LAWRENCE STEIGRAD FINE ARTS

Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits

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ADRIEN LOUIS DEMONT (Douai 1851 – Wissant 1928)

The Hyacinth Fields in Bloom at the Van Houtte Nursery, Ghent with a view of Saint Nicholas’ Church, the Belfry and Saint Bavo Cathedral Beyond

signed, dated and inscribed in the lower left adrien Demont 1883/ Gand

oil on canvas

35 ¾ x 71 ½ inches          (90.9 x 181.6 cm.)


PROVENANCE

Acquired directly from the artist by

Samuel Putnam Avery, Sr., New York, 1883 and thus by descent to

Samuel Putnam Avery, Jr. who donated it to

The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, September, 1920 until deaccessioned 2011

 

EXHIBITED

Paris, Salon, 1883, no. 739 (from the collection of Samuel Putnam Avery, Sr.)

Hartford, Connecticut, Municipal Art Society, 1915 (loaned by Samuel Putnam Avery, Sr.)

 

LITERATURE

Société des Artistes Français pour L’Exposition des Beaux-Arts de 1883, Salon de 1883, E. Bernard et Cie, 1883, p. 67, no. 739 (La Floraison des jacinthes – établissement Van Houte, à Gand)

F. G. Dumas, The Illustrated Catalogue of the Paris Salon, Chatto and Windus, London, 1883, p. XXII, no 739

John C. Francis, “The Salon, Paris”, in The Athenaeum Journal, London, no. 2899, May 19, 1883, pp. 643 - 644

Frederick Wedmore, “The Paris Salon, Paris, May 1883” in The Academy, A Weekly Review of Literature, Science and Art, Alexander and Shepheard, London, volume XXIII, June 2, 1883, no. 578, p. 389

“Le Salon de 1883” in Revue des Deux Mondes, volume LVII, 1883, p. 620

O.K., “L’horticulture au Salon de peintre de Paris” in Revue de L’Horticulture Belge et Étrangère, C. Annoot-Braeckman, Gand, volume IX, 1883, p. 156 (described as “C’est à bon droit un des success du Salon de cette année.)

Eugène Montrosier, “Adrien Demont” in Les Artistes Modernes, volume IV, Goupil & Cie, Paris, 1884, p. 119

Oscar Montelius, Nordisk tidskrift för Vetenskap Konst och Industri, P. A. Norstedt & Sôner, Stockholm, 1884, p. 380

John Denison Champlin, Jr. & Charles C. Perkins, eds., “Adrien Lous Demont” in Cyclopedia of Painters and Paintings, volume I, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1887, p. 391

Pierre Larousse, “Adrien-Louis Demont” in Grand Dictionnaire Universel, Deuxième Supplement, volume 17, Administration du grand dictionnaire universel, 1890, p. 1017

Gustave Vapereau, “Adrien-Louis Demont” in Dictionnaire Universel des Contemporains, Librairie Hachette et Cie, Paris, 1893, p. 445

Jules Martin, Nos peintres et sculpteurs, graveurs, dessinateurs: portraits et biographies suivis d’une notice sur les Salons français depuis 1673, E. Flammarion, Paris, 1897, p. 134 (recorded under principales oeuvre)

Le Livre D’Or des Peintres Exposants, Bureau du Livre d’Or des Peintres, L. Humbert-Droz, Paris, 1905, p. 212 (Avery Collection, New York)

“Adrien Louis Demont” in Qui Êtes-Vous, Annuaire des Contemporains 1908, Librairie C.H. Delgrave, Paris, 1908, p. 146

Hyacinthe Ringrosse, ed., “Adrien Louis Demont” in International Who’s Who in the World, The International Who’s Who Publishing Company, London, Paris, New York, 1910, p. 559

“The Avery Collection of Artist’s Letters in the Brooklyn Museum”, in The Brooklyn Museum Quarterly, volume II, The Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, Brooklyn, N.Y., April 1915 – October 1915, pp. 41-42

“Le Salon de Paris”, in L’Art Moderne Année 1883, Editions Lebeer Hossmann, Bruxelles, 1983, p. 185

Pierre Sanchez and Xavier Seydoux, “Salon de 1883” in Les Catalogues des Salons des Beaux-Arts, volume 13, L’Échelle de Jacob, Paris, c. 1999–2014, p. 67, no. 739

E. Benezit, “Adrien-Louis Demont” in Dictionary of Artists, volume I, Gründ, Paris, circa 2006, pp. 706-707 (recorded under principal works) 

 

In this view of the countryside near Ghent, Adrien Louis Demont turns a field of hyacinths into a sumptuous carpet of white, salmon, pink, red, purple, lavender and blue. Throughout the field nursery workers are engaged in the activity of propagating bulbs.[1] To the left a row of standard rhododendrons is interspersed with magnolia trees and a lone flowering fruit tree, possibly a cherry or pear. On the ground nearby are cold frames, transparent-roofed enclosures, and two solid glass domes called cloches. Hyacinths are planted in the fall to bloom in the spring, so the month must be April or May. In the distance can be seen the three oldest and most prominent landmarks of Ghent – the medieval towers of Saint Nicholas’ Church, the 91 meter-high Belfry, and Saint Bavo Cathedral, home to one of the world’s greatest art treasures, the Ghent altarpiece by Jan van Eyck.

