A Lady Seated on a Balcony
Research by Anne Matthews
Alfred Louis Andrieux, born 1879, was a French post-impressionist artist who lived in Paris, St Paul de Vence and Pays de Loire. Although no information has been found regarding his early years, it can be accepted that his education/training was of a high standard given that his father, Louis (1840-1931), was a renowned lawyer, Chief of the Paris Police, French Ambassador to Spain and an MP for a considerable number of years. The Rue Andrieux in Paris is named after him. Likewise his mother, Helene, nee Koechlin (1851-1928), was a rich heiress of a huge industrial Alsatian family. Alfred was the eldest of three sons; George (1883-1945), a bibliophile and Andre, Vice President of the State Council. He was also the half-brother of Louis Aragon (1897-1982), natural son of Louis, poet, key member of the surrealist movement and a prominent member of the communist left. Alfred married Marguerite Marie Victoire George (1877-1960) in 1916 and they had one daughter, Lise.
Alfred, a prolific artist, adept in all mediums, was a member of the Associate of French Artists. He was renowned for his bright landscapes and animal paintings, excelling in his depiction of birds and wildlife. He also produced the landscapes which were used for framed Philippe Polychrome painted musical wall clocks. Over 70 of his works, including his sketchbooks, were sold in Toulon in 2010, www.artvalue.com, including Self portrait of the Artist and Elegante and son Chien (1917). Other works include Fishing on a Summers Day, La Partie de Peche, Herdsman on a Balking Stallion and Nature Morte aux Dahlias.
Alfred died in 1945 and was buried in Passy cemetery, Paris, with his father and brothers.
However, there appears to be some confusion as to whom this painting should be attributed. According to the ‘BBC Your Paintings’ site it is the work of Alfred, yet the additional information provided by The National Inventory of Continental European Paintings (NICE) names Clement-Auguste Andrieux (1829-1880). Their respective signatures also prove inconclusive since, as far as can be identified online, they are not instantly recognisable as the one that appears on this canvas, which seems to have been quite roughly done using thick paintbrush strokes, in particular the second capital cursive ‘a’. However, apart from this letter it corresponds far more with Alfred, who frequently signed his work on the lower left, not always as neatly as the example but always with the distinctive full stop. Stephen Sartin, when producing his Fylde Borough Collection of Works of Art catalogue (version 5, 2001), does not provide any initials. Further research may be advisable.
For information: Clement-Auguste Andrieux, born in Paris, first started exhibiting when he was 18 years old. He famously illustrated Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1853. He studied at the Academy of Liege from 1862 to 1866 and became a pupil of Bouguereau in Paris in 1867. From 1868 to 1877 he lived and worked in Rome, winning the Prix de Rome in 1872. He is credited with founding the ‘Belgian Workshops’ in 1877, which became the forerunner of the now highly regarded Belgian Academy of Rome. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 he worked for Le Monde. In addition to his magnificent realistic military scenes, such as The Battle of Waterloo, he painted landscapes and portraits. Other works include La Queue de la Boucherie and Le Voyage de Troisome Classe. His lithographic series on the National Guard was also very successful. A Lady seated on a Balcony would not appear to be his style.
This painting, badly in need of conservation, highlights the importance of light and colour in creating atmosphere. The background, with the ocean and mountains visible in the far distance, are depicted in varying shades of yellow and brown, which could be said to suggest a warm, sunny climate, possibly Mediterranean. Similar tones combine to bring a dusty vagueness to the balcony and trailing flowers. This however, is a far cry from the artist’s original palette. A small patch of cleaning has restored the vivid blue of the sky and the silver whiteness of the flowers in all their glory. The shadow of the room is in direct contrast to this brightness, apparent both before and after cleaning. Central, and brought into focus by seating her on a bold green cushion and decorating the back of the chair with a similarly coloured throw, is the lady of the title, appearing wistful and lost in her own thoughts. Given the statue behind her, the classical figures decorating the chair, her loose style of dress and open-toed sandals, this scene would seem to be inspired by some historical or mythical event. She is fingering her locket, which speaks of affairs of the heart. In her other hand she seems to be holding a shuttle or spool of thread to use on the tapestry on the right of the painting, which depicts an archer.
The consensus of opinion, which includes the Lancashire County Museum Service, favours the story of Penelope, daughter of Icarus of Sparta and cousin of Helen (of Troy), and the ‘thread’ or ‘web’ of life from Homer’s The Iliad. Though she has not seen Odysseus in twenty years, and despite pressure suitors place on her to remarry, Penelope never loses faith that her husband will return. Deviously, she puts off her decision by promising that she will not marry until she has finished weaving a burial shroud for Laertes, her father-in-law. Each day she weaves and each night she unpicks it. This goes on for three years until she is found out. Consequently, she agrees to marry whoever wins an archery contest, secure in the knowledge that only Odysseus can ‘string his bow’. Returning in disguise, he does so, and they are reunited.
In June 2015 this painting was exhibited at The Art of Giving, 90th Anniversary of the Lytham St Annes Art Collection, held at the Fylde Gallery, Lytham. This painting was exhibited as an example of a painting that needed conservation. Lancashire Council Museum Service Studios cleaned three small areas of the painting and this revealed the original intensity of colour and showed how this painting could look should it be completely cleaned and conserved. We remain hopeful that one day soon funds will be available to bring Penelope back to her former glory.
BBC Your Paintings
NICE (The National Inventory of Continental European Paintings)
Homer, The Iliad, translated by E V Rieu, Penguin Classics
March, Jenny, Dictionary of Classical Mythology (1998)