A gift from a friend and artist

On 10 July 2019, by Anne Foster

Émile Friant painted many portraits of his friends in the Nancy School. In 1885, when still a young artist, he elegantly brushed the features of Charles de Meixmoron and his wife.

Émile Friant (1863-1932), L’Ébauche (The Sketch), 1885, oil on panel, 55 x 45 cm.
Estimate: €50,000/60,000

Nearly a generation separated Emile Friant from Charles de Meixmoron, but they maintained a long friendship, to which this painting bears witness. Here the elder put his trust in an artist of only twenty-two to produce a work depicting a certain intimacy. In this double portrait, the high point is the magnificent evening dress of the young wife, Lucie-Marie-Emma de Maillart de Landreville. This attention to subtle nuances, the gradation of colours and details that make the scene even more naturalistic were constant features in Friant's work. We find them again later in 1888 in La Toussaint, his most famous painting. His models included some of the most eminent members of high society in Nancy. Born in 1839, Léon-Charles-Bénigne Vaillant de Meixmoron Mathieu de Dombasle was the grandson of the agronomist Mathieu de Dombasle, inventor of the eponymous plough and forerunner of agricultural education in France. A leading member of this society, Charles also had a career as an artist, participating regularly in the exhibitions of the Société Lorraine des Amis des Arts and at Paris salons. Early on, he became interested in a young artist, Claude Monet and bought some of his paintings, rapidly expanding his collection with works by Manet, Mary Cassatt, Boudin and Degas, as well as Japanese prints.
Two of Friant's paintings were much admired at the 1885 Salon des Artistes Français. One was a large full-length portrait of Madame de Meixmoron de Dombasle; the other was entitled L’Ébauche (The Sketch). Curator and art historian André Michel waxed lyrical in his chronicle for the Gazette des Beaux-Arts: "The drawing precise yet substantial, with a supple, delectably caressing quality; skilful, unobtrusive use of colour and genuine refinement… the discreet and penetrating eloquence of light."   

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