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Title: Henner - Masterpieces in Colour Series
Author: Crastre, François
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                          _IN THE SAME SERIES_

                 REYNOLDS           LE BRUN
                 VELASQUEZ          CHARDIN
                 GREUZE             MILLET
                 TURNER             RAEBURN
                 BOTTICELLI         SARGENT
                 ROMNEY             CONSTABLE
                 REMBRANDT          MEMLING
                 BELLINI            FRAGONARD
                 FRA ANGELICO       DÜRER
                 ROSSETTI           LAWRENCE
                 RAPHAEL            HOGARTH
                 LEIGHTON           WATTEAU
                 HOLMAN HUNT        MURILLO
                 TITIAN             WATTS
                 MILLAIS            INGRES
                 LUINI              COROT
                 FRANZ HALS         DELACROIX
                 CARLO DOLCI        FRA LIPPO LIPPI
                 TINTORETTO         MEISSONIER
                 VAN DYCK           GÉRÔME
                 DA VINCI           VERONESE
                 WHISTLER           VAN EYCK
                 RUBENS             FROMENTIN
                 BOUCHER            MANTEGNA
                 HOLBEIN            PERUGINO
                 BURNE-JONES        ROSA BONHEUR



(Petit Palais des Beaux-Arts)

This little portrait, charmingly delicate and delightful in colouring,
belongs to the first period of the painter's life. None the less,
it is remarkable in execution and in truth.]



                            _BY FR. CRASTRE_

                       TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH
                        BY FREDERIC TABER COOPER

                        _ILLUSTRATED WITH EIGHT
                        REPRODUCTIONS IN COLOUR_

                    [Illustration: IN SEMPITERNUM.]

                      FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY
                          NEW YORK--PUBLISHERS


                          COPYRIGHT, 1913, BY
                      FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY

               _Printed in the United States of America_



                      The First Years           18
                      The Arrival at Paris      29
                      The Years in Rome         37
                      The Works of Henner       44
                      The Portrait Painter      72


                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

          I. The Little Girl with the Blue Ribbon   Frontispiece
             Petit Palais des Beaux-Arts

         II. The Reclining Nymph                              14
             Luxembourg Museum

        III. Portrait of Mlle. L                              24
             Luxembourg Museum

         IV. The Little Writer                                34
             Petit Palais des Beaux-Arts

          V. Bara                                             40
             Petit Palais des Beaux-Arts

         VI. The Comtesse Diana                               50
             Luxembourg Museum

        VII. The Naiad                                        60
             Luxembourg Museum

       VIII. The Magdalen with the Crucifix                   70
             Petit Palais des Beaux-Arts


[Illustration: Line drawing of Henner]

There is no one who has not chanced, sooner or later, to pass the
window of some picture dealer and find himself irresistibly attracted
by a canvas forming a patch of fluid gold, a luminous vapour bathing
the white body of a woman, white with that rich, warm whiteness that
reveals, through the transparency of the skin, the inner flame, the
bounding blood, the pulsing life. Such a picture was a Henner. And when
you have come into contact, if only for once, with a work by this
incomparable artist, the effect is lasting; you recognize any and all
of his works at the first glance, just as you recognize a friend in the
street, even before he is near enough for you to distinguish his
features. So personal is Henner's manner, and so original his product,
that it is impossible to confound him with any other painter, just as
no other painter has ever been able or even attempted to imitate a type
of which he alone possessed the magic secret. Although the tomb has
barely closed above him, Henner has already entered upon his heritage
of glory. Or should we not rather say that he had entered upon it
during life, and that the unanimity of admiration which always followed
him was in the nature of a definitive judgment, which posterity has
nothing left to do but ratify? Among the most illustrious of our modern
painters, Henner is the one who possesses to the highest degree the art
of imprisoning light, of playing with it, of making it vibrate, of
using it to illumine the most profound woodland shades, or to set it
palpitating over feminine flesh. We must not seek within our own times
for any other with whom to compare him; for this we must look backward,
far backward, to the period of that glorious Venetian school of which
he seems to be a direct product. From Giorgione he derives his warm and
living flesh tints; it would seem that Titian had bequeathed to him his
profound and powerful mastery of colour; and if Correggio could see the
Nymphs and Bathing Women of Henner, he would certainly recognize in
them that same velvety delicacy and vaporous lightness with which he
himself was wont to envelop his female forms.


(Luxembourg Museum)

In accordance with Henner's favourite formula, the dazzling whiteness
of the nymph's body acquires an astonishing relief through
contrast with the sombre verdure, yet even the very shadows are
penetrated by a warm and vibrant light.]

For Henner was, above all else, a painter of women. "It was in the
female form that he sought and found perfect Beauty, complete,
indisputable, and undisputed, a victorious, compelling Beauty that
silences all criticism, all indecision by its multifold splendour, the
infinite variety of its complex forms, a Beauty embodied in contrast,
harmony, charm, freshness, and grace, but with no element of the merely
pretty or fantastic." Henner's women are without affectation, or
morbidness, or coquetry, or pretence. They are tall, strong, supple,
stately, superb, like the antique type itself. Their beauty is without
a flaw. Their flesh is steeped in light, their hair a tissue of living
radiance. Such is the clue to their irresistible seductiveness.

It has been said of Henner that he was the painter of blondes. He was
more especially the painter of the red-blonde type, for the reason that
light, falling upon the ruddy glint of their tresses, awakens
flame-like reflections and emphasizes the satiny grain of their skin.
This tawny, golden sheen is the most alive, the most vibrant, yet the
most unobtrusive of all, and consequently the most harmonious and the
most beautiful. But Henner also painted brunettes with an incomparable
mastery; to be convinced of this, one needs only to refer to any of the
innumerable portraits of dark-haired women that have come from his
brush, notably those of Mme. Noetzlin, of Mme. Duchesne-Fournes, of the
Comtesse de Jacquemont, and that of Mme. Karakehia which produced such
a marked sensation in the Salon of 1876.

While adhering to his own strongly personal manner, Henner nevertheless
experimented in the most diverse types of painting, as we shall see in
the course of the present study, and he was excellent in all of them,
because he brought to them all those masterly qualities which make the
greatness of a painter: impeccable line-work, a powerful command of
colour, and a perfect knowledge of his art acquired through the
constant pursuit of beauty and of truth.

