Son of the art historian and director of the Gazette des Arts René Ménard, Emile-René Ménard forged his taste for painting in Barbizon, where he spent the vacations of his young years, at the school of Millet, Corot and Daubigny. He inherited his passion for classical antiquity from his uncle Louis Menard, an original man, poet, chemist and historian, of whom Théophile Gautier once said that he was "an Athenian born two thousand years too late". The decorator Galand, then the painter Lehmann, guided his first steps in the profession of painter. In 1880, Menard entered the Académie Julien where he was taught by Bouguereau, Baudry and Robert-Fleury. He exhibited for the first time at the Salon in 1883; the State bought him The departure of the herd, marking the beginnings of a smooth career.
"This career of artist was happy, summarized Jean-Louis Vaudoyer on the occasion of an exhibition devoted to the painter in 1926. At no time, Menard knew the reverses, the failures nor the indifference of the public and the critic. As soon as he started to paint, it was an enchantment, an enchantment that still lasts. (...) With the quiet audacity of the strong, the eyes fixed on his interior ideal, smiling, confident and serious, he continued his way.
Ménard manifested a peaceful, joyful and vigorous nature, which the trials of life - such as the premature loss of his two children - did not seem to diminish. The quest for beauty that runs through his art was nourished by his solid taste as a collector; he gathered at home Persian carpets and stuccos from medieval Italy, tapestries, Greek marbles and Roman capitals.
Heir to Poussin or Claude Lorrain, sometimes close to Puvis de Chavannes, the work of Emile-René Ménard combines a keen observation of nature with the search for a classical perfection with Arcadian accents.
The sketchbooks preserved in the graphic arts department of the Louvre Museum attest to the research on the motif of this light enthusiast: multiple annotations of colors punctuate the strokes drawn with graphite. Ménard then willingly worked in pastel before composing his painting in the studio - each project often gave rise to several variants.
Our Bathers on the Beach are the fruit of this long maturation process, nourished by the artist's travels through Italy, Greece, Morocco and Egypt. In 1921, Menard was at the peak of his art. He had been living for ten years in Varengeville, a village on the Normandy coast that had already attracted Turner, Whistler, Corot and Renoir. Here he depicts two women bathing - one of his favorite subjects - in a sandy cove surrounded by cliffs illuminated by the light of dusk. Elegant and graceful in their sensuality tinged with restraint, these figures combine the embodiment of harmoniously modeled bodies and the ideal line of Greek vestals. They blend harmoniously into this timeless landscape, constructing a contemplative image, devoid of any moral or historical connotation. Menard prepared his oils with a petrol grisaille, thin and sometimes matt. The support, frequently left exposed, serves here as a surface tone, reinforcing the dominant ochre and gold. The artist likes to paint the changes of light. The pink and orange harmony of dusk sublimates the shape of the flesh. The beach in the foreground is treated with a lively, almost hasty brushwork, which seems to be a counterpart to the subtle work of the water and the cloudy sky so characteristic of the painter's style.
According to his habit, Menard reworked this composition several times. The closest version, an oil on cardboard, is probably preparatory to our painting (Millon sale, June 19th 2006, n°357). We also find in the Musée de l'Oise (MUDO) and in the Musée de Pau, bathers in daytime atmospheres and more southern landscapes.
Our painting was presented at the Salon des Beaux-arts of 1921, under the number 799, then later in Brussels, where Ménard exhibited several times after being elected to the Académie des Beaux-arts in 1925.