• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 1984

    19th Century European Art

    8 April 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 18

    Henri Gervex (French, 1852-1929)

    Portrait of a Young Girl

    Price Realised  


    Henri Gervex (French, 1852-1929)
    Portrait of a Young Girl
    signed 'H. Gervex' (lower right)
    oil on canvas
    26¼ x 18½ in. (66.7 x 47 cm.)
    Painted circa 1877-1880.

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    Henri Gervex was born in Paris and studied under Alexandre Cabanel, Pierre Brisset and Eugene Fromentin. His first known portrait, which was shown at the Salon of 1874, was that of a baby (Portrait de Thérèse Gourio de Refuge). Few traces subsist of the models who posed at his studio before the 90s other than friends or members of the wealthy middle class and their children.

    This would explain why the young girl in the present lot is unidentifiable. It is clear that from her profound and somber, yet intense look, that she is not a workshop model. Rather she is a young bourgeois girl whose parents have commissioned the portrait. This would also explain why the portrait had never been exhibited Salon, nor documented prior to this.

    The subtle charm evident in the rendering of this work and the white flower that seems to evaporate between her fingers is typical of Gervex's work in the 1880s. Her sweet bonnet is similar to that of a grand portrait dated 1877 and entitled Portrait de la Dame en bleu, where we find the same tones of blue and gray. Also this type of canvas, where the edges are rounded and the pencil demarcations can still be seen, was in vogue during this time. Lastly, the colors used; the deep blue, the white in the flower, and the touches of golden yellow in her hair and brocaded collar, as well as the brownish red inherited from the convention cultivated at the Academy, characterize Gervex's portraitures between 1877-1880.

    Perhaps confirming the date of this work, in the rendering of this portrait, his style diverges more from the Academic traditions of his master Cabanel, and veers closer to that of the Impressionists. The hand holding the flower and the flower itself have a ghost-like sketchy quality to them. The background is treated with haste - application of colors seem to have been rapidly applied to the canvas in an instinctive manner - in contrast to the grey palettes of the Davidesque practice.

    We would like to thank Jean-Christophe Pralong-Gouvernnec for confirming the authenticity of this work and for his help in preparing the catalogue note.

    This work will be included in Mr. Pralong-Gouvernnec's upcoming Henri Gervex catalogue raisonné.