                            THE FIRST YEARS

Jean-Jacques Henner was born, on the 15th of March, 1829, in the
village of Bernwiller, not far from Belfort, on the confines of Alsace.

This origin explains the strongly personal character of his talent.
Offspring as he was of a land that once was German,--and that, alas,
has once again become so, after having been impregnated for several
centuries with the refinement and the good taste of France,--Henner
unites in himself the dominant qualities of both races: from Germany he
derives his laborious energy, his tenacity, his spirit of research, his
poetic dreaminess; to the French imprint he owes the delicacy, the good
taste, the grace, the subtlety, the careful weighing of effects, that
distinguish all his work.

Jean-Jacques Henner was the youngest child of a numerous family. His
parents were modest tillers of the soil, who nevertheless had won the
general esteem of the neighbourhood. Of little education, but honest
and industrious, Henner's father was rewarded for his integrity and
blameless life by being appointed to the office of village tax
collector. With as little learning as her husband, his mother possessed
a dreamy spirit and a very keen intelligence. It was she who first
discerned in the thoughtful and rather backward boy the germs of his
future talent; it was also she who encouraged and sustained him with
her wise affection when the first promise of his future talent was

His vocation manifested itself at an early age. Little Jean-Jacques
could barely read when he had already begun to adorn the walls with
charcoal figures that "fairly stood on their feet," and proved that the
child possessed a precocious power of observation. In some of these
sketches it was easy to recognize certain frequent visitors to the
house, friends and neighbours; and the good-hearted villagers used to
come and admire these attempts. Quite surprised at these proclivities,
his father, instead of interfering with the boy's natural bent, did his
best to encourage it. Being unable to provide him with a
drawing-master,--and for that matter the child was still too young,--he
supplied him with models, in the shape of the familiar Epinal coloured
prints which little Jean-Jacques tried to reproduce to the best of his
ability. It certainly was not through the aid of these naïve and
rudimentary essays in colour work that Henner learned the art of
drawing, but they at least served to strengthen his desire to learn,
and gave him facility in handling his pencil.

The father of little Jean-Jacques served him as best he could; it was
he who laid the corner-stone of his son's future glory. In that humble
household, where each member had his appointed task, from the father
down to the frailest child, Jean-Jacques was the only one who took no
part in the labour of the fields; he was exempted in order to continue
his education and develop his taste for drawing.

Even the neighbours, astonished at his precocity, aided him as best
they could. One brought paper, another an old picture, another some
prints found in an out-of-the-way corner of the house, still another a
supply of paints. Thus equipped, the child worked with unflagging zeal,
undertook to learn the use of colours, and in order to repay his
benefactors, he made portraits of them, which are still preserved in
those Alsatian households and which already reveal, in more than one of
those likenesses that he always caught so well, the first germs of
those qualities of a great portrait painter, such as he was one day
destined to become.

"You will be a great artist," his father used to say, as he kissed him;
for the good man foresaw, almost by divination, the glorious destiny
that awaited his son. And addressing his other sons, all of them older
than little Jean-Jacques, and all of them destined to pass their days
in the hard labour of tilling the soil, he told them:

"When I am no longer here, I commend your brother to you. Aid him and
sustain him. Help him to achieve his career. You will be repaid for it;
this I promise you, in the name of the good God."

The brothers carried out piously and to the letter these commands of
their father; while Henner, for his part, promised himself to fulfil
his share of the bargain. He never forgot what he owed to his older
brothers; and he paid them back a hundredfold for all the benefits that
he had received.


(Luxembourg Museum)

This is one of the most curious portraits painted by the artist inasmuch
as it attains a maximum of perfection in spite of a combination
of the most unfavourable possible means. Notwithstanding
the sombre garments that barely stand out against the dull blue
background, the face reveals an extraordinary intensity of life.]

At the age of seven, young Henner was required to go to church every
day for the purpose of learning his catechism. In the chapel where the
good curé of Bernwiller expounded the doctrine, there happened to be a
picture representing St. Sebastian. This picture attracted the
attention of the child irresistibly and was the cause of many moments
of inattention which brought upon him the paternal rebukes of the
priest. It was wasted severity. Little Jean-Jacques had eyes for
nothing else than the saint, whose widely gaping shirt revealed the
muscular throat and hairy chest; and he continued to stare at their
robust anatomy which so strongly resembled that of the peasants whom he
saw all about him in the village.

By a singular coincidence, this painting in by-gone days once reposed
for quite a long time in the home of his grandfather, where Henner
himself was born. An architect named Kléber, and destined to become
later a famous general, was occupied in building the parish house in
one of the neighbouring villages to Bernwiller. Coming by chance to
Bernwiller, he saw the painting of St. Sebastian, which he found had
been greatly impaired by age. He took steps to obtain its restoration
and, while waiting for the appointed artist to arrive from Strassburg,
he had it transferred to the house of Henner's grandfather. It was
there that the artist from Strassburg repaired the painting, and it
would almost seem as though there were some sort of obscure connection
between this fact and the powerful impression which the picture
produced upon the mind of little Jean-Jacques, and as though it were a
sort of secret bond between the glory of the great warrior and that of
the great painter.

A little later, young Henner was sent to attend school at Altkirch. Not
however in the capacity of a boarding pupil, for the family did not
have the means. Every day he had to cover on foot the two hours'
journey, in order to reach school, and the same to return. But the
child possessed the sacred fire: the kilometres seemed to him no more
than a pleasant walk.

As good luck would have it, the school at Altkirch possessed a
drawing-master, named Goutzwiller, an artist of real talent. He quickly
divined the possibilities of his new pupil, encouraged him, grounded
him, and became a true friend and, in a certain sense, a second father
to him.

