Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)
THE PERSONAL COLLECTION OF BARBARA LAMBRECHT, SOLD TO BENEFIT THE RUBENS PRIZE COLLECTION IN THE MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART IN SIEGENChristie’s is honoured to offer the following selection of works from the personal collection of the esteemed philanthropist and patron of the arts, Barbara Lambrecht. Assembled over the course of nearly four decades, Ms Lambrecht’s collection features works by a diverse range of artists, from early compositions by the great painters of Impressionism, to the refined techniques of the Pointillists, and the free, expressionist colours of the Fauves. In this way, the collection offers an intriguing insight into one of the most dynamic and exciting periods of the European artistic avant-garde. Ms Lambrecht’s collecting journey began in the 1970s, when an early interest in Impressionism encouraged her to purchase paintings by Eugène Boudin, Raoul Dufy and Berthe Morisot. From here, her treasured collection has grown and evolved to encompass works by some of the most influential artists of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, including Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee. This highly personal collection, shaped by Ms Lambrecht’s discerning vision and keen knowledge of art history, has filled the walls of the collector’s home for the past forty years. Considered together, the works reveal a series of intriguing connections to one another, their similarities and differences causing a dynamic dialogue to develop between each of the individual works in the collection. This is evident, for example, when Dufy’s portrayal of the northern coast of France is considered alongside Boudin’s painting of the same subject, or the contrasting painterly techniques of Monet’s loose, spontaneous compositions are observed beside Kees van Dongen’s highly saturated, impastoed areas of colour. One of the most striking features of the collection is the way in which the collection focuses on the pivotal periods in each artist’s career, often highlighting on a moment of transition as they begin to explore new, ground breaking techniques, subject matter or styles. Ms Lambrecht’s dedication to collecting has been paralleled by a prodigious journey in cultural philanthropy and patronage, as her passion for the arts has driven her to support a number of institutions in her native Siegen. Through her generous support, these bodies have become leaders in their respective fields, from the Philharmonic Orchestra Südwestfalen, to the city’s Apollo Theatre. Amongst her most remarkable and enduring charitable projects is her commitment to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Siegen, and her promotion of the Peter Paul Rubens Prize. Founded in 1955, the same year as the documenta in Kassel, this highly acclaimed international award is presented every five years to a contemporary artist living in Europe, to honour his or her lifetime achievements in art. Presented in remembrance of Peter Paul Rubens, who was born in Siegen, previous recipients include Giorgio Morandi, Francis Bacon, Antoni Tápies, Cy Twombly, Sigmar Polke, Lucian Freud, Maria Lassnig and Bridget Riley. To support the award, Ms Lambrecht founded the Rubens Prize Collection, acquiring comprehensive and exemplary groups of important paintings, sculptures and graphic pieces by each of the award’s former laureates, and then placing them on permanent loan to the Museum. Conceptually, the collection has been carefully curated so as to include works from each artist’s various creative phases, and continues to grow as it gathers examples from each new recipient of the prize. Creating an impressive survey of twentieth- and early twenty-first-century European art, from the quiet still-lifes of Morandi, and Riley’s iconic explorations of line and colour, to Bacon's emotionally charged figurative paintings and Maria Lassnig’s self-exploration of the human body, the Rubens Prize Collection offers visitors to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Siegen an in-depth look into the work of the acclaimed artists honoured by the city. With the sale of this outstanding group of impressionist and early modernist works, Ms Lambrecht plans to ensure the continued growth and evolution of the Rubens Prize Collection, and to secure its future for the enjoyment of subsequent generations in Siegen and throughout Europe.
Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)

