THE picture of `The Lady with a Fan’ was painted in what may be called Stevens’s early middle period. He had come to a freedom greater than in his earlier works. At the same time, he made his pictures out of full “fat” paint, in a manner quite different from his rather dry later period. This particular picture is a sort of “symphony in yellow,” for symphonies in color were made by Stevens quite as early as by Whistler. With the yellow came certain brown tones as, for instance, the gloves.
The reason for being of the picture is, apart from the color arrangement, the beautiful effect of shadow made visible by reflected light, which one sees on the head. This picture was exhibited in 189o, the first year of the so-called New Salon or Salon of the Champs de Mars. Stevens was one of the dissenting artists from the “Old” Salon, and gladly became a sociétaire in the New. This picture was one of a panel of paintings by Stevens, which had been borrowed from the owners. It formed a sort of retrospective exhibition of his work and was greatly admired. This picture of the lady in yellow had a particular success, and was by many considered one of the finest things the Belgian painter had done. It is one of the handsomest paintings in color that Stevens made, and color was his strong point.
‘A MORNING IN THE COUNTRY’ PLATE II
THIS little scene of young people enjoying country life is one of the most delightful of Stevens’s, and curiously enough is one of the very few of his early pictures which represent plein air or outdoors. This effect is passably well indicated; but the picture, having been made before the great interest in outdoor work, depends for its success on other qualities than those made famous by the Impressionists.
This is one of Stevens’s good compositions. The “spotting,” or balancing, of the different white masses one with another, and of the various dark spaces each with each, is very well managed. The skilful way in which the white book is made to break up a rather large dark mass is an admirable touch, and the introduction of the dog, just in the right place, with touches of white and of black to serve as “rappels” to other masses light and dark is really quite a triumph.
‘THE LADY IN BLUE’ PLATE III
ANOTHER picture which appeared in the first exhibition of the Champs de Mars was `The Lady in Blue.’ This picture, while rather slight, was painted at the very summit of Stevens’s career, when he had worked out of the tightness of his earlier style and had not yet fallen into the rather thin technique of his later days. To begin with, the costume, though rather quaint to our modern eyes, is charming. The color arrangement, too, which unfortunately cannot be judged in this reproduction, is delightful. It is in different shades of blue with certain strong notes of black which give the picture force. The hands, while not drawn with the incisiveness of an Ingres, are yet indicated with delightful skill, and the weary little head, far more than the painter’s `Sphinx Parisien,’ deserves to be called sphinx-like. There is an air of weariness about the little lady. She looks, as the Irish say, as if her heart was broke for pleasure. The fashion of the hair, which one finds in drawings by Du Maurier of a parallel date, is of a quaint charm which recalls the days of chignons and of “waterfalls.”
This picture in particular is what has been called a painter’s picture. Apart from the skilful painting of the head and hands, the indication of the ruffles about the hands, and the masses of black which give relief and accent to the whole thing, are touched in a very knowing way. Also note the little album, apparently of cartes-de-visite, which is indicated in a clever manner.
‘EVERY JOY’ PLATE IV
TOUS LES BONHEURS’ (‘Every Joy’) is, perhaps, a rather sentimental title, for Stevens could be sentimental with the best. Sometimes he was a little too much so, as in his picture of the young widow with a cupid sticking his head out from under the table. But in this case the sentiment is that which might truly hang about a “thing seen,” and is indeed quite legitimate and unforced. The young mother, who has just come in to nurse her child (the gloves thrown on the floor are little touches in Stevens’s earlier anecdotic manner); the child so intent on its business and so unconscious; all the pieces, like the crib with its pretty detail of a little picture of the Ma-donna hanging inside;all these things go to make up a picture of a great deal of charm of sentiment and of execution.
The dress, of a brown velvet, is painted in a sumptuous way, while the cash-mere shawl, so beloved by Stevens, and so characteristic of the epoch of the third Napoleon, is rendered with great exactitude, and yet in nowise unduly attracts our attention. Everything, indeed, is very much of its epochof a style which we no longer count beautiful, and yet Stevens, by sheer power of painting, has made it interesting, existent, and also of a certain vague sentimental allure.