After three years of study at this school, Henner left Altkirch, in
accordance with M. Goutzwiller's advice, in order to go to Strassburg,
where he entered the studio of the artist, Guérin. Here it was that he
exchanged the pencil for the brush. From his first attempts he
manifested a pronounced taste for oppositions of shadow and light, the
latter acquiring greater vigour by force of contrast. Henner's first
attempt at Strassburg was a copy of Heim's _Shepherd_, the original of
which was burned in 1870, at the time of the fire resulting from the
bombardment. But the copy remains, and bears witness to the painter's
early love for sombre backgrounds, shot through with shimmerings of

During his vacations, which were passed at Bernwiller, Henner paid
numerous visits to Basle and to Colmar, where he went for the purpose
of studying the old German masters, Holbein, Schongauer, and Dürer.
Holbein especially delighted and inspired him: he loved his honest,
firm, frank line-work, no less than he appreciated the spirit of poetry
with which the early master imbued all his models. What a schooling for
a painter really enamoured of his art! In this ardent study of Holbein,
Henner confirmed the opinion, that had already taken shape in his mind,
that there is no good painting where there is not good drawing, and
that no one has the right to claim to be a painter if he cannot lay his
colours upon a solidly built foundation. The craftsman must always
precede the artist.

In the case of Henner, at this time, the craftsmanship was perfect;
nothing remained but to open a career for the artist. The young painter
had faith, courage, and ambition; he dreamed of continuing his studies,
of perfecting himself, of having other teachers. But these teachers
were precisely what Strassburg could not furnish; and Paris, the great
city, the centre of learning and of art, Paris was not far distant.
What joy, if he could only go there! At this juncture, Guérin died.
Having lost his master, Henner had nothing else to detain him in
Strassburg. Accordingly, he put his trust in Providence, and, with his
heart pulsing with hope, started on his way to the capital.

                          HIS ARRIVAL IN PARIS

Henner arrived in Paris, light of purse but full of courage. He
presented himself at the studio of Drolling, a compatriot, where he
proceeded to toil like a galley-slave. In order to subsist, he gleaned
here and there a little something by painting portraits; but, alas,
these were rare and wretchedly underpaid! They by no means brought him
a living; he experienced the keenest privations, and before long was
unable to pay his monthly contribution of twenty francs towards the
rental of the studio. What was he to do? Drolling was an artist with a
big heart, and he loved his young pupil: Henner had only to confide in
him, but he was too proud to admit his poverty. Should he appeal to his
brothers? He did not even dream of doing so, for he knew how hard they
found it, back there at home, to make both ends meet, even though they
turned and returned the natal soil without respite. Accordingly, he
chose the heroic part of returning to Alsace. There he passed the next
two years, painting portraits and depriving himself even of necessities
in order to economize and save up a fund. When his savings seemed to
him sufficiently large, he set forth once more for Paris and returned
to Drolling. The latter was stupefied at the progress Henner had made.

"But why," he demanded, "why did you leave the studio like that,
without a word of warning?"

Hereupon Henner confessed the cause for his departure; and on hearing
his story, the tears rose up in the kind old artist's eyes, while at
the same time he grew red with anger:

"People don't do such things," he said, "and they don't show false
pride when they have a talent like yours; but instead, they compete for
the Prix de Rome, and they win it!"

The Prix de Rome! A dream, which perhaps Henner had already vaguely
glimpsed, but the realization of which seemed to him at that time too
audacious and chimerical! That he, the little painter from Alsace,
friendless and unknown, might obtain this supreme distinction which
proclaims a talent! He did not dare to believe it, and yet his old
master, Drolling, was an authority in art and not prodigal of his
praise. Drolling did even better than encourage Henner, he made use of
his friendship with the prefect of the department of the Lower Rhine to
obtain an annuity for him. At the request of this official, the general
council of the department granted Jean-Jacques Henner an annual pension
of five hundred francs. This was very little, no doubt, but at least it
meant his daily bread!

Henner never had the pleasure of thanking Drolling; a rapid illness
ended the life of the aged master in a few days, before the matter in
question had been adjusted; but the young artist always retained a
grateful memory of him.

While awaiting the Prix de Rome, it was necessary to earn a living:
for, as may easily be imagined, the meagre subsidy of five hundred
francs could not suffice for all of Henner's needs. He had the good
luck to make the acquaintance of a painter who worked mainly for
Americans. He was a portrait painter and possessed a numerous clientèle
from Yankee-land. As he could not keep up with the demand
single-handed, he made a proposition to Henner that the latter should
paint the coats, cravats, and linen of his "puppet-show," as he called
them, reserving for himself the task of putting in the faces,
mistrusting, no doubt, the competence of his collaborator. However
humble the work, Henner accepted gratefully, for it enabled him to
better his lot, to put aside a reserve fund, and even to come to the
aid of the family left at home.


(Petit Palais des Beaux-Arts)

This unkempt but earnest little worker, diligently bending over
his copy-book, is a portrait of the artist's own nephew. This picture
for a long time adorned the wall of his studio in the Place

Shortly afterwards, he won a medal from the École des Beaux-Arts, which
gave him the right of free admission to the studio of the artist Picot.

Henner was at this time twenty-seven years of age. He felt that he was
now ready to enter the lists for the Prix de Rome. Boldly he set
himself to his task. The subject assigned was as follows: _Adam and Eve
Discovering the Body of Abel_. Henner's conception of the subject was
admirable. Abel stretched at length under the shadow of dense foliage,
and beside him, on her knees and heart-broken with grief, Eve suffers
the terrible blow of divine malediction, while Adam, standing petrified
with horror, seems not yet to have realized the immensity of his loss.

In this painting, the manner which is destined to become distinctive of
this artist declares itself: a luminous profundity of landscape that
emphasizes the whiteness of Abel's flesh. Although satisfied with his
work, Henner was doubtful of the result. He trembled, for he had staked
his entire future upon this picture. But he found unexpected
encouragement from the little model who had posed for him and his
competitors, in the character of Abel.

"Have no doubt about it," the child told him, "you will win the prize.
None of the others can compare with yours."

And Henner, only too glad to believe, went to work with redoubled zeal,
to justify the admiration of his little model. His composition,
however, when finished, proved to be incomplete: he had forgotten to
include the club which Cain had used to strike down Abel. At the last
moment he added this accessory so dexterously that the arrangement of
the picture as a whole was undisturbed.

There was no discussion regarding the bestowal of the prize. Henner was
unanimously declared the winner.

It is easy to imagine Henner's joy. Nevertheless a shadow dimmed it:
that of not having been able to give his mother the final consolation
of his triumph. That worthy and courageous woman died but shortly
before, blessing and encouraging him almost with her final breath.