Femme en noir or Avant le théâtre

Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)
Femme en noir or Avant le théâtre
signed 'Berthe Morisot' (lower right)
oil on canvas
22 5/8 x 12 1/8 in. (57.3 x 30.7 cm.)
Painted in 1875
Alfonso Portier, Paris, by 1892.
Oscar Schmitz, Dresden.
Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York.
Edward G. Robinson, Beverly Hills, by 1938, and thence by descent; sale, Christie's, New York, 17 May 1983, lot 30.
Private collection, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2012.
K. Scheffler, Kunst und Künstler, 1920, p. 186.
M. Dormoy, L'Amour de l'Art, vol. 7, January 1926, no. p. 341 (titled 'Avant le bal').
Wildenstein & Co., The Oscar Schmitz Collection: Masterpieces of French painting of the Nineteenth Century, Paris, 1936, no. 45, pp. 100 & 142 (illustrated p. 101; dated ‘circa 1875’).
M.L. Bataille & G. Wildenstein, Berthe Morisot: Catalogue des peintures, pastels et aquarelles, 1961, no. 59, p. 27 (illustrated pl. 28).
E. Mongan, Berthe Morisot: Drawings, Pastels, Watercolours, Paintings, New York, 1961 (illustrated; titled ‘Lady in Evening Dress’).
J. Robinson, Edward G. Robinson's World of Art, New York, 1975, p. 12 (illustrated p. 13).
D. Montalant, ‘Berthe Morisot’, in L’Estampille, June 1987, p. 8.
T.J. Edelstein, Perspectives on Morisot, New York, 1990, no. 10 (illustrated; dated '1875-1876').
A. Higonnet, Berthe Morisot's Image of Women, Cambridge, 1992, no. 18, p. 71(illustrated fig. 18).
A. Clairet, D. Montalant & Y. Rouart, Berthe Morisot, 1841-1896: Catalogue Raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Montolivet, 1997, no. 59, pp. 24 & 142 (illustrated).
J.D. Rey, Berthe Morisot, Paris, 2010, p. 64 (illustrated).
(Probably) Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, 2e Exposition de peinture (2nd Impressionist Exhibition), April 1876, no. 178, p. 17 (titled ‘Figure de femme’).
Paris, Boussod, Valadon et Cie., Exposition de tableaux, pastels et dessins par Berthe Morisot, May - June 1892, no. 6, p. 16 (titled ‘Femme en noir’).
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Berthe Morisot (Madame Eugène Manet), March 1896, no. 66, p. 21 (titiled 'Dame en noir).
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Sammlung Oscar Schmitz: Französische Malerei des XIX. Jahrhunderts, 1932, no. 45, p. 8.
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Berthe Morisot, November - December 1936, no. 45, p. 8.
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Great portraits from Impressionism to Modernism, March 1938, no. 28 (illustrated).
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Forty Paintings from the Edward G. Robinson Collection, March - April 1953, no. 19.
Los Angeles, County Museum of Art, The Gladys Lloyd Robinson and Edward G. Robinson Collection, no. 35 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to San Francisco, Palace of the Legion of Honor, September 1956 - January 1957.
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Loan Exhibition of Paintings: Berthe Morisot, November - December 1960, no. 14 (illustrated).
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, The New Painting: Impressionism, 1874-1886, January - April 1986, no. 178, p. 163, vol. I & no. II-178, p. 42, vol. II (illustrated p. 61, vol. II; titled ‘Figure de femme’); this exhibition later travelled to San Francisco, Fine Arts Museum, April - July 1986.
Paris, Galerie Hopkins-Thomas, Berthe Morisot, April - June 1987, no. 4 (illustrated).
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Berthe Morisot: Impressionist, September - November 1987, no. 29, pp. 71 & 218 (illustrated pl. 29, p. 73; dated ‘1875-1876’); this exhibition later travelled to Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, December 1987 - February 1988; and South Hadley, Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, March - May 1988.
Tokyo, Isetan Art Museum, Shinjuku, Les femmes impressionnistes: Cassatt, Gonzalès, Morisot, March - April 1995, no. 3 (illustrated p. 33); this exhibition later travelled to Hiroshima, Museum of Art, April - May 1995; Osaka, Takashimaya, Ground Hall, May - June 1995; and Hakodake, Museum of Art, July - August 1995.
Paris, Musée d’Orsay, L'Impressionnisme et la Mode, September 2012 - January 2013, no. 52, pp. 116 & 300 (illustrated p. 116); this exhibition later travelled to New York, Metropolitan Museum, Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity, February - May 2013, no. 21, p. 289 (illustrated p. 66); and Chicago, Art Institute, June - September 2013.
Hamburg, Kunsthalle, Manet - Sehen: Der Blick der Moderne, May - September 2016, no. 23, p. 143 (illustrated).