‘A JAPANESE MASK’ PLATE V
THE interesting things about this picture are Stevens’s effort to arrange two o markedly antagonistic types one against the other and the sense of repeated lines which one gains from the attitude of the two heads and back. The same sort of subject has been done a good deal, but it should be remembered that Stevens was among the first to do it. As to the mask, one wishes that the high-light in the eye did not shine so glaringly. It is one of the few cases where Stevens has indicated a false value. On the other hand, there is a rhythm of repeated line in this composition rather unusual with Stevens.
‘MISS FAUVETTE’ PLATE VI
MISS FAUVETTE’ is in Stevens’s most sprightly vein. Why he called “Miss” Fauvette does not appear. To a painter the interest in the head and figure comes largely from the fine effect of reflected light. It is interesting, also, to note how delightfully Stevens has painted the crinoline, which by many has been considered unpaintable. But here it gives a flower-like look to the design and is distinctly charming in effect. Charming, too, is the black hat, with its long ostrich plume, and the inevitable shawl thrown across the chair. Stevens’s composition while never very original is, on the other hand, always rather studied in regard to details. Sometimes, indeed, he puts in too much detail. In this picture the relations of the figure with its environment are well considered.
‘THE VISIT’ PLATE VII
THIS `Visit,’ where one charming little lady peeks from behind a screen at another pretty creature who, in a luminous obscurity seems dreaming of nothing in particular, marks the beginning of a gradual change in Stevens’s composition from the anecdotic to the sort where an arrangement is made and painted purely for its own beauty. The real artistic reason for being of this picture is the contrast between the delicate half-light of the figure behind the screen with the full light on the face which is nearer us. Stevens was such a realist that he sometimes obscured his own intention by the relentless way in which he finished the details. And in this picture bits like the tassels about the painting on the wall, and the very marked design on the Japanese screen, almost destroy one’s perception of the above stated chief motive for the pictures existence. At the same time these things are in themselves delightfully done, and Stevens had this in common with that Van Eyck whom he so much admired, that he could push details to the furthest limit without greatly induring the effect of his picture. This came about from various reasons, but one of these reasons was that his light and dark arrangement is usually pretty good; that is, he arranged with skill the balance of light masses and the contrasting masses of dark. Having, then, his general effect in light and dark masses quite strongly indicated, he was the better able to carry the detail in these things to a quite remarkable extent.
‘CONSOLATION’ PLATE VIII
CONSOLATION’ is quite in the nature of a subject picture, and yet it is evident enough that the young Stevens was particularly interested in the fine contrast of black and white in his arrangement. The heads and the little figures are not made with that preciocité which distinguished Stevens’s later technique; but they are very well made none the less. Indeed, it may be said that on the whole Stevens’s earlier work was better made than his later. Here the technique is a little “tight,” as painters would say, but hardly more so than that of the best Dutch masters. The way in which the white handkerchief is contrasted against the black glove is skilfully managed, and the contrast of different textures, as always with Stevens, is well observed. The white crinoline dress, far from being ridiculous, has a full flower-like aspect which one misses in the dress of today.
It must be admitted that the types of face are hardly so individual and interesting as those Stevens later came to paint. On the other hand, the skill with which every detail is made, without at all injuring the general effect, is remarkable. Among the interesting bits we may notice the wall paper, which is made in the extremest detail, every bit of the design being studied out, while, at the same time, the wall stays flat. Apart from its artistic merits, the picture will always have its particular interest as a document of life and manners in the reign of the third Napoleon.
‘UN SPHINX PARISIEN’ PLATE IX
N SPHINX PARISIEN’ is perhaps not so very sphinx-like after all Stevens was not primarily a psychologist. While as a man of the world he was interested in all things, his real talent lay in painting the beautiful things. Here the arms are delightfully made, better drawn than in many of Stevens’s works. The effect of light coming from behind with its relation to the reflected light on the front of the figure is well considered. Note also the skilful way in which the black masses are introduced as foils to the white dress. When we come to examine the face we find it interesting, mutine, perhaps no more sphinx-like than the face of any pretty woman.
