Osbert, Alphonse

Paris 1857 - Paris 1939
Biography & List of works

La muse endormie, (The sleeping muse)

La muse endormie, (The sleeping muse)

Medium: Oil on panel

Size: 45.8 x 61.2 cm

Signed: Signed lower right: A. Osbert Inscribed and countersigned on the verso, La Muse endormie / A. Osbert / 1924 and no. 1047. 1924 Salon


Salon de 1924; (artist’s registry: ‘No. 1047/ Salon 1924/ La Muse enndormie/ H 63 L 77 (framed dimensions)/ 1924/ Peinture/ panneau/ vendue 2000 Fá Mr Karmikail 140 av Malakoff/ au salon’); Mr Karmikail; Private collection, France.


Véronique Dumas, Alphonse Osbert (1857 – 1939): vie, oeuvre, art, a catalogue raisonné and her doctorate thesis, Université Blaise Pascal Clermont-Ferrand II, 1999; Véronique Dumas, Le peintre symboliste Alphonse Osbert (1857 – 1939), Paris, 2005; Jean David Jumeau-Lafond Les peintres de L’âme, Le Symbolisme idealiste en France, Musée d’Ixelles, Brussels, 15 oct. – 31 dec. 1999, pp. 114-119.

Alphonse Osbert had an affection for forests and lake banks in the sunset ‘He paints the silence of woods and lakes at dusk …’ . In the foreground, backlit, a sleeping figure reminiscent of a Tanagra figurine, draped à l’antique and carrying a lyre, evokes the theme of muses so dear to Puvis de Chavannes, who also inspired Maurice Denis and Henri Martin.

The somehow languid vision is balanced by the intricate construction of the landscape in several layers, from the ground where the brushstrokes suggest a carpet of leaves, to the distant edges of the lake’s other bank. The curtain of trunks lined up to the right of the composition gives structure to the painting, but the trees begin to lose their form in the shadow of the setting sun. The foliage has a tint of violet and loses form and in the distance, the scenery is bathed in vapours suggesting an oneiric atmosphere. The colour palette is restricted to tender tones of violet, brown and orange, the numerous little lilac touches in the pink of the sky and the orange of the water recall Osbert’s proximity with neo impressionists. By using the nuances of a restrained palette and by simplifying the lines, Osbert successfully gives a new interpretation of Nature, inspired by poetry. His vision brings a calm feeling: ‘I want to reach Simplicity itself, the Great Silence’.

The evening atmosphere is here sublime and creates a nostalgic setting favourable to the dreams of this sleeping woman in the foreground. Gustave Soulier qualifies Osbert as an ‘artist of the soul’ and Henri Degron as a ‘poet of silence’. In this intimate context, human dreams seem to float. Osbert creates a suggestive and mysterious painting, a soul landscape, removing everything related to narration and description. For the symbolists, it is the artist’s role to give back to Nature her character of strangeness that she lost with naturalism and impressionism, two movements that Odilon Redon already found ‘too restrictive’.

Born in Paris in 1857, Alphonse Osbert, encouraged by his family, decided at age 17 to devote himself to painting. After a few years of apprenticeship in a Parisian drawing school he joined l’Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1877 in Henry Lehmann’s studio where he met Georges Seurat, Alexandre Séon, Edmond Aman-Jean and Ernest Laurent. He painted from 1880 to 1887 in a very dark manner, influenced by the examples of Ribera and Vélasquez and inspired by the academic artists Léon Bonnat and Fernand Cormon who tutored him.

After 1887, his palette becomes lighter and his favourite themes become more idealised under the influence of Puvis de Chavannes and Alexandre Séon. He definitely turns his back on academic art in 1891 and joins the more modern Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and the Salon des Indépendants, where he exhibits delicate antique figures inserted into idyllic landscapes. He took part in every salon organised by the Rose-Croix du Sâr Péladan, thus becoming a reference in symbolist art. Benefiting from the support of merchants and critics, he exhibited in private galleries, at Georges Petit, Le Barc de Boutteville and at Bing, getting acquainted with rich connoisseurs. He also exhibited in the théâtre de la Bodinière des Artistes de l’âme, or in the Salon des Cent, taking a central place on the artistic scene. Following enthusiasm for his work, he sent his paintings across France with the help of the Société des amis des Arts, as well as all across Europe and even to Boston and Tokyo. Once famous, he held gatherings in his studio every Friday and commissions increase, especially for painted decors. Vichy’s thermal baths’ painted décor is certainly one of the most beautiful examples.

Osbert was rediscovered in the 1970’s, during the firsts exhibitions dedicated to symbolism. He has since been the subject of several retrospectives (Milan, Munich, Paris, Honfleur, Maubeuge, Hambourg). His daughter Yolande gifted his studio’s archives and artworks in 1991 to the Musée d’Orsay. In total 400 paintings and over a thousand drawings were handed over to the museum. Osbert now appears in every publication about symbolism.

Votre âme est un paysage choisi’ – Paul Verlaine