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Lot Essay

‘Berthe Morisot stands unrivalled’. This was the emphatic response from a critic upon seeing Berthe Morisot’s work at the Second Impressionist exhibition of 1876. Painted a year earlier, in 1875, Femme en noir, which is also known as Avant le théâtre, was most likely included in this important exhibition and attracted widespread critical acclaim. Depicting an elegant and fashionably attired young woman making her way to the theatre, Femme en noir is a rare full-length portrait in Berthe Morisot’s oeuvre, and undoubtedly one of the finest works of her career. With delicate, softly feathered brushstrokes that capture the gentle fall of light upon the model’s face and shoulders, and the shimmering texture of the black silk fabric of her dress, Femme en noir demonstrates Morisot’s nascent impressionist style, exemplifying her ability at imbuing her painting with a luminescence that distinguishes her from her impressionist colleagues. Originally owned by impressionist collector, Alphonse Portier, Femme en noir was exhibited in the first retrospective of Morisot’s work held in 1892, as well as in the posthumous, memorial exhibition organised by her daughter, Julie Manet, at the Galerie Durand-Ruel in 1896. The legendary Hollywood actor, Edward G. Robinson, later acquired this painting. This distinguished provenance and exhibition history not only serve as a testament to the significance of this painting within Morisot’s oeuvre but reflect its importance within the history of Impressionism as a whole.

Adorned in a dramatic and opulent black evening dress trimmed with delicate white flowers along the skirt, long white silk gloves, and a dark ribbon around her neck, the female subject of Femme en noir is a quintessential Parisienne – a chic, fashionable young woman that had become one of the central and most iconic protagonists of Second Empire and Third Republic Paris. In the rapidly modernising capital, fashion had assumed a central role in modern day life. The renovation of Paris – known as Haussmannisation – had transformed the city from a medieval web of narrow, winding streets, into a grand metropolis, whose wide boulevards and sweeping vistas provided the perfect place for the city’s inhabitants to see and be seen. In a flourishing economy, the wealthy bourgeoisie had more money to spend on the latest fashions, which had been made all the more accessible due to the proliferation of grand department stores. Fashion flooded visual culture: fashion plates, illustrations and periodicals became part of the typical ephemera of everyday life, while contemporary art likewise reflected this new cultural phenomenon.

In their quest to capture impressions of modern life in all its varied forms, the Impressionists turned to the people of Paris as the subjects of their paintings. While mythological nudes and historical heroes filled the canvases of academic art, the inhabitants of the capital, their modern dress, social rituals and customs, populated the work of many of the Impressionists. Fashion became the quintessence of Parisian modernity and thus one of the central components of modern painting; as the poet Charles Baudelaire described, it was the aim of the artist, ‘to extract from fashion the poetry that resides in its historical envelope, to distil the eternal from the transitory…’ (C. Baudelaire, ‘The Painter of Modern Life’, 1859, in P.E. Charvet, ed., Baudelaire: Selected Writings on Art and Artists, Cambridge, 1981, p. 402).

Fashion played an important role in the work of Morisot and perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in Femme en noir. From an affluent, upper-class family, throughout her career Morisot depicted women, primarily members of her family, in an array of different formal and fashionable costumes, from day and morning dresses to opulent ball gowns. This striking black evening gown was in fact most likely one of Morisot’s own. In the same year that she painted the present work, she was photographed by Charles Reutlinger in a dress that is almost identical to the one seen here. Standing in a casual pose, with her elbow resting on a wooden podium and her head slightly tilted, in this photograph Morisot greets the camera with a coolly enigmatic gaze. She is the very epitome of the Parisienne: elegantly dressed, self-possessed and completely self-assured.

While Morisot and her impressionist colleagues frequently depicted fashionably dressed women at the theatre or opera, seated in private boxes or presented against ornate backdrops, in the present work, the artist has removed all background detail, placing the model within an ambiguous setting. This unadorned background suggests that the model had posed in Morisot’s studio. At around the same time that Morisot painted the present work, Manet, a close friend of the artist, painted a similar work entitled La Parisienne (Nationalmuseum, Stockholm). As in Femme en noir, a single, full-length figure dressed in black is depicted within an undefined, unidentifiable setting. By removing all contextual and narrative detail, in both of these paintings Morisot and Manet have presented a ‘type’ rather than an individualised portrait of a woman. Yet, by forcing the viewer to focus solely on the figure herself – her expression, her costume and her idiosyncratic demeanour – we are presented in both of these works with a particularly novel and enigmatic vision of a woman. Unable to completely ascertain the figure’s exact identity and comprehend her compelling gaze, when regarding Femme en noir, the viewer is left speculating upon what lies beyond the ostentatious display of costume and the conscious obedience to social norms. ‘Behind Morisot’s women’s reserve’, Anne Higonnet has written, ‘we sense a life all the more intense because it is withheld’ (A. Higonnet, quoted in, ‘Fashion and Intimate Portraits’, in exh. cat., Impressionism, Fashion, & Modernity, Chicago, New York & Paris, 2013, p. 112).

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