Joseph Bail (French, 1862-1921)
Joseph Bail (French, 1862-1921)

Sisters of Charity Saying Grace Before a Meal at the Hospice in Beaune, France, (Le Benedicté)

Joseph Bail (French, 1862-1921)
Sisters of Charity Saying Grace Before a Meal at the Hospice in Beaune, France, (Le Benedicté)
signed 'Bail Joseph' (lower right)
oil on canvas
59½ x 89½ in. (151.1 x 227.3 cm.)
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 19 June 1986, lot 196.
Joey and Toby Tanenbaum, Toronto.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, New York, 18 March 1998, lot 74.
André Michel, 'Les Salons de 1903,' Les Arts, May 1903, pp. 5 (illustrated), 8-9.
J. Valmy-Baysee, Peintres d'aujourd'hui: Joseph Bail, vol. 10, Paris, 1910, n.p.
Paris, Salon des Artistes Français, 1903, no. 76 (as Le Bénédicté des hospitalières de Beaune).

Lot Essay

When Joseph Bail's painting of Le Bénédicité, exhibited at the 1903 Salon, was reproduced in the widely distributed L'Illustration in May 1903, the painter was at the pinnacle of his artistic career. He had received a Medal of Honor at the Salon of 1902 and, most importantly, he was the recipient of a gold medal at the World's Fair of 1900. The fact that Le Bénédicité was widely applauded in the press in 1903 marked the public acceptance of a series of large-scale compositions dedicated to the works of the Sisters of Charity further demonstrating the way in which Bail's paintings were affecting a large public audience.

By 1902 his paintings reflected a deepening maturity as he had moved beyond his popular scenes of cooks, and women preparing meals, inspired by Chardin to center on the ways in which the Sisters of Charity at Beaune carried out their daily activities. In 1903, in the first of four paintings that centered on activities in the Beaune hospice, Bail developed his theme of the Benediction over food inspired by the refectory at Beaune. Whether the sisters of charity in Beaune commissioned Bail's paintings remains uncertain; this work does enlarge upon the theme of sanctification. Here, a type of spiritual light emanates from the clothing and placement of the nuns around the table. It enhances the spiritual qualities of the work. Through this work, Bail was able to articulate the importance of these sisters of charity, their holy mission on earth, and their willingness to continue their work in an era when the plight of the poor was as pressing as it had been in the past.

With this work Bail could no longer be seen as a painter of commonplace themes. He was using his ability to work with realist themes to create a new spiritual aura in his compositions that were destined to reach a large public audience. At the same time, he was continuing to use his deeply held faith in religion to forge compositions that understood the past as a basis for reaching an audience in the emerging twentieth century.

We are grateful to Professor Gabriel Weisberg of the University of Minnesota for authenticating the present lot and his help in preparing this catalogue note.

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