JEAN-LÉON GÉRÔME

(French, 1824-1904)

 

A Collaboration (Molière and Corneille)

  

Signed at center (on the tablecloth): J.L. Gerome

Oil on canvas, laid down on panel

19 x 26 1/2 inches (48 x 67 cm)

 

Provenance:     

The artist, sold December 1873 for 18,000 francs to:
Goupil & Cie., Paris (1873-1874); sold in 1874 for 30,000 francs to:
A. T. Stewart, New York (1874-1876); by descent to:
Mrs. A. T. (Cornelia) Stewart, New York (1876-1886); her estate sale, New York, American Art Association, March 23-25, 1887, lot 191; sold for $8,100 to:
Stanford White, New York (1887-1906); his estate sale, New York, American Art Galleries, April 11-12, 1907, lot 51; sold for $1600 to:
Edmund Holbrook, New York
Robert C. Vose Galleries, Boston; sold in 1933 to:
Mr. and Mrs. Willis A. Trafton, Auburn, Maine; thence by descent until 1997
Robert Simon Fine Art, New York, 1997
Hirschl & Adler, New York, 1997
Private Collection, 1997-2016

Exhibited:

 Salon, Paris, 1874, no. 796 (Awarded Medal of Honor)
Union League Club, 1875
“Gérôme & Goupil; Art & Enterprise (Gérôme et Goupil; Art et Enterprise),” Bordeaux, Musée Goupil (Oct. 12, 2000-Jan. 14, 2001); New York, Dahesh Museum of Art (Feb. 6-May 5, 2001); Pittsburgh, The Frick Art & Historical Center, (June 7-Aug. 12, 2001), no. 101

Literature:

Goupil & Cie/ Boussod, Valadon & Co. Stock Books, Book 7, No. 8601 p. 103, row 2 (1874).
Louis Gonse, “Salon de 1874,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, X (1874), p. 38.
Nestor Paturot, Le Salon de 1874 (Paris 1874), pp. 28, 199-200.
Ph[ilippe] Burty, “Prizes at the Salon,” The Academy and Literature, V (June 13, 1974), p. 674
“Gérome’s ‘Une Collaboration.’”The Art Journal, New Series, Vol. 1, (1875), pp. 48-49.
Lucy H. Hooper, “Among the Studios of Paris, II,” The Art Journal, New Series, Vol. 1, (1875), p. 89.
Jules Claretie, L'Art et les artistes français contemporains (Paris 1876), p. 212.
P. L. Jacob [Paul Lacroix],  Iconographie Moliéresque, 2nd ed. (Paris 1876), p. 326, no. 809
P. de Mussy, L’amour poète, ou Corneille chez Molière (Rouen 1878), p. 9.
Edward Strahan [Earl Shinn], The Art Treasures of America being the Choicest Works of Art in the Public and Private Collections of North America (Philadelphia 1879-80), I p. 24.
Edward Strahan [Earl Shinn], Gérôme, A Collection of Works of J. L. Gérôme in One Hundred Photogravures (New York 1881-83), the photogravure illustrated.
Catalogue des dessins et des peintures de Gérôme, ed by Prost (Catalogue de Paris), Ms in Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, Cabinet des Estampes (1883), p. 45
Artistic Houses (New York 1883), I, part 1, p. 13, plates opposite pp. 15 and 16.
Jules Claretie, Peintres et sculptures contemporains (Paris 1884), 2nd ser., pp. 74-75 (as Molière et Corneille collaborant).
G. W. Sheldon, Hours with Art and Artists (New York 1882, engraved illustration p. 81, p. 88 (mistakenly identified as Molière and Scarron)
Jean-Léon Gérôme, Preface to Cham [Amédée de Noë], Les Folies Parisiennes (Paris 1883), p. 45.
Fanny Field Hering, Gérôme, His Life and Works (New York 1892), pp. 172ill., 219.
Benjamin Ellis Martin and Charlotte M. Martin, The Stones of Paris in History and Letters (London 1899), vol. I, pp. 140-1.
Les Oeuvres de J. L. Gérôme, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris (Goupil), Vol. XIII, p. 15.
Journal de Edmond Got, sociétaire de la Comédie-Française, 1822-1901 (Paris 1910) II, p. 184
Albert Keim, Gérôme, tr. Frederic T. Cooper. New York 1912, pp. 31, 62
Dorothy Weir Young, The Life & Letters of J. Alden Weir (New Haven 1960), p. 38.
Gerald M. Ackerman, The Life and Work of Jean-Léon Gérôme (London 1986), pp. 96, 234, 235ill., cat. no. 232.
Eric M. Zafran, Cavaliers and Cardinals; Nineteenth-Century French Anecdotal Paintings, exh. cat. (Cincinnati 1992), pp.11-12, 30, fig. 37.
Gerald M. Ackerman, Jean-Léon Gérôme : monographie révisée, catalogue raisonné mis à jour.  Courbevois 2000, pp. 282-3, cat. no. 232
Decourcy E. McIntosh, “Goupil and the American Triumph of Jean-Léon Gérôme,” in Gérôme & Goupil; Art & Enterprise, exh. cat. Paris 2000, p. 38
Regine Bigorne, “The Taste for Modern History,” in Gérôme & Goupil; Art & Enterprise, exh. cat. Paris 2000, pp. 140-142, 160, color pl. no. 101, cat. no. 101.
Wayne Craven, Stanford White: Decorator in Opulence and Dealer in Antiquities (New York 2005), pp. 202-206.
Jean-Paul Goujon and Jean-Jacques Lafrère, Ȏte-moi d’une doute; l’énigma Corneille-Molière (Paris 2006), p.19.
Mary G. Morton, “Gérôme in the Gilded Age,” in The Spectacular Art of Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), ed. Laurence des Cars, Dominique de Font-Rélaux, Edouard Papet, exh. cat., J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, June 15-Sept. 12, 2010;  Musée d'Orsay, Paris, Oct. 19, 2010-Jan. 23, 2011; Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Mar. 1-May 22, 2011(Milan 2010) p. 187.

