Alphonse Osbert, Master of Pastel

On 20 April 2021, by Anne Doridou-Heim

A pastel by Osbert pays homage to woman, seen here from behind, while Matisse lingered on a face in charcoal.

Alphonse Osbert (1857-1939), Jeune femme au bord d'un lac (Young Woman by a Lake), pastel, 30 x 22 cm/11.82 x 8.67 in.
Result: €33,280

A 1951 charcoal drawing by Henri Matisse, Visage de femme (Face of a Woman, 53 x 40 cm/20.87 x 15.75 in) fetched €136,960, the auction’s top bid. The beautiful work is characteristic of his drawings. However, a pastel by French symbolist painter Alphonse Osbert, Jeune femme au bord d'un lac (Young Woman by a Lake), is worthy of closer attention. With a refined choice of chromatic tones, this intensely poetic work on paper illustrates Osbert’s command of pastel. Seen from behind, the young woman is like a modern-day Tanagra standing out against an ethereal background of water and air, glowing with the light of the setting sun.

French chemist Chevreul taught Osbert (1857-1939) about the relationships between complementary colors, which he applied in flat planes. This bestows the whole with a powerful decorative aura and gives the viewer the impression of looking at a large work, even though it measures only 30 by 22 cm (11.82 x 8.67 in). There is no escape, no vanishing point: the harmony of mauve, pink, yellow and blue and unbelievably graceful silhouette captures—even captivates—the viewer's gaze. No wonder the work fetched €33,280.

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