Description: signed JA Muenier (lower left) oil on canvas
Dimensions: measurements 43 3/8 by 29 1/2 in. alternate measurements 110 by 75 cm
Provenance: Château Haut-Brion
Notes: We would like to thank Dr. Gabriel P. Weisberg for confirming the authenticity of this work.
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The Young Artist is an apparent pendant to The Piano Lesson (La leçon de Clavecin) exhibited in the Salon of 1911, soon after purchased by the State, and now held in Musée Georges-Garret, Vesoul (fig. 1.). In each work a young girl wearing a gauzy white dress sits with her tutor, absorbed in the study of art or music, in a parlor smartly decorated with gold-patterned, olive-green wallpaper and highly polished wood floors. Likely a room in one of the chateaus of Coulevon, Muenier's home village, The Young Artist is more than a bourgeois genre scene; its use of color harmonies and light effects reveals the figures' psychology and the scene's temporality. Dappled across the wall and floor, the sunlight retreats from the room, leaving the depths in darkness as petals drop softly from a deadening rose bouquet--sharp contrasts to the steady stares of the girl and tutor focused on the canvas. The tension between the shifting elements of nature and the permanence of the sitters of The Young Artist is echoed in the The Piano Lesson, as reflected in Salon criticism of the latter work. Wearing a costume that reminded one reviewer of "the way our grandmother's dressed," Muenier's Piano Lesson student, quite similar to The Young Artist, seemed to reveal the "ennui in this instruction of the fine arts," genteel lessons too advanced or old-fashioned for this "modern" girl, perched on her high stool with great palette in hand, thoughts of playing replaced by her "incompressible duties and implacable fate" (translated from the French, "La Revue des deux mondes," June 1, 1911, n.p. as quoted in Itinéraires champêtres, Jules-Alexis Muenier (1863-1942, peinture sous la IIIυe Republique, exh. cat., Vesoul, 2003, pp 54-55). Such interpretation may seem heavy-handed, but in essence reviewers responded to the Naturalism of Muenier's paintings, which captured a single moment that conveyed a greater message. Certainly The Young Artist reflects the tenants of Jules-Antoine Castagnary (1830-1888) one of the first critics to use the term "naturalism". He understood the Naturalist's imperative to record nature without allowing any extraneous sentiment or artifice to come between the artist and the canvas. Rather, they were expected to bring all scientific and artistic resources to bear on capturing a specific moment in time within a contemporary setting. Castagnary identified fitting Naturalist subjects in 1857 and then again in 1863: "Nature in landscape painting, humanity in genre painting... these are the proper concerns of art. Life everywhere: scattered all over the canvas in landscape painting, concentrated in portraiture" (as quoted in Gabriel P. Weisberg, Beyond impressionism: the naturalist impulse, New York, 1992, p. 13).