Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Henri Gervex, A Session of the Painting Jury

Henri Gervex, A Session of the Painting Jury, c1883
118.11 x 164.96 in.

Henri Gervex (1852-1929) was a French painter who found success with a number of important commissions around Paris.  The son of a piano-maker, a family friend secured him a place in the studio of Pierre-Nicolas Brisset when he was fifteen.  In 1871 he was admitted to the École des Beaux-Arts.  He first exhibited at the Salon in 1873 and won a medal the following year.  Despite his early success, Gervex soon became controversial for his frequent use of nudes.  His 1878 painting Rolla was rejected from the Salon for indecency, due to its depiction of a prostitute. However the painting was exhibited at a private gallery, and attracted unprecedented crowds due to the scandal, which Gervex took great pleasure in.  In the following years he traveled extensively and received commissions for public buildings in Paris, as well as a number of hotels and restaurants.  He was perhaps best known in his lifetime for his masterful depictions of French society.  A Session of the Painting Jury depicts a rarely seen aspect of the Salon process–the jury actually viewing and judging the artworks.  The painting demonstrates the importance placed on these sessions and their importance for painters.  Those raising their hands, canes, and umbrellas are voting for the acceptance of the piece.  It appears this particular painting has not done ver well, and some members have already turned away, ready to move on.  Meanwhile there is great activity around them as other pieces are installed and discussed.  Gervex implements a very controlled hand here.  While some of his paintings use looser brushwork, in this work the lines are quite crisp and everything is depicted realistically.  Gervex had a strong academic background and uses those skills to show us what happens behind the scenes at the Academy.

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