                           THE YEARS IN ROME

Rome, that prodigious repository of art! with what reverential
admiration the young artist approached her! What fascinated him from
the start, offspring that he was of fair and undulating Alsace, was the
Roman Campagna with its violent contrasts, its wide expanses ablaze
with sunlight, cleft here and there with dense shadows, profound and
nevertheless luminous. Here before his eyes, within reach of his
palette, was not this the ideal landscape, such as his artistic
instinct had taught him to prevision? Shadow and light clashing,
interpenetrating, in order to form an imponderable and luminous dust,
the light vivifying the shadow, the shadow sifting out the crudities of
the light,--picture his joy at having foreseen all this instinctively,
without having seen it, solely by his artistic intuition!

The five years which he passed in Rome were one perpetual enchantment.
The proof of this is found in his correspondence with M. Goutzwiller,
his first drawing-master, who remained his best friend. One receives
the impression, in reading it, that he lived in a continuous ecstasy,
in a world of fairyland.

[Illustration: PLATE V.--JOSEPH BARA

(Petit Palais des Beaux-Arts)

This subject, consecrated to the glory of the young hero of the
Revolution, had already been magnificently treated by David; none
the less, Henner's Bara is not inferior to the other, and if perhaps
it inspires a less degree of pity, there is something truly dramatic
in the outstretched body, under the lowering sky.]

And with what admiration and reverence he speaks of the great masters!
How he loves them, and how well he understands the prodigious greatness
of certain ones among them! The Venetians especially, those
incomparable colourists, fired his ardour. He went to Venice, in order
to worship them on the spot, in the presence of their works. But he was
without prejudice; his taste was eclectic, like his own talent. His
love for Titian and Giorgione did not prevent him from valuing Raphael
and Leonardo da Vinci. He loved them all, because he understood them
all and because in each one of them he recognized the marvellous gift
of genius. But none the less he had one preference, and he could avow
it unashamed, for its object was one of the most extraordinary of all
masters of design and colour: Correggio. Everything in the work of that
admirable artist fascinated him; his dexterity, which verges upon the
miraculous, his prodigious foreshortenings, the magic of his palette,
and above all his mastery of chiaroscuro, which no other artist, not
even Rembrandt, has surpassed. This time Henner had found his true
master, the one with whom he was destined to impregnate himself
permanently, as regards the harmonious distribution of lights and

When he awoke from his contemplation of Correggio, it was in order to
shut himself into his studio and feverishly endeavour to recapture with
his own brush those exquisite colour tones that still dazzled his
vision and possessed his spirit. What amazed him above all was the
simplicity of means employed by the great masters to obtain all their
effects, even those that seem the most complicated. "See," he said,
"they have on their palettes only a few colours, and those the
simplest: red, green, yellow, blue, black, and white! It is the modern
painters who have invented the mixtures, that are so far removed from
primitive simplicity!" Following the example of the earlier masters,
Henner never employed any other colours than the simple ones. He always
showed a marked aversion for mixed tints. His colours were always frank
and sincere, even when toned down in order to avoid glaring and harsh
effects. And it may justly be said of him that, "even on his palette
his colours have already imprisoned light."

His studies in Rome did not make him forgetful of his obligations: he
worked very seriously at his future exhibits. His five years' sojourn
was distinguished by five masterpieces. He sent successively to the
Beaux-Arts _Christ in Prison_ and _The Child with the Orange_, pictures
of rare perfection, each of which received the award of a medal, and
both of which were purchased by the museum at Colmar, which wished to
possess the first works of the young Alsatian artist. The following
year, he sent in _The Chaste Susannah_, now one of the treasures of the
Luxembourg Museum. The model who posed for Susannah was named Chiara.
She was very handsome and well known in the artist world of Rome, and
possessed an education much above her station. She exhibited much pride
in having served as model for such a masterpiece.

The picture was exhibited at the Salon of 1865, and, curiously enough,
it by no means met with the success that it deserved. The critics,
accustomed to a very different type of painting, did not understand
this new and unfamiliar method. Théophile Gautier was the only one who
proclaimed its merit. It is only fair to add that his opinion was
easily worth all the others. "It is not alone," he wrote, "the style
and beauty of line that form the distinction of this beautiful Jewess,
but also and more especially the fine instinct for colour. This is no
statue that is bathing here, it is a very genuine woman."

At this same Salon, Henner exhibited two portraits of superior
workmanship: that of Schnets, director of the École de Rome, and that
of M. Joyau, architect of the same school.

                          THE WORKS OF HENNER

In 1865, Henner returned to Paris and installed himself in the house in
the Place Pigalle which he occupied during the rest of his life. This
house is full of memories. It has sheltered, either successively or at
the same time, many illustrious painters: Jules and Victor Dupré,
Théodore Rousseau, Puvis de Chavannes, Boldini, etc. Henner occupied
the lower floor to begin with, but later, after the death of Pils, who
had been living on the second floor, he took the latter's studio,
because the light was better.

And, from the day of his return to Paris, Henner entered upon a life of
unremitting toil and fecundity that never ceased to cause astonishment.
Few painters have left behind them such a volume of productions; his
genre pictures, his landscapes peopled with nymphs are innumerable; as
to his portraits, women's portraits especially, it would require far
more ample limits than those of the present study merely to give a list
of them. And what evokes genuine admiration is the fact that it is
impossible, in the midst of this extraordinary multiplicity of widely
varied works, to find a single one that is not evidently equal to his
best. And this is because Henner, notwithstanding his facility,
bestowed an infinite conscientiousness upon even the least important of
his paintings. He regarded it as dishonesty to produce merely for the
sake of producing, or, to sum it up in a word, to do fake work.

Indefatigable workman that he was, Henner allowed himself few
diversions; his life was as strictly ordered as that of a monk. Always
an early riser, he devoted his mornings to his landscapes and genre
paintings, and his afternoons to his portraits. From four until seven
he was in the habit of receiving a few friends or would bury himself in
a book, for he was a great reader. It was an exceptional thing for him
to dine away from home, and when he went out it was always for the
purpose of visiting the Louvre or some exhibit of paintings. As a
matter of fact, he was never happy away from his studio, that
celebrated studio which he had fitted up with so much taste and
magnificence. It was there, in that artistic and sumptuous setting,
that he executed those innumerable works, whose magnificent flowering
we are about to follow, year by year. It will be impossible for us to
cite them all; we must content ourselves with calling attention only to
the more remarkable.

