of youth stirred up by present-day tendencies is perfectly natural; it exists in literature, in poetry, in the theatre. It is latent in the air we breathe, in the education we receive. And it requires great strength of character to resist the flow. However in literature we can immediately detect someone with a limited classical knowledge, someone who has in his youth neglected what our forefathers would have called the "humanities"; similarly in painting we recognize those who, not having studied sufficiently, have no other resource in their art but improvisation. However much a particular master of the modern school may wish to forget them, his dexterity, his marvellously assured drawing, his infallible eye, serve to remind us that he could have won the Prix de Rome.
   The same with Dinet, a young man, a conscientious seeker, who is exhibiting nos 49, 50, 51, in whom we recognize a finely accomplished education.
   He shows us three very different aspects of his talent: Young Dancer from Laghouat, The Encampment, After Bathing.
   In the Dancer, harsh light, full sun (from the Sahara), - the flesh appears pierced by it, - scarcely a few thin blue shadows. It is dazzling.
   The Encampment is a study in matt, a study of night, dark yet transparent.
   After Bathing shows us a young, semi-naked woman, in the morning, in a flowery corner of our own France; this is not Chloë, it is a little, undressed village girl. An intimate poetry reaches out to us standing before this picture.
   Zorn. - Very beautiful portrait of Mme T. - The artist, in a very rare exception, has been able to overcome the difficulties of this sad and transitory age in a woman's life when she is no longer young and has not even the charm of white hair, of acknowledged wrinkles.
   M. Zorn is re-exhibiting his pretty study from the Champ de Mars salon, delicious with light.
   Why should it be that the attitude of the woman, a bit thick-set, legs apart, is done in a disagreeable line?
   The Little Strawberry Pickers by Edelfelt are exquisite; they are descending a mountain behind which you can see a fjord; you must see the strange and attractive character of their little childish faces surrounded by pale golden hair underneath their red hoods. Beautiful portrait of a man by the same artist, - the hands very well executed.
   White gives us five versions of the same young girl in blue; she is charming, but, multiplied by the psyche that reflects her, that makes too many blue young girls. Those nos 18 and 22, very well painted, would have been quite enough.
   M. Desboutin's pretty studies are in pastel. I know because I read it in the catalogue, because nowadays it is very difficult to distinguish pastels from paint. The motto of the modern school of painting is: "Matt means sincere". - To avoid a glossy surface, they coat the canvases and paint with wax. See M. Dinet's canvases where he uses this new technique. But then don't, as some others have done, put glass over your matt painting; it gives a shine that is really just as disagreeable as the glossiness of oil or varnish.
   Let's pass on to the landscapes.
   Those by M. Montenard are sparkling.
   M. Dauphin also likes the Midi, which he renders well. His seascapes, of which he is a past master, are much superior to his landscapes. Lagarde, evening, dusk, small grey canvases full of the poetry that Cazin has initiated us into, but with something more.
   M. Billotte shows us that even the most humble subjects can have their interest, because he chooses the really unpromising corners of our town, the business quarters and fortifications, the wastelands.
   Similarly M. Barrau, - the Grande-Jatte, and Courbevoie in the sunshine.
   I have kept for last Forain, landscapist. Yes, a real landscape with trees, sky, foliage; but you never thought that Forain would be able to show a meadow unless it was bedecked with coquettes, and his Journey in the Province, in spite of its title and its size, is hardly done in his usual style.


Le Mensuel no 3 Dec 1890. Reprinted in Proust, Écrits sur l'art. GF Flammarion 1999.

1. The Exposition internationale de peinture was held at the Georges Petit Gallery, 8, Rue de Sèze, Paris from 20 Dec 1890 to 28 Jan 1891.

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