Pierre-Narcisse GUERIN (Paris 1774 - Rome or Verona 1883)

A Mother and Child Sold

Black chalk, heightened with white chalk, on brown paper.
A slight sketch of the head of a child in black chalk on the verso.
Inscribed M.me Guérin / et [?] / Par son [?] peintre / sous Napoleon Ier / portrait donné par heritage å son élève Victor O[rsel] / dont la portion fut le quart de ses études on the backing board.
Further inscribed Guérin (Pierre-Narcise, baron) / Paris 1774 + Rome 1833 / dont le peintre Orsel 1795+1850 fut l’élève. / Le maître légua à son élève le / quart de ses études, dont ce / dessin représentant Madame Guérin / et son fils. on a label pasted onto the backing board.
239 x 163 mm. (9 3/8 x 6 3/8 in.)


This charming and intimate portrait of a mother and child stands quite apart from the Neoclassical severity of much of Guérin’s draughtsmanship, once belonged to the artist’s pupil, assistant and heir, the painter Victor Orsel (1795-1850). Orsel had entered Guérin’s atelier in 1815 and accompanied his master to Rome in 1822. At Guérin’s death Orsel inherited a quarter of the drawings in his studio, including the present sheet, while the remainder of the drawings were distributed among several fellow pupils of the master, including Jean Alaux, Guillaume Bodinier, Léon Cogniet, Raymond Monvoisin, Alphonse Périn and Ary Scheffer.

This drawing was sold by Victor Orsel’s heirs at auction in Lyon in 1888, nearly forty years after his death, by which time it had come to be mistakenly identified as a portrait of Guérin’s wife and child. (The artist in fact remained unmarried and had no children.) It has been suggested that the drawing may instead depict the wife and child of Guérin’s close friend Pierre David, who was one of the two executors of the painter’s will.

Among the contents of the artist’s studio at the time of his death, and bequeathed to André-Jacques-Victor Orsel, Paris
By descent in the Orsel family, Lyon, until 1888
Orsel sale, Lyon, Hôtel des Ventes, 13-23 March 1888, lot 529 (‘Madame Guérin et son fils, portrait aux deux crayons légué par héritage à son élève Victor Orsel, sous verre, très belle pièce.’)
Anonymous sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 20 May 1935, lot 122
Barbara Lowe (Mrs. Charles Henry) Fallas, Cross River, New York
Her posthumous sale, London, Christie’s, 8 July 1980, lot 60
Anonymous sale, London, Christie’s, 5 December 1989, lot 70.

Josette Bottineau and Élisabeth Foucart-Walter, ed., Archives de l’Art francais, Vol.XXXVII: L’inventaire après décès de Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, 2004, p.74.

Pierre-Narcisse GUERIN

A Mother and Child


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