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DRAWINGS FROM THE ALFRED NORMAND COLLECTION (LOTS 1 - 18)
Monsieur Alfred Normand, who died in Paris at the age of 82 in 1993, was one of the last connoisseurs to devote his life to the formation of a Cabinet de dessins in the manner of the great 18th Century amateurs. The term cabinet de dessins sounds old-fashioned today and has been used for many years as the name for the drawings collection at the Louvre, but there is no better way to describe Monsieur Normand's collection. In the tradition of the cabinets de curiosités of the Ancien Régime, Monsieur Normand kept his drawings, books and other forms of documentation in a small office and sitting room that were perpetually shrouded in darkness and imbued with the familiar smell of his pipe which combined to create an atmosphere of scholarly isolation from the outside world. Monsieur Normand was keenly appreciative of all aspects of the art of draughtsmanship of every school and era, and of artists major and minor. It was not his practice to separate drawings by quality though he was deeply sensitive to it. Instead, he happily placed masterpieces next to lesser works of the same era in order to present all of his drawings in context.
Monsieur Normand began his career as a scientist. He studied at the Ecole Centrale and his research in the field of heavy water was patented. If he was not forthcoming about his scientific career, he did take from it a certain precision of speech and a method from it that led to his many discoveries. He frequented the salerooms where he bought according to his own tastes, ignoring the popular opinions of his day. His collection was in perpetual evolution and he made it a practice to establish provenance, analyse paper, identify mounts and to study the hands of the various artists.
Monsieur Normand admired the scientific spirit of the Enlightenment and the methods of analysis of the pioneering amateurs of that era who, without the aid of photography, could only rely upon precise description of style for the exchange of ideas. As Mariette wrote in his Abécédario, so Monsieur Normand would study drawings through writing short and precise notes. These fascinating entries are written in an archaic language that was in itself a means to aid the appreciation of newly acquired works.
Monsieur Normand collected in the old tradition. He had as mentor Monsieur Paul-Louis Moreau, a member of the Larousse family of publishers, an amateur and engraver, who had introduced him to drawings at the end of World War II and had encouraged him to abandon collecting books and bindings in favour of drawings. The many small portrait drawings by engravers such as Nanteuil, Mellan, Cochin, Saint-Aubin and Pujos in Monsieur Normand's collection attest to his continued interest in books. He kept a bust of Monsieur Moreau on the chimneypiece in his cabinet. After he had become an established collector in his own right, Monsieur Normand saw to it that his abinet was as much a place of study for experts and other amateurs as Monsieur Moreau's had been for him. In so doing Monsieur Normand was a great influence on the taste of his contemporaries and was able to pass on the old methods of connoisseurship to a new generation.
Although he rarely mentioned it, Monsieur Normand came from a family that had been interested in works of art for generations. One of his ancestors, Charles-François Normand, became a master furniture maker in 1747 and was commissioned to make pieces by the Royal Family of Sweden. He designed the armchair, now at the Musée Carnavalet, in which Voltaire died. Three other fauteuils à la Reine by Charles-François Normand were sold at Christie's New York, 20 April 1994, lots 160-1.
Later generations were architects: Nicolas Normand (1743-1796) was Architecte du Duc d'Orléans and later a member of the commission that was in charge of organising the arts in France during the Revolution. Charles-Pierre Normand (1765-1840) drew copies of French and Italian buildings which he published, thereby establishing an academic taste in the family. Monsieur Normand's grandfather Alfred-Nicolas Normand (1822-1909) was the architect of the famous Pompeian-style villa built for the prince Jérôme Bonaparte on the Avenue Montaigne, as well as the Prince's tomb in the Invalides. He later became President of the Academie des Beaux-Arts and of the Institut de France. Three hundred of his drawings, executed between 1846 and 1865, are in Paris in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and the Musée d'Orsay.
Of his three sons, two, Paul and Charles, won the Grand Prix de Rome. Charles was the editor of the journal Les Monuments et les Arts and President of the Société des Amis des Monuments Parisiens, a post that he shared with Charles Garnier, the architect of the Paris Opera. Charles Normand created his own private museum called the Musée de l'Anti-Vandalisme, consisting mostly of antique artifacts, and housed it in his home in the Hôtel de Sully, a building that he had saved from demolition. He published widely and was a friend and advisor to the Comtesse de Béhague whose astute purchase of the Leonardo da Vinci drapery studies made her famous. The third son, Robert Normand, the father of Monsieur Normand, studied at the Ecole Polytechnique and became a General in the army. He had a passion for archaeology and made expeditions to Turkey and Syria, founding the Archaeological Museum at Adana, in Turkey. His aide-de-camp, Colonel Rheims, was the father of Maître Maurice Rheims. General Normand's son, Alfred married into the Firmin-Didot family who had published his great-grandfather's work. Monsieur Normand may have owed his keen interest in paper to his mother's family which founded papermills in Kaysersberg and Novillars near Besançon, before and after the war of 1870. Both factories are still in operation.
This portrait sketch of Monsieur Normand would be incomplete if one did not mention his lively personality and phlegmatic humour. His unconventional opinions and generous spirit made him a popular figure in the world of drawings.