ANATOLE VÉLY (Ronsoy [Somme] 1838 – Paris 1882)
Le Puits Qui Parle (The Talking Well)
signed Vély and dated 1873 in the lower left
oil on canvas
69 ½ x 38 ½ inches (176.5 x 97.8 cm.)
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1873 until 1948, when consigned for sale to
M. Knoedler & Company, New York, who sold it to
Victor Spark, New York, October 1948
Pittsburgh Athletic Association, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, until 2019
Paris, Salon de 1873, no 1429
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1873 – 1948
Explication des Ouvrages de Peintre, Sculpture, Architecture, Gravure et Lithographie de Artistes Vivants Exposés au Palais des Champs-Élysées, Imprimerie Nationale, Paris, May 1873, p. 224, no. 1429
Georges Le Cocq, “Les Artistes du Vermandois au Salon de 1873” in Le Vermandois, Revue d’Histoire Locale, Beaux-Arts et Littérature, Triqueneaux-Devienne, Saint-Quentin, May 18, 1873, p. 341
“Salon de 1873” in L’Univers Illustré, p. 1, no. 960, August 16, 1873, cover illustration
“Salon (le) de 1873 – Reproductions photographiques des oeuvres les plus remarquables exposées au Palais des Champs-Élysées” in Bibliographie de la France, Journal Général del’imprimerie et de la libraire, August 30, 1873, no. 35, unpaginated no. 1362, (only 26 works listed)
Le Salon de 1873: Reproductions photographies des oeuvres les plus remarquables, volume II, Goupil, Paris, 1873, no. 89, reproduced
“Mlle Angèle Causse” in Explication des Ouvrages de Peintre, Sculpture, Architecture, Gravure et Lithographie des Artistes Vivants, Imprimerie Nationale, Paris, May 1, 1874, p. 294, no. 1978 (lists porcelain plaque executed and exhibited after Vély’s Le Puits qui Parle)
“Mlle Blanche Dupwich” in Explication des Ouvrages de Peintre, Sculpture, Architecture, Gravure et Lithographie des Artistes Vivants, Imprimerie Nationale, Paris, May 1, 1874, p. 314, no. 2110, (lists porcelain plaque executed and exhibited after Vély’s Le Puits qui Parle)
The Illustrated London News, volume 65, no. 1820, July 11, 1874, pp. 33, 48, illustrated
Jean Dolent, Petit Manuel d’art à l’usage des ignorants, La Peintre, La Sculpture, Alphonse Lemerre, Éditeur, Paris, 1874, unpaginated
Catalougue of the Paintings and Statuary of the Corcoran Gallery of Art: A Descriptive Catalogue is in Preparation for the Opening of the Entire Gallery, Gibson Bros., printers, Washington, D.C., 1874, p. 4, no. 40
“Art at the National Capital” in The International Review, volume I, A.S. Barnes & Co., New York, 1874, p. 341
A Tribute to W.W. Corcoran of Washington City, Porter & Coates, Philadelphia, 1874, pp. 59-60
William Macleod, Catalogue of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Gibson Brothers, Washington, D.C., 1875, p. 43, no. 34, reprinted 1876, 1878, 1880, 1882, 1887, 1892, 1893, 1896, 1897, 1904, 1907, 1908, 1909, 1911, 1913, 1915, 1917, 1920, 1933
“Corcoran Gallery of Art” in An Illustrated Guide Book to Washington, The American and Foreign Publication Co., New York, 1875, p. 69, no. 40
“Mme Angéle de Lagarde” in Explication des Ouvrages de Peintre, Sculpture, Architecture, Gravure et Lithographie des Artistes Vivants, Imprimerie Nationale, Paris, May 1, 1877, p. 378, no. 2950, (lists porcelain plaque executed and exhibited after Vély’s Le Puits qui Parle)
Ernest Glaeser, “Anatole Vély” in Biographie Nationale des Contemporain, Glaeser et Cie, Paris, 1878, pp. 790-791 (incorrectly as bought by a New York museum)
Pierre Larousse, “Anatole Vély” in Grand Dictionnaire Universel du XIXe Siècle, Supplement, volume 16, Administration du Grand Dictionnaire Universel, Paris, 1878, p. 1295
Edward Strahan, The Art Treasures of America, being the choicest works of art in the public and private collections of North America, volume I, George Barrie Publisher, Philadelphia, 1880, p. 14
The Middle States, a Handbook for Travelers, James R. Osgood & Co., Boston, 1881, p. 441, no. 34
Eugène Montrosier, “A Vély” in Les Artistes Modernes, volume I, Libraire Artistique, Paris, 1881, p. 3 (as bought by America)
Emile Bellier de la Chavignerie, “Mlle Blanche Dupwich” in Dictionnaire Général des Artistes de L’École Française, volume I, Libraire Renouard, Paris, 1882, p. 490 (lists as exhibited Salon 1874 porcelain plaque after Vély’s Le Puits qui Parle)
Emile Bellier de la Chavignerie, “Mme Angéle de Lagarde” in Dictionnaire Général des Artistes de L’École Française, volume I, Libraire Renouard, Paris, 1882, p. 875 (lists porcelain plaque after Vély’s Le Puits qui Parle)
“Obituary” in The Artist and Journal of Home Culture, volume III, no. 25, London, February 1, 1882, p. 46
“Mlle Angèle Causse” in Catalogue Illusrté du Salon, Édition Autoriser F.G. Dumas, 1882, p. 257, no. 2949 (lists porcelain plaque after Vély’s Le Puits qui Parle)
