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Heilbuth and ladies at the water's edge

Born in Hamburg in 1826, Ferdinand Heilbuth joined the Gleyre studio in 1847 (Monet was then 7 years old) and, until 1865, he mainly painted realistic genre scenes and romantic compositions on historical subjects.

From 1874, his style evolved significantly under the influence of Edouard Manet. His canvases depict landscapes and riversides when he spent most of his time on the banks of the Seine, in Bougival (where Berthe Morisot would stay), in Croissy (where La Grenouillère painted by Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir was located) or in Meudon.

Ferdinand Heibuth. L'été sur la rivière. Vers 1875. Collection particulière
Ferdinand Heibuth. L'été sur la rivière. Vers 1875. Collection particulière

If Ferdinand Heilbuth will sacrifice to the fashion of canoeing, he will quickly concentrate on the representation of elegant solitary ladies on an excursion, unlike the joyful boaters of Auguste Renoir or the couples of Edouard Manet. On the canvas above, a young woman in a pale pink dress and an impressive hat seems immersed in a melancholy reverie under the gaze of her little dog (which resembles that of Charlotte Berthier, companion of Gustave Caillebotte). The absence of sky reinforces the evocative power of water, which covers more than half of the painting, and focuses the gaze on the subject,

Ferdinand Heilbuth. Jeune femme pêchant. Après 1874. Musée Fournaise
Ferdinand Heilbuth. Jeune femme pêchant. Après 1874. Musée Fournaise

We find the pink dress in this composition (is it the same model?) where this time, the young woman is fishing. The gesture indicates that she has just cast her line and the absence of any tackle suggests that fishing is not for her a serious business but rather a way to occupy the long hours of a summer afternoon. ...

Ferdinand Heibuth. Jeune femme à la lettre sur la plage. Après 1874. Collection particulière
Ferdinand Heibuth. Jeune femme à la lettre sur la plage. Après 1874. Collection particulière

This masterful composition is a watercolor completed with touches of gouache on paper. The young woman put down her parasol intended to protect her pale complexion from the rays of the sun filtered by milky clouds. With her gloved hands she has unfolded a letter which she reads carefully. The wild character of the shore is mitigated by the figures in the background, sitting on the sand or maneuvering skiffs, while small sailboats stand out on the horizon.


Ferdinand Heilbuth par Robert Jefferson Bingham
Ferdinand Heilbuth par Robert Jefferson Bingham

Naturalized French in 1878, Ferdinand Heilbuth will be decorated with the Legion of Honor in 1881. Friend of Edouard Manet, admirer of Claude Monet and Edgar Degas, the painter will remain curious about any pictorial evolution and will develop throughout his career a great mastery of different techniques, watercolor (he will be a founding member of the society of French watercolourists), gouache, pastel and oil.

Vincent Van Gogh wrote in 1883 to Anthon van Rappard "Now I also have a large double Heilbuth, At the water's edge, the figure of a lady, she is seated on part of a tree trunk ... it is very beautiful."

Ferdinand Heilbuth died in 1889, in Paris after bequeathing his fortune to the Association of French Painters.





In his art history lectures, Fabrice Roy combines the past with the present, in a poetic and playful evocation of the French 19th century...



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