Close your eyes and you can probably see in your mind the famous painting, “The Birth of Venus.” Originally purchased by Napoleon III directly from the artist in 1863, this masterpiece is today housed in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889) is considered one of the top painters of the 19th century, and his works can be found in the major museums of the world. As a pre-eminent artist, there is a great deal of biographical information about him, including an extensive listing in Benezit’s “Dictionnaire des Peintres…”
A portrait painter, he also painted historical, classical and religious subjects. Cabanel was a judge for many years at the Paris Salon and a professor at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts from 1864 until his death. He was a major influencer on the art world and his students numbered in the hundreds.
I feel very fortunate indeed to have acquired this little gem of a watercolor.
French genre scenes with children present before a graceful figure would certainly be one of Cabanel's themes. I am struck by the overwhelming romanticism and the soft colors of pink, yellow, blue and white that he chose to combine in this watercolor. These classic colors are often found in flower painting, and here the flowers are in the same color range as the mother and children. The serene woman’s beautiful, soft gown is draped around her. She sports a matching, large pink ribbon on her sleek brown hair.
The children are dressed primarily in yellow and blue, with white accents. Yet the artist found in his roses a way to tie in these colors in his composition. One plant of climbing pink roses nicely fills in the right-hand arched corner, while the white sweet peas that climb over the light gray stone wall exuberantly fill their place in the middle. The woman is seated beneath the shade of a white parasol which ties nicely into the artist’s choice of primary colors.
All the figures are exceptionally finely painted with great attention to detail. The smallest child has golden locks and curls and is holding a basket of dark pink and blue blooms. Her brother is lovingly looking down at her in a beautifully rendered costume of a yellow jacket with buttons and button holes. A pair of brown knee-length trousers and a blue necktie with a knot in the center complete his outfit.
Away from the figures and flowers, one can begin to notice the myriad of details elsewhere. The artist's use of the watercolor medium to create shading gives the painting a third-dimensional effect.
This is one of the prettiest watercolors I’ve come across by any artist from any period. The scene draws one into the artist's world and keeps one there through his genius. The work is signed, “A. Cabanel,” in the lower-left corner. On the back is a reference in black ink to the artist’s name, dates and native country.
The piece is framed in a wonderful wood and gesso gilded frame that has four borders to it. There is the ribbon-like border that sits between a flat, plain border with a stepped edging. Around the mat is a beaded border that is edged by a wide, flat border. These borders together are highly decorative and add a complementary element to the painting. The watercolor was mounted in a double mat of cream and gilt. The mat was cut with all of the corners rounded, giving it a pleasant appearance.
The watercolor is in superb condition, with nothing to remark upon. The frame is in excellent condition, with just a very few minor losses of gesso and gilding. There is a slight unevenness to the gilding on the edge of the frame; normal wear where the painting was held. But this does not detract from the overall splendor of this incredible work of art.
It measures 13-1/4 inches wide by 11 inches high, including the frame.
Figures in a Garden, a 19th Century Watercolor Attrib. To French Artist Alexandre Cabanel
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