Charles Ephrussi: Collector and Critic

Each week for the duration of the exhibition, we’ll focus on one work of art from Renoir and Friends: Luncheon of the Boating Party, on view October 7, 2017-January 7, 2018.

Critic and collector Charles Ephrussi was vital to Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s emerging reputation at the time leading up to the creation of Luncheon of the Boating Party. Born in Odessa (formerly Russia, now Ukraine) in 1849 to a family of grain exporters who became international bankers, Charles Ephrussi studied there and in Vienna, arriving in Paris in 1871. Almost immediately his travels, studies, and friendships led him to collecting, beginning with Italian Renaissance works, 16th-century tapestries, and Japanese lacquer boxes; then expanding his collecting to include Meissen porcelain and 18th-century French decorative arts, while never neglecting the art of his time. He became an early and significant collector of Impressionist painting, and reviewed the Impressionist exhibitions of 1880 and 1881 for the Gazette des beaux-arts, a publication for which he became its co-owner in 1885 and its director from 1894 until he died in 1905.

Renoir and Friends features works from Charles Ephrussi’s collection, including this painting by Édouard Manet, whom Ephrussi greatly admired. Ephrussi purchased A Bunch of Asparagus for a higher price than the artist expected. In gratitude, Manet created an additional painting of a single stalk of asparagus (also in the exhibition) as a present for Ephrussi, saying, “There was one missing from your bunch.”

Édouard Manet, A Bunch of Asparagus, 1880

Édouard Manet, A Bunch of Asparagus (Une botte d’asperges), 1880. Oil on canvas, 18 1⁄8 × 21 11⁄16 in. Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud Cologne

Manet’s Head of a Woman

Manet_Head of a Woman

Édouard Manet, Head of a Woman, 1870. Oil on canvas. The Rudolf Staechelin Collection

Upon entering Gauguin to Picasso: Masterworks from SwitzerlandÉdouard Manet‘s Head of a Woman is one of the first works you’ll encounter. During the 1870s, Manet produced portraits such as this one which captures a glimpsed expression of a woman slowly moving into an amused smile. Its brushwork and color palette reveal the artist’s admiration for the 16th- and 17th-century Dutch and Spanish masters he studied on travels and at the Louvre. Although the sitter is unknown, her pose is characteristic of portraits Manet painted of his wife, Suzanne Leenhoff, his sister-in-law, the Impressionist Berthe Morisot, and his student Eva Gonzalès. Manet’s painting style would later take on a brighter palette and freer brushwork, the result of his association with younger Impressionist artists such as Monet and Renoir, who saw him as a mentor.

Assistant Curator Renée Maurer remarks that a common question about this picture is whether it’s finished or unfinished. What do you think? What are some of the elements of the painting that make you feel that it is complete or incomplete?

Happy Birthday, Edouard Manet!

manet_boy carrying tray

Edouard Manet, Boy Carrying a Tray (L’Enfant portent un plateau), between 1860 and 1861. Watercolor and gouache over graphite on paper, 8 7/16 x 4 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1922

Many visitors are familiar with Edouard Manet’s Spanish Ballet, a staple of the museum’s permanent collection. Lesser known, however, is Manet’s endearing rendering of a young boy, Boy Carrying a Tray (L’Enfant portent un plateau), acquired by The Phillips Collection six years before Spanish Ballet.