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Georges-Antoine Rochegrosse

(1859 Versailles – 1938 El Biar, Algeria)

Frontispiece to Théodore de Banville’s ‘Poésies Nouvelles’. Pen and point of brush and black ink, on thick cardboard. 29.7 x 22.4 cm. (1884). Signed “G. Rochegrosse”.

Georges-Antoine Rochegrosse was brought up by his mother and stepfather, the poet Théodore de Banville, who brought him into contact at an early age with such literary giants as Victor Hugo, Gustave Flaubert and Arthur Rimbaud. Rochegrosse was more interested in the fine arts than in poetry, however, and received his initial training in painting from Alfred Deho­dencq before continuing his studies at the Académie Julian and the École des Beaux-Arts. The artist first concentrated on large his­-
torical paintings which were regularly exhibited at the Paris Salons and earned him several prizes. The close relationship Rochegrosse enjoyed with his stepfather and his literary friends soon led him to take a keen interest in the illustration of books. In the 1880s he supplied numerous illustrations for works by Hugo and illustrated several publications by Flaubert, including Hérodias and Salammbô, as well as producing posters, for Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin and Tannhäuser, for example. Rochegrosse cooperated more closely with his stepfather, Théodore de Banville (1823–1891), than with anyone else.

Banville, a theatre critic and representative of the Parnassian group of poets, commissioned him to produce a large number of illustrations for his lyric poetry. In 1884 the artist made the present drawing which served as the frontispiece to Banville’s 1884 anthology Nous Tous; it shows an inordinately large lyre, the ancient symbol of poets and philosophers, on the body of which two gallant gentlemen are vying for the attention of a young lady. In the background the outlines of an urban landscape indicate Paris at the time of the Belle Époque. A humorous touch is provided by the little black dog sat motionless in the foreground gazing at the viewer. This concentrated, subtly executed pen-and-ink drawing is remarkable for its lightness and elegance.

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