In 1865, Henner exhibited his _Biblis metamorphosed into a Spring_, one
of his most beautiful paintings. In the midst of a sombre landscape,
the dazzling nudity of the nymph forms a luminous spot, but the
contrasting tones harmonize in a sort of fine and golden atmosphere,
blending into the profound green of the foliage, the porcelain blue of
the sky, and the resplendent whiteness of the flesh. And what
simplicity of means he has used to produce this result! Henner had
profited from the lessons of the great masters; and he was never to
forget them.

The following year came his _Study of a Young Girl_. This time it was
no longer under leafy canopies that the painter chose to place his
model, but in the presence of the immensity of the blue sea. The
success of this painting was very marked and it earned the artist a
medal of the first class. But the painter himself was as severe towards
his own work as the critics had been flattering; he was not satisfied
with it, and when the canvas was once again back in his studio, he
destroyed it. What a pity that such a work should have been lost, but
also what a fine example, and what a rare one, of professional
conscientiousness and integrity!

The work exhibited the following year suffered the same fate. In one of
those crises of discontent which Henner, always severe towards himself,
frequently passed through, he once again ripped up his own work, the
charming painting known as _The Toilet_, which nevertheless had
received nothing but praise while at the Salon.

The public, by which I mean the enlightened public, had now come to
appreciate the talent of the young artist. His reputation was
established, and orders began to come in. Not that he had yet acquired
that world-wide celebrity which was destined to come later, but people
were beginning to understand the originality of his art, which at first
had provoked so much discussion.


(Luxembourg Museum)

This fine portrait of the Comtesse Diane (Mme. de Beausacq) was
executed by Henner at the request of the poet, Sully-Prudhomme,
and bequeathed to the Louvre. But it was necessary that it should
first remain for the prescribed period in the Luxembourg, since no
picture may be admitted into the Louvre until ten years after the
death of its author.]

Besides, Henner was too passionately devoted to his art to concern
himself about money. He always showed the greatest disinterestedness.
Prosperity came to him, ample prosperity, but he did not seek it. It
was the natural recompense of this amazing workman, happily
supplemented by the most extraordinary powers of production. There were
instances when he produced in the space of a few hours pictures that he
sold for twenty-five and thirty thousand francs.

Wealth, however, did not in any way modify either his habits or his
character. He remained throughout his life just as simple, just as
gentle, and just as laborious. This is perhaps the right moment at
which to quote the charming word-portrait of this good and kindly man,
drawn by M. Claude Vento, who knew him well:

"If, by his nature as well as by the vigour of his genius, Henner
deserves to be compared to the Masters of the past, his very physique
suggests that he is a reincarnation of some one of those great artists
of the Renaissance, whose mould had seemingly been broken. Robust,
squarely built, broad of shoulder, with energetic head planted on a
rather stout neck, a countenance strong yet gentle, with features
strongly marked, and hair surmounted by a black velvet cap, does not
Henner as a matter of fact, clad in his velvet jacket over a flannel
shirt, remind us of the portrait of Holbein who was his first
inspiration? His whole personality bears the stamp of frankness and of
kindliness, a kindliness possessing a rather rough exterior, but
actually very rare in quality, as you may see in the depths of his pale
blue eyes, as limpid and clear as the eyes of a little child. There is
an element of naïveté in his sincere face, through which, however, a
deep shrewdness penetrates, a kindliness that is not free from mockery,
when his alert wit detects insincerity, whereupon, behind a mocking
smile, irony leaps to his lips, like fine and delicate arrows, but all
the more stinging for that. But this is not customary. Although, like
all men who have had to struggle, Henner is not readily expansive and
guards himself from the importunate, by his somewhat cold manner, what
a hearty hand-grasp, loyal and true, for his real friends, what a
reassuring smile, lighting up his virile features, when sympathy knocks
at his door! With what unceremonious cordiality he comes in person to
answer the bell and open the door of his studio to the expected
visitor! As a usual rule, Henner talks but little. He listens more than
he talks, and is naturally given to reflection. But whatever he says is
to the point and is well worth listening to. If in his presence the
conversation chances to turn upon art or literature or any other lofty
subject, but more especially art, then the passion latent in him all of
a sudden bursts forth and reveals itself, just as a fire suddenly
blazes up from beneath a pile of ashes, and all the more violently
because it has been so long smouldering. At such times his language is
vivid, highly coloured, vigorous, and full of conviction. The words
come to his lips without effort and flow in a rapid stream. And the
listener realizes that he is in the presence of a truthful nature,
ardent and resolute, a conscientious judge and a great artist, whose
enthusiasms are sincere and whose will is strong and tenacious."

Here we have the complete picture of the man, discreet, laborious,
modest, an enemy of noise and notoriety, and revealing himself to the
public only through his signature unfailingly appended to the lower
margin of his immortal canvases.

The series of them is imposing. At the Exposition of 1867, Henner was
represented by _The Chaste Susannah_, _The Young Bather Asleep_, _The
Reclining Woman_, an admirable masterpiece now in the collection of the
Mulhouse museum, and seven portraits which bore witness to the artist's
prodigious fecundity and to the infinite variety of his talent.

In 1869, he exhibited only two paintings at the Salon, but they were
two gems: _The Woman on the Black Divan_, whose nudity contrasts in
dazzling fashion with the sombre setting of the velvet couch on which
she reposes; and _The Little Writer_, a charming portrait of a child,
who happens to be the artist's own nephew, diligently bending over his
desk. A reproduction of this latter picture will be found among the
plates of the present study.

The following year, in 1870, _The Alsatian Woman_ was exhibited at the
Salon. It was a personification of his native land, Alsace, that he
loved so dearly, and that he represented in this picture in the form of
a vigorous peasant woman with a jovial face, who carries a basket
filled with apples, symbolic of abundance and happiness. At that time,
the storm had not burst over that ill-fated land; and there was nothing
to cause him to foresee it; the Alsatian woman is laughing and
untroubled, unaware of her terrible destiny.

