Bordeaux buys a painting by Gervex

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7/3/23 - Acquisition - Bordeaux, Musée des Beaux-Arts - Henri Gervex’s most famous painting entitled Rolla caused such a scandal at the 1873 Salon that it was excluded. It was included in the somewhat too light exhibition that Orsay devoted to prostitution in 2015 (see article). Preserved at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux, it was joined in 2022 by another painting by the artist, Woman with a Mirror purchased from the Galerie Charvet in Paris.

Henri Gervex (1852-1929)
Woman with a Mirror, 1880s
Oil on canvas - 65 x 54 cm
Bordeaux, Museum of Fine Arts
Photo: MBA Bordeaux
See the image in its page

This work shows once again that Gervex is an unclassifiable painter, juggling between academism and modernity. The painting indeed mixes different styles, very smooth to translate the marbled skin of the model, freer to evoke the negligence of the clothing and the vibrant background; the quick and wide brushstrokes are moreover not without recalling the touch of Manet whom Gervex admired. The whiteness of the skin contrasts with the red hair of the young woman, the movement of the shirt that falls on the shoulder contrasts with that of the hair raised in a bun. This composition is comparable to that of the Young Redheaded Girl with a Mirror: also presented in bust and in profile, she is more sensual, her shirt reveals a breast and her hair is loose.

The theme of demi-mondaines is recurrent in Gervex’s paintings, as he was a friend of Valtesse de la Bigne. The motif of the mirror allows him to introduce a mise en abyme: the one who looks at herself is herself looked at. The painter declined the subject by varying the staging from one painting to another: the framing is more or less tight, the model is in bust or full-length, undressed or on the contrary very dressed, femme fatale or grisette, alone or accompanied, of course, by a man; this is the case of Nana, a canvas inspired by Zola, who himself looked at Gervex.

The artist did not represent only coquettish or sensual women monopolized by their reflection. He appeared in the exhibition "Les Villes ardentes. Art, travail, révolte" in Caen, with Le Coltineur de charbon painted in 1882, preparatory to the large decor he conceived for the wedding hall of the Town Hall of the XIXth district of Paris (see article).

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