François Bonvin (French, 1817-1887)
François Bonvin (French, 1817-1887)

Nature morte à l'oeuf

François Bonvin (French, 1817-1887)
Nature morte à l'oeuf
signed and dated 'F. Bonvin 1878' (lower right)
oil on panel
7¾ x 9¾ in. (19.5 x 25 cm.)
with Galerie Berès, Paris (1998).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
(probably) Paris, galerie D. Rothschild, Exposition de tableaux et de dessins par François Bonvin, 10-31 May 1886, either no. 32, 36, 90 or 96.
Pittsburgh, Frick Art and Historical Center, Francois Bonvin: the master of the "realist school, 1817-1887, 5 February - 11 April 1999, no. 91.

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Lot Essay

The rear of this charming little still life is inscribed by the artist with a poem dedicated to the friend for whom the work was painted:

"(illegible)...Je souffre le martyre/le temps de la joie et du rire --/Le bon temps -- hélas est passé;/Mais, avant d'être trépassé,/En échange de tes étrennes/Pour que de moi tu te souviennes,/Sur la tombe à demi-penché/Voici l'oeuf dur que j'ai poché./Ton ami./f. Bonvin/24 février 1878.
(A martyr to pain/My days of joy and laughter,/Good days, alas, are past./But before my demise/In exchange for your gift/Remember me; even half-dead,/I've poached you an egg.)

Bonvin frequently wrote in verse, and it was not uncommon for him to write short poems dedicated to friends on the back of his paintings. The keys to this one - the references to eggs and to the artist's sense of mortality - are explained by Michel Arveiller:

'The "egg" which he [Bonvin] refers to is in fact this painting, a gift to a friend whose name is perhaps the illegible first word of the poem. Bonvin jokingly referred to his works as eggs. Speaking of his dealer Tempelaere, he said to Laperlier on 9 January 1880: "A Paris dealer, who has become a devoted friend, makes the trip to Saint-Germain each time I've laid an egg, pays me for it and goes away happy, leaving me the same.

For the two preceding years, Bonvin had been suffering from more and more periods of intense pain; these obliged him to be operated on for kidney stones in 1877, and, when this failed, to undergo a second operation. On 30 January 1878, he wrote to his faithful friend Lecour: 'I am still the same. I am going downhill with the resignation which my infirmities and my lack of foresight compel me to adopt. Down, down...until I completely lose my footing."' (exh. cat. François Bonvin, Pittsburgh, no. 91)

This painting is composed with great economy of means; constructed and delicately balanced around three simple objects (two eggs and a salt cellar), the work derives its power from the strong sense of texture and colour given off by reflections against wood and metal, and by the strong contrast between the rich yellow yolk of the sliced egg and deep red background. The overall effect is immensely poetic, elevating humble objects in a way that is reminiscent of the still lives of Chardin and, much later, Morandi.

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