 

Gérôme received the gold “grande médaille d’honneur” from the jury of the 1874 Salon on the merit of his three striking historical genre compositions: L'eminence grise (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), Rex Tibicien (Lost), and Une Collaboration, the present picture.  The “collaboration” of the title is that between the two great French dramatists of the seventeenth century -- Molière, famous for his comedies, and Pierre Corneille, celebrated for his tragedies.  Their only collaboration was Psyché, appropriately termed a tragicomédie, a work premiered at the Théâtre des Tuileries before the court of Louis XIV on January 17, 1671.  Molière had been awarded the commission for Psyché, but had limited time with which to versify the work.  He prepared the prologue, first act, and first scenes of Acts two and three, but turned to Corneille to write the balance of the play on the basis outline that he had conceived.

 

The setting is the house of Corneille, who leans forward from his cushioned chair to read from the manuscript held in his hands, clearly inscribed “Psyche.”  Across the table sits the rapt Molière, his legs crossed, his head in hand, in a posture both intense and relaxed.  Commenting on the novelty of Gérôme's poses as illustrated in A Collaboration, Earl Shinn (1879) wrote, 

“This scene is characterized by those attitudes of complete abandonment which Gérôme continually discovers, with better luck than any chronicler of manners — so very careless, they make you notice their carelessness.”

 The subject of the painting was suggested to Gérôme by the actor and writer Edmond Got, who stated that it was specifically the third act of Psyché that Corneille is reading to Molière. The two protagonists appear in a shallow space reminiscent of the stage, a room enclosed on all sides but open to the observer.  The simplicity of the setting is belied by the richness and intensity with which Gérôme depicts objects and surfaces: the satin and silk of Molière's dress, the slightly tattered pastoral tapestry, the crumpled page of a discarded draft on the floor, the wonderful variety of books on the wall, atop the table, and beneath -- no two at the same angle -- or the disparate decorations that rest on the mantle: a pewter ewer, glass bottle, and brass candlestick.

