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Un Mariage de Raison

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CAT 175. A. D. after painting and drawing by Toulmouche. Un Mariage de Raison. Gazette des Beaux-Arts. Paris: A. Salmon, July 1866. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

Auguste Toulmouche (1829-1890) was a painter, draughtsman, and engraver who specialized in genre scenes and interiors. He made his debut at the Paris Salon of 1848 at age nineteen; thirty years later he won a bronze medal at the Universal Exposition of 1878. In 1866, as rifts were deepening between the forces represented by Meissonier and Manet, Toulmouche exhibited Un Mariage de Raison at the Salon. The expression of the young woman seated in the chair shows her inner resistance to a forced marriage. The friends who comfort her on either side hold her by the hands as a young woman before the mirror behind them arranges herself for le monde. Charles Blanc saw this painting as “très-joli” (very pleasing) in his review of the Salon for the Gazette des Beaux-Arts (p. 53). Ten years later L’Art published two engravings after Toulmouche in its coverage of the Salon of 1876, L’été and Flirtation (2: 300-1 and 3: 96-97).

Unlike Meissonier and Manet, Toulmouche found a formula early and stuck with it to the end of his career. He painted young women engaged in high society courtship, most often seen alone or with other women. Toulmouche gave lavish attention to the styles, colors, and fabrics worn by his female subjects, as can be seen by the original canvas from which the engraving collected by Melville was made (fig. 1). Its French title Un mariage de raison is often represented as The Reluctant Bride or The Hesitant Betrothed in English.

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Figure 1. Auguste Toulmouche. Un mariage de raison, oil on canvas, 1866. Exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1866 and the Universal Exposition in 1867.

Like most Toulmouche paintings, Un mariage de raison is modest in size (25 1/5 x 21 1/6 inches). After being shown at the Paris Salon in 1866 (no. 185) again at the Universal Exposition of 1867 (no. 591), the original painting eventually reached New York City, where it was auctioned as The Reluctant Bride at Christie’s on October 24, 1990 (lot 122) and again at Sotheby’s on October 25, 2005 (lot 108). In The Origins of Impressionism, the catalog for a 1994 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Henri Loyrette reproduced The Hesitant Betrothed as evidence that the genre scenes of Toulmouche were “always anecdotal and narrow, focusing on elegance and sentimental little tales.” This he contrasted with the tension and mystery with which innovators such as Manet and Degas were then depicting Parisian women in interior settings (276-78).

In 1866, when Toulmouche was exhibiting Un marriage de raison at the Paris Salon, Manet was showing his Young Lady in 1866 (fig. 2) to interested persons in his studio. His model Victorine Meurent had notoriously posed unclothed in Olympia and Déjuneur sur l’herbe a few years earlier. Here she has “donned a pink peignoir and posed in Manet’s studio with an African gray parrot,” then symbolic of a courtesan or prostitute in Parisian society (King 222). After failing to sell Young Lady in 1866 at his private exhibition outside the Universal Exposition in 1867, Manet did show it at the Paris Salon in 1868, after which it remained with dealers and private collectors in Paris until 1881, when it was acquired, along with Manet’s Boy with a Sword, by Edwin Davis of New York.

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Figure 2. Eduoard Manet. Young Lady in 1866, oil on canvas, 72 7/8 x 50 5/8 in., 1866. Acquired by Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1889. Gift of Edwin Davis.

Herman Melville’s first opportunity to see Manet’s Young Lady in 1866 came in December 1883, when Davis loaned that painting and Boy with a Sword to the Pedestal Fund Art Exhibition at the National Academy of Design at 23rd and Lexington Street, a short walk from Melville’s home on East 26th Street (“Young Lady in 1866, 1866”). Melville would have had more opportunities to see both paintings after Davis donated them to the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1889 (see our discussion of Boy with a Sword and Melville’s access to the Metropolitan Museum after 1889 in CAT 174; Fig. 2).

During the last year of his life, Melville would have had an opportunity to compare Manet’s Young Lady in 1866 (now becoming known as Girl with a Parrot) with Homage to Beauty, painted by Toulmouche in 1874. The Hand-book for visitors to the permanent collection New York Metropolitan Museum from November 1890 to April 1891 listed Toulmouche’s Homage to Beauty as no. 18 among the Catherine Lorillard Wolfe Collection in the New Western Galleries. The same Hand-book listed Manet’s Girl with a Parrot as no. 124 among the Pictures by Modern Masters in the Old Western Galleries (Hand-book, No. 1, pp. 14, 42). Because Homage to Beauty appears to have been de-accessioned sometime after 1913, the painting does not appear on the Museum website today. A sketch of the painting, however, had been published as part of the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection in Earl Shinn’s The Art Treasures of America in 1880, seven years before the collection was donated to the Metropolitan Museum (fig. 3).

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Figure 3. Auguste Toulmouche. Homage to Beauty. From “The Collection of Miss Catharine Lorillard Wolfe,” in Earl Shinn, The Art Treasures of America, vol. 1, 1880, p. 127.

The text that accompanied the above sketch in 1880 emphasized the sentiment of the anecdotal incident for which Toulmouche was at this time highly admired. In this Homage, Toulmouche “represents with his usual glassy and iced precision a small scene of gallantry. A pretty girl has left her piano and peeps at the open door, wondering who had thrown a handsome bouquet at her feet. There must be a card, with a name attached to these roses, which have been flung quite over the narrow balcony and upon the Persian rug which graces the waxed parquet. Perhaps the name belongs to a race which old Capulet will never let her encourage; but if so, Juliet may explore her roses, and declare that by any other name they smell as sweet” (p. 132).

The piano, the girl, the roses, the Persian rug, and the waxed parquet that visitors to the Metropolitan Museum would have seen the last year of Melville’s life are all much clearer in this color reproduction of the painting, more recently known as A Surprise Bouquet (fig. 4).

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Figure 4. Auguste Toulmouche. Homage to Beauty, oil on canvas, 18 1/2 x 14 1/4 in., 1874. Acquired by the Metropolitan Museum, New York, as part of the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection in 1887; auctioned by Bonham’s as A Surprise Bouquet in 2014.

If Melville saw this glowing 1874 oil painting by Toulmouche as part of the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection at the Metropolitan Museum during the last two years of his life, it would have presented a welcome companion to the print he had acquired of the same painter’s Un Mariage de Raison from 1866. Toulmouche’s Homage to Beauty would also have presented a striking contrast to Manet’s Girl with a Parrot from 1866 in the Old Western Galleries of the same museum. Everything about those two paintings shows how radically Manet was already departing in 1866 from the incidental anecdote of sentiment Toulmouche was still skillfully depicting a decade later. By the middle of the 1860s, Meissonier, Manet, and Toulmouche represented diverging and often conflicting elements of the Parisian art world. By 1890, the works of these three painters were housed as comfortably together in the public galleries of the Metropolitan Museum as they were in the private print collection of Herman Melville.