‘LE BILLET DE FAIRE PART’ PLATE X
E BILLET DE FAIRE PART’ is one of the best of Stevens’s compositions, with its discreetly triste figure cutting the upright gilt lines on the wall. The picture, too, is well placed in relation to the figure, and the chair and table are in good position except that to our eyes, accustomed to “Arts and Crafts” styles, the design of the table does not look very handsome. While the pattern on the carpet is rather confused and, indeed, quite ugly, on the other hand it is painted with great skill. The way in which the floor is made to “lie flat” is remarkable. It has been pointed out that the hands are rather small, but they are very prettily painted. The face, too, with its discreetly arranged dark bonnet,telling well against the white ground, is quite charming.
Stevens seldom painted a face that one would call really pretty except in his earliest pictures. In these he proved that he could make a pretty face if he chose. But later he came to be interested in the espiégle or world-weary types of the Second Empire which, while not exactly beautiful, had a charm which is not always found with regular features. Possibly Stevens would be more widely known if he had painted strictly pretty faces. As it was, his paintings were for the most part quickly snapped up by connoisseurs and, till quite recently, have not been much reproduced. So that his pictures, while quite well known to artists and dilettanti, are hardly known at all to a great mass of people who love art.
A LIST OF THE PRINCIPAL PAINTINGS BY STEVENS IN PUBLIC AND PRIVATE COLLECTIONS
BELGIUM, ANTWERP, MUSEUM OF BEAUX-ARTS: Hopelessness; The Parisian Sphinx – BRUSSELS, COLLECTION OF MME. DE BAUER: The confinementCOLLECTION OF MME. VE CARDON: Remember; The Visit The Hungarian PianistCOLLECTION OF M. E. CLAREMBOUX: View of Cape MartinCOLLECTION of J. and A. LEROY BROS.: The Soldiers of VincennesCOLLECTION OF M. LEQUIME: Lady KnittingCOLLECTION OF THE LATE M. E. MARLIER: The Morning in the Country ROYAL MUSEUM: Every Joy The Studio; Autumn Flowers; The Lady in Rose-ColorCOLLECTION OF M. A. SAERENS: Fedora; The Japanese Mask Le Billet de Faire Part COLLECTION OF M. F. ROHERS: ReveryCOLLECTION OF M, P. Du TOICT: ReveryCOLLECTION OF M. R. WARACQUE: The Last Day of Widowhood; The Four Seasons; The Cup of TeaFRANCE. PARIS, LUXEMBOURG: The Passionate SongCOLLECTION OF MME. LA PRINCESSE BORGHESE: Cruel CertaintyPROPERTY OF DURAND-RUEL: The Visitor COLLECTION OF M. C. GAUSCO: The Lady in Yellow COLLECTION OF M. G. V. Huco: Miss Fauvette COLLECTION of M. E. LEROY: Idleness COLLECTION OF M. LHERMITTE: The Lady Bathing Collection OF M. LE BARON DE MESNIL DE ST. FRONT: Ophelia; Portrait of the Baronne de Mesnil de Saint-FrontCOLLECTION OF M. DE COMTE DE MONTESQUIOU: The MirrorCOLLECTION OF M. G. PETIT: The Little Girl and the DuckCOLLECTION of M. A. Roux: The Drawing-roomCOLLECTION OF M. L. SARLIN: The Visit to the StudioGERMANY. BERLIN, COLLECTION OF M. L. RAVENA: Consolation.
A LIST OF THE PRINCIPAL BOOKS AND MAGAZINE ARTICLES DEALING WITH STEVENS
LAMBOTTE, PAUL. L’oeuvre de Alfred Stevens. Brussels, 1907. LEMONNIER, C. Alfred Stevens and son oeuvre. Brussels, 1906R. COMTE DE MONTESQUION-FEZENSAC. Alfred Stevens. Paris, 1900REINACH, J. Histoire du siècle 1789-1889. Paris, 1889Impressions on Painting. New York, 1886.
ARCHITECT AND CONTRACT REPORTER, 1906: Alfred StevensBURLINGTON MAGAZINE, 1909: D. S. Maccoll; Portraits of Alfred Stevens. 1909: E. F. Strange; Alfred StevensINTERNATIONAL STUDIO, 1906: F. Khnopff; The Art of the late Alfred StevensLES ARTS, 1906: G. Mourey; Alfred StevensONZE KUNST, 1907: P. Lambotte; Alfred StevensREVUE BLEU, 1900: Exposition de Alfred Stevens REVUE ILLUSTRÉE, 1900: A. Segard; Alfred Stevens.