The relationship of the two playwrights is critical to the painting: Gérôme seeksto create a drama about the genesis of a drama, one between the comic and tragic playwrights, between the literary star and his elder colleague.  Molière was then forty-nine to Corneille’s sixty-five, but would die but two years later.  Gestures, poses, and expressions are vividly contrasted.  And details are always telling.  Compare Molière’s feet, covered with fashionable beribboned (but scuffed) shoes with stacked leather heels and soles, held in casual angular attitudes, and Corneille’s, garbed in simple worn slippers, firmly planted on the floor and the strut of his chair.

  In The Stones of Paris Benjamin and Charlotte Martin describe the painting with reference to Corneille’s house on the Rue de Cléry:

 

Here in 1671, Corneille and Moliere, in collaboration, wrote the “tragedy-ballet ‘Psyche’”; this work in common cementing a friendship already begun between the two men, and now made firmer for the two years of Moliere's life on from this date. The play was begun and finished in a fortnight, to meet the usual urgency of the King in his amusements.  Moliere planned the piece and its spectacular effects, and wrote the prologue, the first act, and the first scenes of the second and third acts; Corneille’s share being the rest of the rhymed dialogue and the songs. It was set to music by Lully –‘the incomparable Monsieur Lulli,’ as he was called by Moliere—whose generous laudation of the musician was not lessened by his estimate of the man….They make a pretty picture, not without a touch of the pathetic—and M. Gerome has put it on canvas—as they sit side by side, planning and plotting their play: Moliere at the top of his career, busy, prosperous, applauded; Corneille past his prime and his popularity, beginning to bend with age and to break in spirit. He had by now fallen on evil days, which saw him “satiated with glory, and famished for money,” in his words to Boileau.

 

There may be a further subtext to the relationship of the two playwrights.  As Eric Zafran has indicated, “unlike the amicable relationship that existed between LaFontaine and Molière, there is a sense of tension in this collaboration, for Molière had previously mocked the elder writer's tragedies in La Critique.” Gerald Ackerman (in a letter) writes,

“The poses are wonderful. Molière, all twitches, incredible. Gérôme must have loved Molière as much as the rest of us do, for that is the way I see his incredible energy. And the way he looks at the unconsciously acquired Corneille. Does Molière find him –despite all due professional respect—a bit pompous, old-fashioned?”

Goupil & Cie/ Boussod, Valadon, & Co. Stock Book with the entry on the painting in the second row

Discussing the three paintings by Gérôme in the Salon of 1874 Hering wrote, “The third picture was the famous Collaboration, where Gérôme, who adores Molière, shows us the young playwright in close confab with the venerable Corneille.  This is one of his choicest canvases in this genre, remarkable for quiet thought and concentration, masterly drawing and harmonious color.”  Shinn (1881-3) remarked, “In the troubled brow of the visitor [Molière]; in the careless dress and scantily furnished chamber -- with the cobwebs invading the tapestries -- of the master of the house, we may read the pathetic story of the latter and evil days of these two men of undoubted genius, who contributed so much to lift French literature to the highest pinnacle it has ever attained.  This scene vies, not unsuccessfully, with the little tranquil groups of Meissonier -- a pair of figures, eventless and conversational, separated by a table in a tapestried apartment and accurately clothed in authentic garments from the costumer's shop.  It takes the most close and thorough workmanship to make one of these still groups seem important, and Gérôme's triumph on his rival's ground is not contemptible.  Generally he chooses to mend out his figure-study with the importance of the event.  Had he wished to develop this ‘collaboration,’ he might have introduced the gifted scullion of the Grande Mademoiselle Lulli, who wrote the music for Psyche, and Quinault, who composed the intermèdes.”

