Monday, April 1, 2013

Portrait Painter Bernard Boutet de Monvel

fr.wikipedia.org
Bernard Boutet de Monvel (1881-1949) was the son of Louis-Maurice de Monvel, a major illustrator of 19th century French children's books. Bernard trained under his father and under Luc-Olivier Merson (1849-1920), best remembered for his evocative Rest on the Flight Into Egypt, below.

amazon.com
Like his father, de Monvel became an illustrator, and also an advertising artist. After World War I duty, he traveled to Morocco, where he spent the better part of seven years. There he painted orientalist Moroccan scenes, perhaps influenced by the work of Merson.

Connoisseur  |  May 1987
Starting in 1926, de Monvel made yearly trips to the United States, where his society portraits were in much demand. De Monvel — elegant, charming, amusing and always beautifully dressed — attended the same dinners and balls as upper crust New York society, where he would easily attain new clients. The portrait above, of Mrs. Payne Whitney, cost upwards of $10,000, a staggering sum during the Depression.

Library of Congress
And so Bernard Boutet de Monvel lived very well. This is a view of his studio in Palm Beach, Florida. He also had a (mirrored) octagonal room in his French home.

Connoisseur  |  May 1987
In this portrait of Millicent Rogers, de Monvel revels in the luxe of designer clothes. He was a master of painting satins and jewelry. Millicent's mother had been a life-long patron, and de Monvel often painted generations of a family.

typepad.com
De Monvel's portraits have often been described as "icy." Beautifully composed and technically smooth, they are beautiful likenesses that nonetheless don't reveal sitters' inner warmth or personality. Perhaps that suited clients who were more interested in projecting status. Above is the 1931 portrait of Mrs. Samuel L. M. Barlow.

Marquis de Cuevas  |  Connoisseur  |  May 1987
orinink.wordpress.com
Above is a 1929 portrait of Yeshwantro Holkar II, Maharajah of Indor, and below is a study for the same portrait.

findartinfo.com

Duc de Brissac  |  thesnobreport.tumblr.com
askart.com
Above is a 1925 portrait of George Marie Haardt, General Manager of Citroën.

lyceo_hispanico  |  egilet.wordpress.com
De Monvel painted striking cityscapes of New York and often incorporated architecture into his portraits, like the 1933 one of Rodman W. Edminston, below.


lyceo_hispanico
I've saved my favorite painting for last. It's Bernard Boutet de Monvel's own self-portrait, with the Place Vendȏme in the background.


Connoisseur  |  May 1987
De Monvel died in the Azores on October 28, 1949, when an airplane he was riding crashed into a mountain side.
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29 comments:

  1. Wow - these are amazing! they're almost the equivalent of architectural renderings of portraits -no?

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    1. Stefan, I've shown only one of de Monvel's pencils, but he apparently always gridded his work, and I can see the architectural quality you mention.

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  2. Hello Mark, I am very glad to be introduced to the work of Bernard De Monvel. Most of the portraits you show seem to be viewed from beneath, which lends the subject with an imperious air. Also, the backgrounds seems to be "grayed out" a little, giving the face a special strength and emphasis.

    I am with you in admiring the self-portrait, but I also am fascinated by his depiction of Mrs. Payne Whitney.
    --Road to Parnassus

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    1. Hello, Jim,

      That's an interesting observation about the grayed-out backgrounds. I see them as light blue or blue-gray, which would be a complementary color to flesh tones, and certainly flattering.

      Several things strike me about the portrait of Mrs. Payne Whitney, who certainly appears as a force to be reckoned with. De Monvel softens a rather masculine face with the gesture of the hand, and with that most graceful of palm fronds. (I don't know if it was a conscious decision, but the plam fronds are an interesting balance to those arched eyebrows.) A few strands of loose hair on the forehead and that velvety beret help to soften the face, and that incredible fur totally obscures the neck. The painting is really a masterful piece of flattery.

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  3. They are extraordinary , my favourite is the Maharajah , that cloak has a life of its own. Also those languid hands..

    Having said the above I keep going back to the Haardt portrait , a man of action and adventure

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    1. Hello, smr - I thought that the portrait of Haardt might have been executed in pastels, but it is indeed an oil painting. The perspective and composition is wonderfully heroic.

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  4. I love the self-portrait too, Mark. But I also love the one of George Marie Haardt and the one of the Maharajah. Thanks for the introduction to De Monvel's work.

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    1. Hi, Yvette - I like that the Haardt portrait is so monochromatic, and then there's the interior pith helmet's brighter green around the face.

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  5. Dear Mark - I enjoyed seeing all of these portraits. I like their icy aloofness, the way they disdainfully observe you the onlooker. They make you want to find out more about who they are, because they do not attempt to convey the inner person.

