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Au temps de Marcel Proust:
F. G. Seligmann's Private Collection at the Carnavalet Museum


By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 22 January 2002 - Henry Somm and Abel Truchet, if one has heard of them at all, might not be considered amongst the most beautiful painters of all time, yet the works of both artists plus those of several of their contemporaries provided visitors with one of the most attractive exhibitions of the Christmas season.

The collection of art-dealer F. G. Seligmann, which his widow recently donated to the Carnavelet museum is an extraordinary panorama of the Belle Epoque. Some of the finest works of Henri Gervex (1852 - 1929), including, Une Soirée au Pré Catalan, a painting commissioned by Mr. Mourrier, proud owner of the restaurant give a glamorous glimpse of smart turn of the century Parisian society.

Henri Gervex: Une Soirée au Pré Catalan
Henri Gervex (1852 - 1929): Une Soirée au Pré Catalan (1909)
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Anna Gould in feathers and frills accompanied by her second husband Duke Hélie de Talleyrand-Périgord in top-hat and tails, the count and countess Greffulhe, the marquis, Albert de Dion, his moustache almost as large as his stomach, and the socialite, Liane de Pougny in satin and pearls are just some of the fashionable circle represented, from whom Marcel Proust, Seligmann's favourite writer, doubtless drew inspiration. Madame Gervex herself is also present, as indeed she is in other works including Le Bal, completed shortly before her marriage to the painter.

Henri Gervex: Le Bal
Henri Gervex (1852 - 1929) : Le Bal (1890)
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The exhibition, composed of two hundred paintings, drawings and engravings illustrates not only the pleasures of a cosmopolitan world but also the bustle of everyday life, particularly evident in the work of Abel Truchet (1857 - 1918), meticulous observer of the Paris Boulevards. The passers-by , boutiques and horses and carriages of Sur les Boulevards are depicted in painstaking detail, but while they are very Proustian, they do not represent the world of Marcel Proust, but are rather, "an evocation of the French Capital as it existed at that time", Mr. Christophe Bericault , the museum's curator pointed out.

Abel Truchet: Sur les boulevards
Abel Truchet (1857 - 1918) Sur les Boulevards
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"Moreover", he added, "as this is a private collection, we took a great deal of trouble to give the visitor the sensation of strolling around a gentleman's home, with all the comfort you might expect. The first rooms you enter have been refurbished with soft green velvet on the walls, and as you continue the visit, the decoration is in a dark shade of ruby-red as was popular at the time, while the carpeting is all in grey. As far as the paintings were concerned, every effort was made to use the real frames and where this was not possible, copies were made of the originals, but we hung them further apart than was the custom at the end of the nineteenth century, when each work of art touched the next, in order for the public to see them more clearly.

"An architect was brought in , "Mr. Bericault explained, "and when he'd designed the model, we talked it over together and added our own suggestions, but this time we didn't have a lot of staging to do as Mr. Seligmann's collection speaks for itself. As well as some outstanding works from Gervex, Abel Truchet and Jean Béraud which capture the very atmosphere of the day, there's a remarkable gallery of portraits by lesser known artists like Louise Abbéma, Carulus-Duran, Léon Bonnat and Jacques -Emile Blanche.

Jean Béraud: Au cafe, trois personnages
Jean Béraud (1849 - 1935): Au café, trois personnages
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"And then when you leave the exhibition, Marcel Proust's room containing his bed, couch, ward-robe and so forth are on display in another wing of the museum now open to the public." All in all, what the Carnavalet Museum offered, was a voyage of discovery into Paris at the time of the Belle Epoque.

Au temps de Marcel Proust
Musée Carnavalet
2, rue Sévigny
75003 Paris, France

Concurrently, the Théatre de l'Impossible is presenting Proust lire en soi-meme based on the French author's own texts.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on visual arts and dance in Europe. She contributes to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and is a member of the editorial board of

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