Georges CLAIRIN (Paris 1843 - Belle-lle-en-Mer 1919)

Claudea Flegans: An Allegory of the Sea

Pastel, watercolour and gouache on board.
Signed and dedicated à Madlle de Villers / hommage respecteux / de son ami / G. Clairin at the lower left.
519 x 247 mm. (20 3/8 x 9 3/4 in.) [sheet] 


Apart from his better-known historical scenes, Orientalist subjects and landscapes, Georges Clairin also produced a small but choice body of work in a more Symbolist vein, often devoted to an exotic theme as represented by an enigmatic female figure. As has been noted of the artist, ‘sometimes going beyond the deserts and the ocean, further than anything reality offered his gaze, he scaled the infinite, he threw himself into a pure dream and he anchored on the canvas adorable visions of women which satisfied his thirst for colour; these are figures of enchantresses, living flowers, possessing an original capriciousness, in a languid pose, an unexpected event where the painter found the perfect opportunity for an innovative effort of decoration.’ Often associated with a marine motif in Clairin’s personal mythology, women were a constant source of inspiration for the painter, while the theme of the sea, and in particular the wave, was a popular subject among Symbolist artists of the 19th century in France.

Traditionally entitled Claudea Flegans, this large and striking drawing, executed in a combination of watercolour, gouache and pastel, presents an allegorical depiction of the seaweed which ensured the safety of sailors and seamen, and is also symbolic of the rich bounty of the sea.

A similar subject appears in Clairin’s well-known painting La Grande Vague (The Great Wave), painted in 1898 and exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Français the same year and at the Exposition Universelle of 1900. A finished preparatory drawing in watercolour and gouache for La Grande Vague was in a private collection in Paris in 1986, while another study for the painting recently appeared at auction in France; both are similar in spirit to the present sheet. Also akin to this large drawing is a remarkable watercolour and gouache study of a nymph with a coral-like headdress, dated 1899 and dedicated by Clairin to the glass and jewellery designer René Lalique, which was sold at auction in London in 2008, and a related drawing in black and white chalk that appeared at auction in Paris in 2017. 

Like many of Georges Clairin’s finished watercolours, this large sheet was almost certainly drawn as an independent work of art. Indeed, many of the artist’s most elaborate drawings and watercolours bear dedications to his friends and were presented to them as gifts, and the present sheet is no exception. The recipient of this drawing may have been Suzanne Bernheim de Villers (1883-1961), who in November 1901 married the art dealer Gaston Bernheim de Villers.

The present sheet was included in the following exhibitions:
Paris, Galerie Tanagra, Les Perfectionnistes 1843-1917: Peintres du réel et de l’imaginaire, 1974-1975, no.1
Paris, Mairie du 9e arrondissement (Délégation à l’action artistique de la Ville de Paris), and elsewhere, Le Symbolisme et la femme, 1986, no.8
Tokyo, Isetan Museum of Art, and elsewhere, Terres d’inspiration des peintres de Pont-Aven, Nabis et Symbolistes, 1987, no.126
Paris, Galerie Coligny, Rêveries, Symbolisme et Croix-Rose, 1993 [number unknown]. 

Given by the artist to a Mademoiselle de Villers (according to the dedication at the lower left), possibly Suzanne Jacobina Bernheim de Villers, Paris
Galerie Tanagra, Paris, in 1974
Galerie Mona, Paris, in 1986
Private collection, Paris
Galerie Coligny, Paris, in 1993;
Private collection, Paris.

‘Selection: A selection from some of the fine works of art and antiques on the international market’, The Connoisseur, April 1975, p.306, fig.1; Delphine Montalant and Ian Millman, ed., Le Symbolisme et la femme, exhibition catalogue, Paris, Toulon, Pau and Marcq-en-Barœul, 1986, p.61, no.8 (entry by Françoise Hugont).


Claudea Flegans: An Allegory of the Sea


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