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    1. Dear Rosemary,

      One gets the feeling, looking at these portraits, that the sitters would look at you exactly as they're portrayed on canvas.

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  6. Oh, you DID save the best for last! Somehow, the self portrait makes me think of Gustave Caillebotte's Man on the Balcony. Caillebotte shows the disconnect with man and society while de Monvel is fully engaged with the audience. Both have similar palettes of color but very different messages. Nice post!

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    1. Hi, Theresa! You've made an interesting connection between those two paintings — thanks for that. I enjoy de Monvel's architectural painting as much as his portraits. The architecture behind Rodman W. Edminston is almost as though he's placed the sitter in front of a Mondrian composition.

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  7. Dear Mark,
    What a wonderful post-- Monvel was unknown to me, but I'm completely fascinated! Such an elegant (and, yes, aloof) style from an elegant period... I'm having that familiar pang of being born too late again! I'll bet Monvel lived a very glamorous and maybe scandalous life, moving in the circles he did... I hope there's a book about his life and work out there....Off to Amazon!
    Warm regards,
    Erika

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    1. Dear Erika,

      As you've probably discovered, there is a book on de Monvel, but both the hardback and soft cover versions are very pricey.

      I did a Google search on de Monvel about a year ago, and there were very few images of his work available. Now I notice quite a few, which indicates to me that his paintings are turning up in the estates of his sitters' offspring.

      Best wishes,
      Mark

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  8. I have been an intense admirer of de Monvel for many years, and still kick myself to this day that I missed attending an exhibition of his paintings in New York a dozen or more years ago. I consider him to be one of the greatest and most underappreciated portraitists of the 20th century.

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    1. Hello, Reggie,

      I think that de Monvel's work is going through a reappraisal. I'm just disappointed that the book I mentioned in the comment to Erika is so expensive (a paperback copy is fetching almost $200). I would have loved to have seen the exhibition that you mention!

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  9. gorgeous all-it's how we imagine these people must have been. I am familiar with the Millicent Rogers portrait-though it is my least fav of the ones you've shared. The George de Cuevas portrait is wonderful! pgt

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    1. I agree with you on all counts, Gaye — I don't know why such an elegant portraitist is not more celebrated.

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  10. An very elegant style, and quite stylised portraiture. I think the final self portrait must be in reverse, as the pocket handkerchief and the flower in his buttonhole are on the wrong side.

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    1. That is a very astute observation, Columnist, and of course you're right. (I should have picked up on that!) This is the way the portrait was published in "Connoisseur," but such mistakes can happen in the best of publications.

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    2. The self-portrait is not in reverse - Connoisseur got it right. I checked with an old exhibition catalogue, where it is presented as here - the signature at lower right clearly reads "Bernard B De Monvel" right way round and not reversed.

      The painter was of course looking in a mirror and for whatever reason left the image the way he saw it.

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    3. Thank you for clearing that up.

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  11. Hi Mark,
    I think that his 'icy' style says more about him than his sitters, look at his studio - my gosh! It's the north pole. None the less, I think he's brilliant. Portrait painters are fascinating, loved it.
    Anyes
    xx

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    1. Hi, Anyes,

      As I look at de Monvel's studio, it occurs to me that he may have decorated it more to suit his sitters than himself.

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  12. Ginette Neveu and Edith Piaf's boyfriend Marcel Cerdan(France's last world heavyweight champion boxer) died on the same flight. Interestingly, and, ahem, chillingly, Neveu's Stradivarius was not recovered from the wreckage, but its double case was found scratched but not broken, the neck of her other violin, a Guadagnini, was presented live on French television, and one of her bows was in the hands of an Azorean fisher.

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  13. Mark, it may interest you to know that a hardcover edition of the Stephane Adane book on Bernard Moutet de Monvel will be published on 16 April, 2016.
    Amazon are offering it at sixty dollars-- a far cry from the extortionist prices seen for second hand paperback editions.

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    1. Thank you for that heads-up, Toby — I'm a great admirer of de Monvel. I see that there will soon be a major de Monvel auction, which I gather is his daughter's estate.

      Thanks also for revisiting here. I have looked at images of your Soane library and it is perfection.

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  14. Yes, there will be an auction, including the famous self portrait with the Ritxz in the background. Imagine owning that!

    Thanks for the compliment re my homage to Soane library--which I probably don't deserve considering how sniffy I was about the Sherwin Williams advisors to your painting problems! But behind that criticism was respect for your work, accompanied by practiced resentment towards paint dealers who presume to tell artists how to go about their tasks. In other words, I've been there...as the phrase goes.

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    1. No offense taken, and as you might have seen, I did choose better wording for the text of that particular posting. I take advice where I can find it and am always happy to sit at the table of people who know more than I do.

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