The painting depicts the largest of the Ghent nurseries, a world famous establishment of gigantic proportions, belonging to Louis Benoit van Houtte Belgium’s greatest plant explorer and nurseryman. However, Demont has taken considerable artistic license in creating this stunning panorama, no doubt to showcase the nursery’s many achievements and to create a grand and pleasing image. Hyacinths, a bulbous flowering plant, produce a dense, colorful and highly fragrant flower, which uncut can last for several weeks. In the nineteenth century it would have been quite an accomplishment to produce hyacinths in so many different colors; here Demont includes the nursery’s impressive inventory. In actuality, the bulbs would have been planted in larger color blocks, each hundreds or thousands of feet long, to avoid bulbs of different colors mixing together. The Van Houtte Nursery would have sold the bulbs and bulblets produced by the propagation process, not the cut flowers. The business’s success and wealth is further indicated by the inclusion of standard rhododendrons, a considerable gardening feat, and numerous costly magnolia trees. Standard rhododendrons were popular in the first half of the nineteenth century and capable of growing to twenty feet tall. In actuality, trees would not have been planted in a bulb field.  The cold frames, used to jumpstart plants and to extend the growing season, and cloches, also used to protect against the cold and frost, are charming compositional details but superfluous in the spring. The Van Houtte Nursery was located in Gentbrugge, a city eleven miles south-east of Ghent, so most likely the larger city’s three landmark towers would not have been visible from the bulb fields. 

In the late nineteenth century, Ghent was a busy and prosperous manufacturing city with 190,000 inhabitants. It had a mixture of cotton mills and other industry, picturesque architecture, twisting narrow streets, canals and a multitude of bridges. Known as the “Flower City”, it boasted almost 300 nurseries and 2,000 plant houses.[2] As noted in the August 23, 1893 issue of Garden and Forest: “Belgium is a great horticultural country, and Ghent itself one of the busiest and most important centres of gardening on the continent.”  This reputation had been solidified with the creation of the International Quinquennial Horticultural Exhibition by the Société Royale d’Agriculture et de Botanique in 1837,[3] which grew into a major event attracting experts and enthusiasts from all over the world and still continues today.  By the 1870s the Van Houtte Nursery was the most successful in Belgium, employing about 200 people and doing business not only in Europe but also largely in North and South America, China and Japan.[4]  The grounds covered fourteen hectares and included fifty greenhouses. The nurseries were divided into quarters separated by hedges of evergreens; the enclosures included bulb gardens, gardens for herbaceous plants, hardy fruit gardens, rose gardens, and deciduous trees and evergreens. Van Houtte’s botanical knowledge, business acumen and facility with languages contributed to his enormous success.

Adrien Louis Demont was the son of the notary of the village of Douai. He attended the lycée there and afterwards received some training from the artist Célestin Lepollart. Destined to follow in his father’s footsteps he was sent to the l’Ecole de Droit, but by 1870 Demont had abandoned the school and set his sights on a career as an artist. In 1871 he spent some time working with Camille-Jean-Baptiste Corot. By 1873 he painted under the tutelage of the brothers Emile and Jules Breton at Courrières. It is there that he encountered his future wife and talented painter Jules’ daughter Virginie.  Although by 1875 Demont had left Courrières for Paris to study with Joseph Blanc and make his debut at the Salon with Vielle Église de Montmartre, they would marry in 1880. After honeymooning in Holland the couple eventually settled in Montgeron ten miles from Paris. At their house they erected twin studios to accommodate both their needs. Summers were spent in the small fishing village of Wissant in the north of France. Virginie worked under the name Demont-Breton and developed into a highly respected and celebrated artist of genre and historical subjects. Demont painted genre scenes, but the majority of his works ranged from sublime garden scenes to dramatic landscapes that bordered on the fantastic at times featuring religious or mythological subject-matter. The wildly untamed landscape of Wissant proved a motivating force within his oeuvre. Highly decorated during his career he was the recipient of a third class medal, 1879 and a second medal, 1882 at the Salons as well as gold medals at the Universal Expositions of Paris in 1889 and 1900 and those held in Munich, 1890 and Antwerp, 1894. Further honors included membership in the Comité and Jury of the Société des Artistes Français, 1890; Officer of the Légion d’honneur, 1891; Knight of the Order of Saint-Michel, Bavaria, 1892; Knight of the Order of Leopold, Belgium; Officer of the Order of San Iago, Portugal, 1893; and Officer of the Order of Nichan Iftikher, Tunisia, 1895.[5] Purchasers of his works included the Prince of Monaco as well as the museums of Amiens, Arras, Douai, Dunkerque, Le Havre, Lille, Luxembourg, Melbourne, New York, Orléans, Paris and Saint-Omer.  In 1974 a retrospective devoted to Demont’s work was held at the Musée de l’hôtel Sandelin in Saint-Omer.

