Medium: Pastel on Paper
Size: 65 x 64 cm
Signed: : L. Lévy-Dhurmer (lower left); Constantinople (on the reverse), inscribed: Là Madame et Monsieur Rateau/en toute cordialité/
Provenance: Collection Auguste Rateau, Paris; Collection Mrs. Davis, Paris; Private collection, Paris; acquired from the above by the present owner.
Autour de Lévy-Dhurmer, visionnaires et intimistes en 1900, Grand Palais, Paris, 3 March-30 April 1973, in the accompanying catalogue, no.83 (illustrated,) p.57
After finishing with honours at the École communale supérieure de Dessin et Sculpture in the 11th arrondissement in 1885, and exhibiting at the Paris Salon in the years 1882 – 1889, Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer suddenly left Paris in 1889 for the Côte d’Azur; he remained absent for the next six years, wholly abandoning a still promising artistic career in Paris. In 1895, at almost thirty, he travelled to Italy where Venice and Florence particularly captivated him. This trip would cement a deep and life-long affinity to da Vinci and Italian Renaissance Art, as well as markedly re-focused Lévy-Dhurmer on his earlier artistic aims. It was life-altering; he returned to painting.
In late 1895, sometime before October, Lévy-Dhurmer, relocated in Paris and now painting full-time, was invited by the Belgian poet George Rodenbach to his home to draw his portrait. (The portrait, made three years after the publication of Bruges-la-Morte, which made Rodenbach a symbolist literary icon, is today in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris). This friendship was no doubt the force behind Lévy-Dhurmer’s first solo exhibition early the next year at the Galerie George Petit.
The show at the Petit Gallery, of around 25 pastel and 5 paintings, instantly established Lévy-Dhurmer’s reputation in Paris. One critic exclaimed “a youth, a debutant and also a master,” asking rhetorically if the artist was “Symbolist, Mystic, or Romantic.” Another critic likened him to “da Vinci, Botticelli and Memling, the ancients, the moderns…” Lévy-Dhurmer continued working as a celebrated portraitist, draughtsman, pastelist and painter of religious, genre, symbolist and landscape paintings until the Second World War.
Large scale gallery shows were organized to celebrate Lévy-Dhurmer’s career in 1927, and again in 1937; upon the artist’s death in 1952 a retrospective exhibition was organized by the French Museums in Paris. More recently again, a further exhibition was organized by the Louvre at the Grand Palais in 1973, Autour de Lévy-Dhurmer, to celebrate the acquisition of a group of major pastels now hanging in the Musée d’Orsay.
Travel, from his first life-changing trip to Italy in 1895, continued to preoccupy and inspire Lévy-Dhurmer throughout his artistic career. He captured landscapes from Switzerland to Algeria in oil and pastel, pastel particularly lending itself to impressionistic en-plain-air work. The artist visited Constantinople sometime in 1906, and mentioned the visit in his notes (conserved in the Zagorowsky archive in the Musée d’Orsay.) Related to another smaller contemporary composition of the harbor, done at dawn, this pastel in particular demonstrates the profound influence Monet’s misty views of the Thames and Whistler’s nocturnes had on Levy-Dhurmer. The artist’s own mastery of light at different times of the day and evening is evidence to breath-taking effect.