What a contrast was afforded by his next work, _Alsace_, which the
misfortunes of France inspired the ardently French and Alsatian soul of
the artist to produce! What emotion emanates from the woman clad in
mourning, whose features bear the traces of the grief she has suffered
and of the mutilation that has taken place! Nevertheless, ravaged as it
is by sorrow, her face still radiates a serene pride and an
unquenchable hope: the hope of a triumphal revenge and of the return of
France. Henner, alas, died without having seen the fulfilment of the
miracle awaited by him with so much fervour. It is easy to imagine the
success which greeted this picture at the Salon of 1871. Stirred to
their inmost soul, the visitors piously took off their hats and felt a
wave of the artist's patriotic fire pass through them. Gambetta desired
to see the painting, was delighted with it, and promptly purchased it.

After the war, Henner continued, as previously, to pass his annual
vacations at Bernwiller; he could not bring himself to dispense wholly
with his native air; and yet what sadness was now entailed in returning
home, and how changed and wretched he found it under the suspicious and
harassing administration of the conquerors! None the less he could
still revisit the companions of his childhood, his brothers and his
nephews, whom he delighted to receive at all hours in the pretty little
brick house that he had had built on the family property.

In 1872 he exhibited _The Idyll_; it proved to be the biggest success
that he had yet achieved. Two nymphs are beside a fountain, as night
descends; one of the two is playing on a flute, the other with one hand
resting on her hip, as she leans with her other on the fountain rim,
listening. Both are nude, with that warm, vibrant nudity that awakens
memories of the flesh of Giorgione's women, in his _Rural Concert_, and
both are enveloped in the waves of their tawny tresses.

This magnificent painting earned Henner a medal of honour which was
bestowed upon him by acclamation. It is at present in the Museum of the
Luxembourg, where it forms one of the most valued treasures.

To 1874 belong _The Good Samaritan_, also now in the Luxembourg, and
_The Magdalen in the Desert_, which belongs to the museum of Toulouse.
These two pictures, following such a long succession of successful
canvases, earned Henner the Legion of Honour. The modest artist was
profoundly touched by this distinction, which nevertheless he so well

[Illustration: PLATE VII.--A NAIAD

(Luxembourg Museum)

This is one of the most beautiful of Henner's paintings. What
grace there is in the outstretched body, what suppleness and
vigour in those long and slender limbs, how much beauty in the
face, and what a voluptuous abandonment throughout that white
and amber body in its entirety! The luminous and profound
landscape give an admirable impression of a warm and peaceful

The following year, Henner exhibited _The Naiad_. The nymph, quite
nude, is lying, with one leg extended, the other partly flexed, upon
the grass, beside a stream in which the azure of the sky is mirrored.
She leans her head upon her upraised left arm, and her hair full of
golden gleams forms a diadem of fulvous light around her. The
voluptuous mouth is half open and the eyes have a hint of caresses
floating in their liquid depths. The transparent whiteness of the flesh
seems to sink into the soft carpeting of dense verdure, while under the
massive density of the great trees a discreet and subtle light
penetrates the entire landscape, softening the shadows, refining the
atmosphere, and caressing with its soft radiance the beautiful
outstretched body of the naiad. It was once again the Luxembourg that
secured possession of this incomparable work.

In 1876, Henner essayed an entirely different subject, and a much
severer one, which he nevertheless treated without in any way modifying
his manner: _The Dead Christ_. Always an earnest Christian, Henner
loved religious subjects and he bestowed upon those that he painted all
his artistic power and all the fervour of his faith. In this picture,
he has proved himself the equal of the greatest masters, and he need
have no fear of challenging comparison with the most illustrious
interpreters of the Crucifixion.

There is still another subject of a religious nature that Henner
undertook the following year: _The Head of St. John the Baptist_, a
work of striking realism. At the same Salon, that of 1877, he also
exhibited a pagan subject, _Evening_, representing a woman couched upon
the grass and viewed from behind, completely enveloped in the masses of
her red-gold hair.

Next came _The Naiads_, whose sculpture-like silhouettes are profiled
against the silvered background of a superbly lighted landscape. It was
this canvas which inspired Armand Sylvestre to write a very charming
poem, in which the following lines are included:

    By dreaming waters under sleeping skies,
      Where nature's bowl entraps the widening stream,
    A troupe of naiads, hid from mortal eyes,
      Toss to the breeze their tresses' golden sheen.

At the Salon of 1878, Henner was represented by several pictures. To
begin with, there was _Holbein's Wife and Children_, the artist's
tribute to the memory of the by-gone master who had been the source of
his first enthusiasm and first inspiration: furthermore, _The Young
Girl in Black_ and _The Lady with the Umbrella_.

In 1879 came _The Eclogue_, a composition of classic harmony and
beauty. With elbows leaning on the margin of a well, a nymph of
resplendent beauty stands upright in an attitude of reverie. In front
of her, a companion is bending over the mirror-like surface of a stream
which crosses the landscape, and her glowing hair envelops her wholly,
like a mantle of gold. The sombre verdure of the great trees emphasizes
the dazzling whiteness of the two female forms; above and beyond the
foliage, a glimpse of blue sky adds its glad and luminous note.

We must not forget _The Magdalen_, which was the most widely discussed
work exhibited at this Salon. The subject was one of which the artist
was especially fond; he treated it a number of times, and it almost
seemed as though he wanted to prove the variability of a brush that
never repeated itself and of a talent that was continually renewed.
This time the penitent of the Gospel story is crouching in the entrance
to a cave, in an attitude of prayer. In the half shadow cast by the
overhanging rock, the body of the Magdalen radiates brightness, while
ripples of light shimmer through her golden tresses. This beautiful
picture is to be seen to-day in the Petit Palais, in the room reserved
for the works of Henner.

Each succeeding year now brought new masterpieces and new triumphs. Two
paintings were shown in the Salon of 1880: _Sleep_ and _The Fountain_.
The first of these represents a young girl, almost a child, sunken in
profound sleep. Around the face, in its golden frame of hair, the
artist has diffused an aureole of peace, candour, and innocence which
brings to mind some legendary saint. Rarely has the artist achieved
such perfection of line and such beauty of expression. The painting was
purchased by the Prince de Broglie.

