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Eug?ne-Louis Lami, 1800-1890

Study for a Costume Ball Given by The Princesse of Sagan

Description:Read An Essay On This Drawing

Eugène Lami began his studies in 1815 in the studio of Horace Vernet (cat. no. 104). In 1817, he entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and began working in the atelier of Baron Antoine-Jean Gros (1771-1835), where he was introduced to the precepts of French classicism, particularly its emphasis on history painting as the highest form of art. Despite this training, Lami never worked as a history painter. His first public success came in 1829, when he produced a series of colored lithographs of the famous costume balls given by the duchesse de Berry and presented them at the French royal court. Encouraged by the commercial success of his prints, Lami focused his career on producing images of Parisian bonne société. His renown as an illustrator of the luxurious life of the French nobility reached its apex during the early years of the Third Republic (1870-1940), the period to which this work belongs.

The Walters watercolor is a study for a painting entitled Fête chez la princess de Sagan (1883, private collection), which was produced to commemorate a ball held in 1883 at the Sagan mansion near Les Invalides in Paris (now the Polish embassy). Therefore, the inscription on the back of the watercolor--"Study for a party at the Durazzo Palace, executed for Monsieur the Viscomte Henri Greffuhle"--is partially incorrect. Although this work was indeed in Greffuhle's collection, the nature of this image as a preparatory study causes us to question the viscount's role in its commission. It is more likely that he simply purchased the watercolor from the artist as a memento of the occasion for his wife, the comtesse Greffuhle.1 Moreover, the statement that the ball took place at the Durazzo Palace is misleading as the party occurred at the princess's Parisian home. The confusion, however, is easily explained by the fact that for the ball the princess had the entryway and grand staircase of the Durazzo Palace in Genoa reconstructed in her own house.

The level of detail and the positioning of the figures so that they directly face the viewer in Study for a Painting of a Costume Ball indicate the commemorative nature of the painting for which it was prepared. Lami shows the guests spilling forth from the background, down the grand staircase, and through a large arch into the immediate foreground of the image. As they proceed toward us, the revelers move out of an area of relative darkness into the brightly lit frontal plane. The lighting combined with the placement of the guests facing the viewer compels us to admire the elaborate beauty of their sixteenth-century costumes. Moreover, it would have allowed the original owners--the countess and the viscount-to recall the evening vividly, as the highly detailed faces of the guests transform the work into what is essentially a group portrait. Susan E. Ross

1. P.-A. Lemoisne, L'Oeuvre d'Eugène Lami (1800-1890), Essai d'un catalogue raisonné (Paris, 1914), 416.

Medium: watercolor with graphite underdrawing heightened with white on cream, thick, heavily textured wove paper
Dimensions: height: 53.4 cm, width: 38.1 cm.
Date: 1883
Category: genre
Subject: man | woman
Inscriptions and Markings: "E.L./1883" in red-orange watercolor, lower left
Exhibition History: Awash with Color, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, 2002; French Master Drawings, Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, 1997-98; French Masterworks on Paper, Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, 1992; Sarah Bernhardt and Her Times, Wildenstein Gallery, New York, 1984, p. 85; Ingres and Delacroix through Degas and Puvis de Chavannes: The Figure in French Art, 1800-1870, Shepherd Art Gallery, New York, 1975, no. 41, pp. 95-6; The Non-Dissenters IV, Shepherd Art Gallery, New York, 1968, no. 58;
Bibliography: Georges Bernier. Sarah Bernhardt and Her Times. New York: Wildenstein & Co.. 1984.: p. 85. Reymert, Martin L. H. Ingres and Delacroix through Degas & Puvis de Chavannes: The Figure in French Art, 1800-1870. New York: Shepherd Art Gallery. 1975.: p. 95, 96. Reymert, Martin, and Robert Kashey. The Non-Dissenters: David through Puvis de Chavannes. New York: Shepherd Art Gallery. 1968.: n.p.. Lemoisne, Paul Andr?. L'oeuvre d'Eug?ne Lami. Paris: Champion. 1914.: p. 416.
Related Works: Painting of F?te chez la princesse de Sagan, 1883, private collection, Paris.
Provenance: Ren?e Fribourg; Christian Haumann; Robert Isaacson, New York; Shepherd Gallery, New York; Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, 1983, by purchase.
Collection: The Walters Art Museum
Credit Line: Museum purchase, 1983
Object Number: WAM 37.2607