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Emmanuel Phélippes-Beaulieux

(1829 Nantes - 1874)

La Jeune Poitrinaire (The Consumptive Girl). Etching. Dry point and roulette on Chine appliqué. 31.7 x 39.9 cm. 1861.

Virtually nothing is known about the life and work of Emmanuel Phélippes-Beaulieux, which is surprising in view of the fascination exerted by his surviving works. Le Blanc records a total of seventeen prints by this dilettante draughtsman and etcher, whose artistic endeavours were probably undertaken for his own amusement and evidently remained unknown to the public at large. (“Ses productions n’ont pas été mises dans le commerce”, Ch. Le Blanc, Manuel de l’Amateur d’Estampes, II, pp. 187-188).
In their originality of imagination and eccentric technical treatment his graphic works show certain similarities to the printed oeuvre of Rodolphe Bresdin (1822 -1885), whose work also remained largely unknown until decades after his death.
The picture shows a consumptive young woman on her death bed. We learn from the detailed inscription that she is a certain Jeanne Cormerais who died on the evening of 3 June 1861 in the village of Orvault near Nantes. In the gloomy room of a peasant cottage her closest relatives have gathered before her bed niche in order to take leave of her. On the right is a male mourner who has buried his face in his hands. “She looked like an angel ascending to heaven,” records the artist’s inscription. Numerous devotional objects on the walls of the sparsely furnished room point to the religious fervour of the young woman who, the legend tells us, departed this life in exemplary Christian fashion. Doubtless the artist himself was present. He has drawn the assembled protagonists, the frugal interior and the individual furnishings in detail and with a certain naivety, which lends the scene a magic of its own and a high degree of narrative expression. Phélippes-Beaulieux has used various techniques, such as dry point and roulette, to create a wide range of tonal gradations. A dramatic effect is achieved by the contrast between the dim light of the room and the ghostly white of the dying girl’s facial complexion and forearms. The whole scene has a gloomy, almost surreal character that casts an irresistible spell on the beholder.
A superb, contrasting impression with wide margins. The margins are slightly foxed and discoloured, but otherwise in impeccable condition.

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