In _The Fountain_ we behold a woman, beautiful with the beauty of red
gold, like all of Henner's women. She is resting her hand upon the
margin of a well, and seems to be gazing at her own reflection in the

This same Salon also includes _Andromeda in Chains_, which belongs
to-day to Mme. Raffalowitz.

From time to time Henner reverted to religious paintings, for which,
after the fashion of the great masters of the past, he always retained
a marked fondness. Thus it happened that he exhibited at the Salon of
1881 a _St. Jerome_, a subject all the more venturesome to paint
because many of the most illustrious artists, such as Dürer,
Tintoretto, and Veronese, had treated it before him. Yet Henner might
well challenge comparison with these redoubtable predecessors, and this
picture, now in the Luxembourg, is numbered among his best.

_The Spring_, which figured at the same Salon, inevitably challenges
comparison with the same subject formerly treated by Ingres. Employing
wholly different means, Henner achieved the same degree of perfection
as that attained by the illustrious author of _The Odalisque_. In
Ingres' picture of _The Spring_, the flesh of the young girl has the
freshness of some delicate and fragile fruit; in that of Henner's, it
has the velvety savour of a fruit that is fully ripe. Both paintings
show the same masterly science of line-work, the same impeccable
sureness of execution, and also the same profound sense of virginal
chastity in the nude. Henner's _Spring_ was purchased by an American
for eleven thousand dollars (55,000 francs). This is one of the highest
prices ever paid for the work of a living painter.

In 1882 came _Bara_, of which we give a reproduction in the present
volume, and which is now to be seen in the Petit Palais. This was still
another subject which had been previously treated, and by no less a
master than David! Both painters were equally felicitous in rendering
the charming youthfulness of the small hero who fell so gloriously for
his country. A comparison of the two works is all the more pleasurable
because one discovers that, however dissimilar they may be, they
express the same appreciation of classic beauty and the same reverence
for form.

In 1883 we have _The Woman Reading_, a dazzling poem in blond flesh
that brings to mind Correggio's _Magdalen Reading_, now contained in
the Munich collection. In contrast with the opulence of the above
portrait, we have next a countenance of remarkable gentleness, ideal in
its expression of purity, in the picture entitled _The Nun_. She is
quite young and quite fair, and she is kneeling upon the pavement in
prayer, while her pale girlish face emerges from the sombre frame of
her black garb, like an immaculate lily overgrown with weeds. This time
Henner had surpassed himself; he had interpreted with inimitable
strokes the beauty of renunciation and the purity of an ecstatic life.

This Salon was one of the most glorious that the great artist ever knew.

Nevertheless, it was the very next year that he exhibited _The Weeping
Nymph_, his magnificent nymph prostrate upon the ground, sobbing with
her face in her hands and her whole body writhing with anguish. After
this came _Fabiola_, that superb, virgin profile crowned with a red
cap, which the engraver's art has spread throughout the world in the
form of millions of reprints, until its renown is universal.

In 1886, some more _Nymphs_ and _The Orphan Girl_, treated in the same
manner as _Fabiola_, and forming in a certain sense a companion piece.

Then came _The Creole_, a fascinating woman's head, done in warm flesh
tones, amber-tinted, keenly alive; a picture which the State promptly
acquired. Then, next in order, _Herodiade_, a young girl of fifteen, or
thereabouts, clad in a clinging scarlet tunic, her black eyes gleaming
with a fathomless light.


(Petit Palais des Beaux-Arts)

This is a subject which Henner treated several times. The Magdalen
here reproduced is, beyond all else, a beautiful and robust
creature, whose repentance finds little testimony in her features
that are barely clouded by a faint shadow of melancholy. Yet it is
difficult to conceive of a more delicious study of a woman.]

We need not go further with our catalogue of Henner's works; it would
only necessitate a continual repetition of the same praises and
monotonous descriptions of pictures that the whole world knows, at
least from the engravings of them. Up to the end of his life, the
artist continued to make regular and methodical progress; up to the
end, his talent preserved its vigour and its youth. It even seems as
though in his latest works his light had acquired more transparency,
his foliage a more vibrant warmth, his flesh tones a more dazzling

In the course of time, his success had increased, his reputation had
become world-wide. Americans outbid one another for his pictures, and
purchased them at fabulous prices. And together with wealth came
honours. I mean the only kind of honours that would have been welcomed
by this modest and laborious artist, who sought neither the hubbub of
vulgar notoriety, nor the glitter of official functions.

But, with his passionate devotion to painting, which had formed the one
ideal of his life, he was not displeased to see honour paid, through
himself as the medium, to an art that he had constantly striven to
practise with the utmost dignity and the profoundest love. With
undisguised gladness he accepted the successive decorations bestowed
upon him in the Order of the Legion of Honour. And the son of the
Bernwiller gardener experienced quite a legitimate pride when the
unanimous appreciation of his peers opened the doors of the Institute
to him.

                          THE PORTRAIT PAINTER

It is impossible to speak of Henner, and yet pass over in silence his
success as a portrait painter, in which capacity he was equal, if not
superior, to the painter of nymphs and Magdalens.

In his portrait work Henner was first of all the portrayer of women, as
indeed, throughout his life, he had been in all his paintings.

There was no dearth of models. They came to him in throngs, and his
studio in the Place Pigalle witnessed a procession of the most
magnificent beauties of France and the world at large. Henner, however,
was never a flattering portrait painter, nor even a complaisant one. He
had too much respect for himself and for his art to trade upon his
professional integrity; he was too fervent a worshipper of nature to
distort it, or even to paraphrase it. His portraits are literally
portraits, in the highest sense of the word; I mean that they are
faithful copies of the person represented, and that no trace of
adulation could be found in a single one of them. But he excelled in
extracting from the physiognomy of his model that one intimate note
which each one of us conceals within himself, and that is now and then
betrayed upon our features in a fugitive yet unmistakable gleam. It is
this hidden note, this inner flame, this latent nobility, this moral
beauty which Henner had the peculiar gift of divining and interpreting.