From 1880 onwards Demont began painting panoramic garden scenes that suggest the influence of both Claude Monet and Pierre Renoir but imbued with a personal clarity of vision.[6]  Exemplified by The Hyacinth Fields in Bloom at the Van Houtte Nursery, since its unveiling at the 1883 Salon, this painting has always been regarded as one of the artist’s masterpieces. Met with critical acclaim in the press, singled out from a virtual sea of 2,480 paintings on view that year, Demont’s hyacinth fields was admired for delivering the impression of a grand spectacle yet evoking “the charm of naturalness in full soft, bright illumination with exceptional fidelity to the atmosphere.”[7] The Revue de L’Horticulture Belge et Étrangère stated that the painting was deserving of great success at the Salon, describing it as “d’une délicatesse ravissante de coloris”. The Revue further declared that if the Horticulture Society had the power to award gold medals they would bestow one for the beauty of its flowers.[8]

By the time this painting was exhibited at the Salon it had already been sold to the American art dealer Samuel Putnam Avery. Based in New York he was one of the most successful dealers of the late nineteenth century. Sponsored by William Thompson Walters, founder of the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, Avery travelled throughout Europe buying contemporary academic paintings for his customers. He also assembled an outstanding collection of prints, which he presented to the New York Public Library, and an excellent collection of books on architecture that formed the nucleus of the Avery Library at Columbia University, New York. For years every spring through fall Avery, often accompanied by family or friends, set out on European art-buying trips, dividing his time between London, Paris, the Low Countries, and Germany, with occasional excursions through Switzerland, Austria and northern Italy.[9]

The importance of The Hyacinth Fields in Bloom at the Van Houtte Nursery to the artist, public and purchaser is best summed up by a letter Demont wrote to Avery from Montgeron dated December 10, 1888. It begins “I am going to beg you to be good enough to lend me ‘The Hyacinths’ which you possess for the Universal Exposition of 1889”. He wrote on the advice of his father-in-law Jules Breton, (who was on the jury for the show, a Worlds Fair that proved the largest and most glamorous of the period and for which the Eiffel Tower was built as its entranceway) who had strongly urged him to contact Avery. In order to present the best example of all the garden scenes painted by Demont The Hyacinths inclusion was deemed essential. Stating that such exposure could only add to the status of Avery’s painting, that was still remembered in Paris and only exhibited once, Demont offered to pay all the expenses for its return.[10] For reasons unknown the painting was never sent, an astonishing decision on the part of an art dealer. One can only assume that Avery’s attachment to the work was so strong that he could not part with it for any length of time or he was unwilling to risk damage or possible loss.  Although Demont did win the gold medal at the Universal Exposition that year he along with Jules Breton must have regarded this work as an equally strong contender for the prize. Never sold The Hyacinths passed upon his death in 1904 to his son Samuel Putnam Avery, Jr. who donated it to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in 1920.

 

 

 

[1] As shown in the present painting, hyacinth bulbs can be propagated. The process is done by scoring the main bulb. This entails making two to four cuts through the basal plate. Within approximately three months, a new offset bulb, or bulblets, develops around the area of the cut. Once the bulblets are big enough, they are pulled from the parent plant and placed in soil. The bulblets can be used for the propagation of the plant and for developing new cultivars that produce fancy flowers. One bulb can produce up to sixty bulblets, but it can take several years for a bulblet to reach flowering size. Van Houtte’s business would have sold the bulblets, not the cut flowers. 

[2] “Notes from the Belgian Nurseries” in The Gardener’s Chronicle, May 12, 1888, p. 587.

[3] Charles S. Sargent, ed., “Horticulture in Belgium”, in Garden and Forest, volume VI, no. 287, The Garden and Forest Publishing Co., New York, August 23, 1893, p. 353.

[4] William Robinson, ed., “Dedication to the late Louis Benoit Van Houtte”, in The Garden: an illustrated weekly journal of gardening in all its branches, supplement dedicated to Van Houtte, volume IX, London, July 15, 1876, p. XI.

[5] Biographical information taken from Eugéne Montrosier, op.cit., p. 115; Lee Bacon, “A Painter of Motherhood, Virginie Demont-Breton” in The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, volume LIII, The Century Company, New York, November 1896 – April 1897, pp. 210-215; “Adrien Louis Demont” in Catalogue of the Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, April – November 1898, p. 177; Le Livre D’Or des Peintres Exposants, op. cit., p. 213; Exposition Adrien Demont, catalogue Galerie Geroges Petit, Paris, 1912; Adrien Demont 1851 – 1928, exhibition catalogue Musée de l’hôtel Sandelin, Saint-Omer, June 26 – September 9, 1974, pp. 2, 17; and E. Benezit, op. cit., p. 488.

[6] Adrien Demont 1851 – 1928, exhibition catalog, op. cit., p. 2.

[7] John C. François, pp. 643 – 644.

[8] O.K., Revue de L’Horticulture Belge et Étrangère, op. cit., p. 156.

[9] Malcolm Goldstein, Landscape with Figures, A History of Art Dealing in the United States, Oxford University Press, New York, 2000, pp. 45, 50 – 53.

[10] “The Avery Collection of Artist’s Letters in the Brooklyn Museum” op. cit., pp. 41 – 42.

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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