The painting’s provenance is unbroken to the present.  Goupil acquired what was first titled Corneille et Moliere from Gérôme on Dec. 27, 1873, paying the artist 18,000 francs. On March 26th of the following year, the painting was sold to the American dry-goods magnate A. T. Stewart for 30,000 francs.  It then appeared, as owned by Stewart, in the Salon of 1874.  Photographs of the Picture Gallery in Stewart's mansion at the north-west corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street in New York (published in Artistic Houses of 1883) show A Collaboration prominently displayed together with such icons of nineteenth-century art as Rosa Bonheur’s The Horse Fair (now Metropolitan Museum of Art) and Hiram Powers’ original Greek Slave (now Yale University Art Gallery).  At Stewart’s death the painting descended to his widow Cornelia with whom it remained until her passing in 1886.  The following year the Stewart Collection was sold at auction with tremendous fanfare (see illustration).  A Collaboration was there purchased by the architect Stanford White.  A photograph in the New York Historical Society (McKim Mead and White Collection) shows the painting hanging in the Green Room, White’s combined study and sitting room, on the third floor of his house at 121 East 21st Street in Gramercy Park.

View of the Picture Gallery in A. T. Stewart’s Marble Mansion at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street.  Gérôme’s A Collaboration can be seen at the center left on the floor.  To its right is Hiram Power’s original Greek Slave (now Yale University Art Gallery) above which hangs Frederick Church’s Niagara Falls from the American Side (now Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland).  Rosa Bonheur’s Horse Fair (now Metropolitan Museum of Art) hangs on the end wall.

Illustration of the Stewart auction, 1887, from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper

View of the Green Room in Stanford White’s Gramercy Park home.  A Collaboration hangs at left over the
mantle-clock and glass-fronted bookcase.  Photograph taken shortly after White’s murder in 1906.
Courtesy The New York Historical Society (McKim Mead & White Archives)

After White’s death in 1906 his collection went to auction, where A Collaboration was purchased by Edmund Holbrook for $1600, the highest price of the sale.  From Holbrook the painting passed through Vose Galleries to Willis A. Trafton, a Maine attorney and collector, in whose family it descended until 1997, at which time it was acquired by the present owner.  The painting has remained in American collections from the time of A. T. Stewart’s acquisition until today.  That a work depicting the great playwrights of seventeenth-century France came to be prized by American collectors was an irony not lost on the artist.  On an 1875 visit to Gérôme’s studio the American journalist Lucy Hooper recorded the artist’s response to the sale of two of the three Salon entries of the previous year, The Eminence Grise and A Collaboration, to American collectors. “Gérôme rather regrets the destination of this last picture [A Collaboration], the subject being a particularly French one and calculated to interest Frenchmen especially.” 

Engraving published in Art Journal, n.s. Vol. I (1875) p. 49

Engraving published in Le Monde Illustre (1874), p. 368

Line-engraving by Auguste Morse after A Collaboration (Bordeaux, Museé Goupil)

A Collaboration was widely reproduced in the artist’s lifetime.  Engravings appeared in various journals following the painting’s exhibition at the Salon (see, for example those in Le Monde Illustre and The Art Journal, below).  Goupil published several reproductions of in various forms:  photograph, photogravure, cabinet card, and a line-engraving by Auguste Morse (see below), published in 1878.  A painted reduction of A Collaboration, oil on panel, 9 ½ x 12 ¾ in; 24.2 x 32.4 cm), thought to be from Gérôme’s studio, was sold at Christie’s, New York, Sept. 4, 2002, lot 310.  Ackerman (2000) notes that a reduction of the painting was cited in the 1883 Catalogue de Paris as having been sent by Gérôme to Corneille’s house, now the Musée Pierre Corneille, in Petit-Couronne, near Rouen.  However, no such painting is recorded there and the gift may have simply been a photogravure of the painting, an example of which remains in the collection.

A Collaboration is in exceptionally fine condition and is presented in an original late nineteenth-century French frame. 

...these two men of undoubted genius, who contributed so much to lift French literature to the highest pinnacle it has ever attained. 

Studio of Gérôme (?), A Collaboration (Christie’s, New York, 2002)