Painter and illustrator Luc-Olivier Merson was one of the key academic artists of the 19th Century. Although the academic artists such as Merson and Bouguereau were long overshadowed by itheir challengers, the Impressionisms, they have been attracting renewed interest of late. Not long ago, a series of drawings by Luc Olivier Merson were preempted by the Muse d'Orsay when they were offered for sale at auction.
Our drawing presented here is of particular interest, as it is a preparatory study for in Gustave Flaubert's book "La Lgende de St Julien L'Hospitalier" (1895) which Merson illustrated for Flaubert. I have added photos of the final illustration for reference.
Luc Olivier Merson was born in Paris and he grew up in an artistic household, the son of Charles-Olivier Merson, a painter and art critic. He studied under Gustave Chassevent at the cole de Dessin and then Isidore Pils at the cole des Beaux-Arts. Merson had his first work exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1866 and three years later was awarded the Prix de Rome. During the five years spent working in Italy, he concentrated on religious and historical subjects for his art.
Back in France, in 1875 he won the first-prize medal at the exhibition by the Socit des Artistes Franais. "Notre-Dame de Paris," one of Merson's best known paintings, was created in 1881 as a result of the huge popularity of the Victor Hugo novel of the same name. With its mystical Gothic imagery, its style reflects the influence of the then evolving Symbolist movement.
Merson did major decorative commissions for such institutions as the Palais de Justice, the Louis Pasteur Museum, and the mosaic in the chancel vault in the Basilica of the Sacr Cur. He also did the artwork for stained-glass windows, an example of which can be found in the Church of the Holy Trinity Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His profile was raised considerably after being awarded a gold medal for his painting at the 1889 Exposition Universelle, and in 1892 he was elected to the Acadmie des Beaux-Arts.
Works by Merson are many of the major French museums, the Muse d'Orsay owning five oils by the artist. He is also represented in the MOMA New York.
Our drawing - as a preparatory study, unsigned - measures 17 x 14cm at sight. Drawn with both China ink and charcoal, it is slightly heightened with watercolour. The overall framed size is 31 x 24 cm.
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