Is it at all surprising, with such advantages, that Henner's portraits
are of such superior workmanship that they are almost always
masterpieces? Unfortunately, it is impossible here to enter upon an
extensive study of Henner the portrait painter; we must content
ourselves with citing the most celebrated of his portraits of women:
Mme. Paul Dubois, Mme. Bonard, Mme. Sédille, a charming countenance,
seen full-face, the black shawl throwing her rich beauty into relief;
Mme. Jules Ferry, Mme. Scheurer-Kestner, Mme. Charles Hayem, Mme.
Koechlin-Schwartz, Mlle. Formigé, Mme. Pasteur and Mlle. Pasteur, the
magnificent portrait of Miss Eldin, whose regal blond beauty is framed
in a bewitching Gainsborough hat; Mlle. Marcille, Mlle. Mosenthal,
Mlle. Sédille, Mlle. Gentien, an admirable symphony of black tones, in
which all the accessories, the gloves and fan, are of sombre colour;
this portrait is one of Henner's best; Mme. Eumont, whose black
garments form a curious contrast to her powdered hair; then, three
masterpieces: the portraits of the three daughters of Mme. Porgès, and
also that of Mme. Porgès herself with her youngest child; the Comtesse
d'Ideville, whose red robe forms a warm and luminous contrast to the
sombre background of the picture; Her Imperial Highness, the Countess
of Eu, daughter of Dom Pedro, Emperor of Brazil; the Princesse de
Broglie, née Say, daughter of the millionaire refiner; Mme.
Fournier-Sarlevèze, a fascinating woman, who died prematurely; Mme.
Raffalowitz, Mme. Oulman, Mme. Henry Fouquier, and her charming
daughter, Mlle. Fouquier, Mme. Rodrigues, Mlle. Leroux, Mlle. de
Morell, Mme. Fougère-Dubourg, Mme. Kutner; Mme. Daniel Dollfus,
portrayed standing; the Marquise de Mosges; Mme. Hippolyte Adam; Mme.
de Rute, Mme. Jules Siegfried, Mme. Duplay, Mme. Fabre, Mme. Peltreau,
the Baroness Brincard; Mlle. Hoschedé; Mlle. Chanzy, Mlle. Fernande
Dubourg; Mme. Herzog, Mme. Silhal, Mme. Brossard, Mme. Loreau, Mme. de
Crépy, Mme. Raphael, Mme. Jules Walfrey, Mme. Charras, Mme. Marochetti,
Mme. Diémer, Mme. Carmian, Mme. Monthier, in black and with black
drapery over her shoulders, Mme. de Beausacq (the Comtesse Diane), a
beautiful portrait of which we give a reproduction; this portrait was
executed by Henner at the request of Sully-Prudhomme and bequeathed to
the Louvre; but it has not yet been transferred to that great national
museum; it is still in the Luxembourg, and is regarded as one of its
choicest treasures.

Furthermore, mention should be made of Mlle. Valentine Edmond About,
Mlle. Brincard, Mme. Jules Claretie, the Comtesse Kessler, one of the
master's most successful portraits and one that he obtained from a
single sitting; Mme. Shopey, a fascinating Creole from the island of
Bourbon, whose profile has an ideal beauty that inspired Henner to
produce a veritable masterpiece; he was no less successful in
portraying Mme. Noetzlin, another exquisite exotic beauty, whose
languid indolence and captivating charm he has rendered with infinite
vigour and grace.

But one of his most beautiful portraits is that of Mme. Karekehia, the
mother of Nubar Pacha, who, although quite advanced in age, is
represented in a charming pose that emphasizes her natural attractions.
Nowhere else perhaps did Henner rise to such a height, or obtain such a
degree of truth in his interpretation of a human physiognomy.

And how many other portraits there are, equally beautiful, equally
powerful, if only we might cite them all!

Painter of women though he was, Henner did not refuse as a settled
policy to paint men, but it was difficult to make up his mind to do so.
Not that he showed less ability in his portraiture of men. It was
simply that it cost him something to renounce, even temporarily, the
cult of feminine beauty, to which he had dedicated himself. He loved to
make rays of light play harmoniously over blond flesh, over silken
fabrics, over draperies; and the uniformity of masculine garments does
not lend itself to this sort of magic. None the less, he produced a few
portraits of men which are absolutely remarkable; portraits of personal
friends, for the most part, which he painted with a solicitude that
makes itself felt: such are the portraits of Jules Claretie, of Dr.
Leroy, of the painter Parrot, of the sculptor Paul Dubois, the poet
Sully-Prudhomme, of the publisher Georges Charpentier, of General
Chanzy. Henner also painted a little portrait of Pasteur, which was
never shown at the Salon, but is nevertheless one of the most keenly
alive and most perfect of his works.

It would also be only fitting to consider Henner's work from the
particular point of view of landscape painting which occupies so large
a place in his pictures; but the circumscribed space of the present
study does not permit of this.

Henner aged peacefully in the tranquillity of his studio and the
harmonious regularity of an existence consecrated to labour and to art.
In 1900, at the time of the Universal Exposition, he obtained one of
the four grand prizes bestowed by the judges upon the greatest artists.

In this life of Henner's, unmarked by any extraordinary event,
everything is as limpid and as clear as a woodland spring whose
transparent waters flow peacefully, slipping noiselessly under cover of
the moss. Until the end, Henner retained his modesty, his natural
simplicity, his aversion to notoriety; and when in 1905 he died, there
was no dissenting voice in the general praise of his character and his

Henner possessed the rare privilege, not of having created a type, but
of having left upon contemporary art the imprint of his powerful
personality. We are also in debt to him for a return to the dignity of
the great classic types, to a beauty of form achieved in accordance
with an original and rejuvenated conception. Like Puvis de Chavannes,
he has taught us to appreciate the majestic harmony of antique
composition, and also, like him, he has given us an example of a
richness of colour carried to the culminating point by the simplest of
means. Steeped in classicism beneath its brilliant exterior, grounded
on a mastery of line-work, underneath the gleaming colours, Henner's
art has broken down all opposition, silenced all criticism, and evoked
universal admiration because it unites these two masterly qualities
which form the basis of imperishable painting: conscientiousness and


Transcriber's Note:

The plates and their captions have been moved to paragraph breaks.

Minor printer's errors have been corrected, but variant and irregular
spellings have been retained.

Page 11: A caption was added for the sake of clarity

Page 23: "extraodinary intensity of life" replaced with "extraordinary
intensity of life"

Page 77: "culte of feminine beauty" replaced with "cult of feminine

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