Offered by Stéphane Renard Fine Art
Old master paintings and drawings
17 ¾’’ x 11 5/8’’ (29.5 x 45 cm) - Framed: 24 13/16” x 19 1/8”(63 x 48.5 cm)
Dedication in the upper right corner signed by Eugène Mouton (1823 - 1902): "to my friend Mr Mouls I offer this drawing of our dear Gustave Guillaumet
Paris, March 19th 1887
In this study, which evokes one of his stays in southern Algeria, Gustave Guillaumet depicts a camel loaded with a large palanquin seen from behind. This camel is held by an Arab standing in the background, whose head can be seen through the canvas of the palanquin, next to the animal's one. The dedication from Eugène Mouton, Guillaumet's friend who published his "Tableaux Algériens" a year after his death, is particularly moving as it dates the gift of this drawing, probably to a mutual friend, on March 19th 1887, i.e. a few days after Gustave Guillaumet's death (on March 14th 1887).
1. Gustave Guillaumet, a "Saharan" painter with a passion for Algeria
Gustave Guillaumet was born into a family of industrialists; this affluence allowed him to be financially independent throughout his life, which was quite rare in the artistic circles of the time. A student of François Edouard Picot (1786-1868) and Félix-Joseph Barrias (1822-1907) at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Gustave Guillaumet exhibited his paintings at the Salon from 1861 to 1880. He differed from most other Orientalist painters by his deep knowledge of the Orient, and more specifically of Algeria, which he discovered in 1862. He left for Italy after failing at the Prix de Rome in 1861, but the bad weather on his way encouraged him to take a boat to Algeria in Marseille. Despite the malaria he caught there, which forced him to spend three months at the military hospital in Biskra, he returned enthusiastic about this country, where he went back a dozen times. He was the only painter to visit the extreme south of Algeria at that time, and in particular the Laghouat region, on the edge of the Sahara, which he discovered in 1877.
As François Mouquin wrote in 2018 in the catalogue of the exhibition devoted to Guillaumet: "his painting was not a simple genre painting. It was the portrait of a culture, that of Algeria, whose light he was able to master marvellously. He translated those customs, those traditional activities and the patriarchal life of this thousand-year-old civilisation, in a way which was better than any other could have done and equivalent to that of an ethnologist."
Guillaumet died at the age of forty-seven on March 14th 1887 in his studio located at 5 Cité Pigalle. He was buried in the Montmartre cemetery, where his grave has been decorated with a sculpture by Louis Barrias (the brother of his teacher at the Beaux-Arts) depicting a seated young Algerian woman.
2. Description of the drawing and related works
Not without humour, Guillaumet depicts a camel seen from behind, topped by an imposing palanquin and framed by tasselled curtains. The white burnous of the camel driver can also be seen on the right, his head appearing through the canvas of the palanquin next to the animal's one.
These camels were probably studied by Guillaumet during his stays in the Laghouat region. A chapter of "Tableaux Algériens", Gustave Guillaumet's book published by Eugène Mouton a year after the death of his friend, relates the story of the Aga Eddin’s camels. Ada Eggin was the chief of the Djebel-Amour. His camels, which had been left to roam freely, ruined the plantations of Tadjemout, a town located on the edge of the desert in the province of Laghouat.
Guillaumet produced several paintings depicting camels carrying a palanquin. One of them is reproduced to illustrate this chapter of "Algerian Paintings". The study presented here (last photo of the Gallery), kept in a private collection in Paris, gives us a good idea of what our camel might look like when seen from the front, although it is loaded with a large scarlet palanquin.
Guillaumet's paintings were well received by the critics of his time. At the end of his life, they were even considered as typical decoration for a bourgeois interior. As an example in Bel Ami ( a novel published in 1885 by Maupassant), the hero Georges Duroy notices "a plain of Algeria, by Guillaumet, with a camel on the horizon, a large camel on its high legs, like a strange monument" in the salon of Monsieur Walter, his boss at La Vie Française (whose wife he would finally seduce).
3. Eugène Mouton, writer and Guillaumet’s friend
The writer Eugène Mouton (1823 - 1902) started out as a magistrate before becoming a humorous and fantastic writer. After the publication in 1857 of L'Invalide à la tête de bois, his masterpiece, he left the magistracy to devote himself entirely to writing. He is best known today for several visionary short stories, such as La Fin du Monde (The End of the World), published in 1872, in which he was the first writer to imagine that over-industrialisation could lead to a shortage of natural resources, global warming and the extinction of the human race.
Family legends report that he met Gustave Guillaumet in Fontarabie (in the Spanish Basque Country), while they were both painting the same street of this old town. This meeting was the start to an indefectible friendship which led in 1888 Eugène Mouton to publish, as he had had promised to his friend on his deathbed, the text of the Tableaux Algériens in a book richly illustrated with reproductions of the artist's works, and accompanied by a remarkable preface.
It is for this reason why the dedication that crowns this drawing is particularly moving. It is addressed to a certain Mr Mouls, about whom we have unfortunately not found any information. This name is difficult to read but we have deciphered it by comparing each letter with the other letters in the dedication. This family name exists, especially in the Aveyron region, an area which Eugène Mouton knew well having sojourned in Rodez as Imperial Prosecutor.
This drawing is presented in a 19th century frame made of ebony veneer inlaid with wood fillets. Carved from the lighter parts of the wood, the frame has large chromatic variations on the sides which confer it an exotic and precious character.
Main bibliographical references :
Gustave Guillaumet – Tableaux Algériens - 1888 Livrairie Plon - Paris
(collective work produced for the 2018 exhibition) L'Algérie de Gustave Guillaumet - 2018 Gourcuff Gradenigo
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