“Mlle Angèle Causse” in Société des Artistes Français pour L’Exposition des Beaux-Arts de 1882, Salon de 1882, Charles de Mourges Frères, Paris, 1882, p. 295, no. 2949 (lists porcelain plaque after Vély’s Le Puits qui Parle)
“Anatole Vély” in Catalogue of Mr. H.L. Dousman’s Gallery of Valuable Paintings, The Leavitt Art Galleries, New York, 1882, unpaginated
George William Sheldon, Hours with Art and Artists, D. Appleton and Company, New York, circa 1882, p. 28
Louis Viardot, “Anatole Vély” in The Masterpieces of French Art, volume II, Gerbie & Co., Publishers, Philadelphia, 1883, p. 39
Emile Bellier de la Chavignerie & Louis Auvray, “Anatole Vély” in Dictionnaire Général des Artistes de L’Ecole Française, volume II, Renouard, 1885 (incorrectly as in New York museum)
Catalogue Général de la Maison Boussod, Valadon & Cie, Paris, November 1886, p. 71, no. 1224
Gesammt-Verlags-Katalog des Deutschen Buchandels, volume XV, Adolph Russell’s Verlag, Münster, 1886, p. 374, no. 22
“Chronique Judiciaire des Arts” in L’Art Moderne, Brussels, May 29, 1887, p. 182
Henri Beraldi, “Herman Eichens” in Les Graveurs du XIX siècle, volume VI, Libraire L. Conquet, Paris, 1887, p. 87 (print listed after Vély’s Le Puits qui Parle)
De B. Randolph Keim, Keim’s Illustrated Hand-Book, Washington and its Environs, Washington, D.C, 1887, reprinted 1888, p. 191
Albums D’Estampes Miniatures, Album no. 7, Publications Nouvelles de la Maison Goupil & Cie, Boussod, Valadon & Cie, October 1888, unpaginated, no. 122
“The Fine Arts, Art Notes” in The Critic, A Weekly Review of Literature and the Arts, volume X, The Critic Company, New York, September 29, 1888, p. 153
American Architect and Building News, volume 24, October 6, 1888, p.3, no. 76
“La Cour” in Annales de la Propriété Industrielle Artistique et Littéraire, volume 34, Paris, 1888, p. 55
Michael Bryan, “Anatole Vély” in Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, volume II, George Bell and Sons, 1889, p. 278
Salon de Printemps, Societe Lyonnaise des Beaux-Arts, 1893, p. 151
Clara Erskine Clement & Laurence Hutton, “Anatole Vély” in Artists of the Nineteenth Century and Their Works, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston & New York, 1894, pp. 314 – 315
John Denison Champlin, Jr. & Charles C. Perkins, eds. “Anatole Vély” in Cyclopedia of Painters and Paintings, volume IV, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1900, p. 336
“Anatole Vély” in The Saint Louis Museum of Fine Arts Catalogue, Saint Louis, M.O., 1901, p. 77
“Catalogue de l’oeuvre D’Anatole Vély” in Mémories de la Société Academique des Sciences, Arts, Belles-Lettres, Agriculture & Industrie de Saint-Quentin, volume XV, Guetteur, 1901 – 1904, pp. 89, 91 (incorrectly as in a New York museum)
Dr. Ulrich Thieme & Dr. Felix Becker, “Hermann Eichens” in Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler, volume X, Veb. E.A. Seeman Verlag, Leipzig, 1914, p. 405 (print listed after Vély’s Le Puits qui Parle)
Dr. Ulrich Thieme & Dr. Felix Becker, “Anatole Vély” in Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler, volume XXIV, Veb. E.A. Seeman Verlag, Leipzig, 1930, p. 288
E. Benezit, “Philipp-Herman Eichens” in Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, volume 4, Librairie Gründ, Paris, 1976, p. 127 (print listed after Vély’s Le Puits qui Parle)
E. Benezit, “Anatole Vély” in Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, volume 10, Librairie Gründ, Paris, 1976, p. 433
Pierre Sanchez, “Mademoiselle Angèle Causse” in Dictionnaire des ceramistes, peintres sur porcelaine, verre et émail, verriers et emailleurs, exposant dans les salons, expositions universelles, industrielles, d’art decoratif, et des manufactures nationales, 1700 – 1920, volume I, L’Echelle de Jacob, Dijon, c. 2005, p. 268 (exhibited porcelain plaque after Vély’s Le Puits qui Parle in Salons 1874, no. 1978 & 1882, no. 2949)
Pierre Sanchez, “Madame Angèle de Lagarde” in Dictionnaire des ceramistes, peintres sur porcelaine, verre et émail, verriers et emailleurs, exposant dans les salons, expositions universelles, industrielles, d’art decoratif, et des manufactures nationales, 1700 – 1920, volume II, L’Echelle de Jacob, Dijon, c. 2005, p.851 (exhibited porcelain plaque after Vély’s Le Puits qui Parle in Salon 1877, no. 2950)
Pierre Sanchez & Xavier Seydoux, “Salon de 1873” in Les Catalogues des Salons des Beaux-Arts, volume 10, L’Echelle de Jacob, Dijon, c. 1999 – 2014, p. 224, no. 1429
In a corner of medieval Paris, along La Rue du Puits qui Parle (The Street of the Speaking Well), a beautiful young girl is charmed by a troubadour whispering in her ear from atop a stone wall. Undoubtedly aware that this is not the well speaking, she is nonetheless enchanted. After Anatole Vély exhibited Le Puits qui Parle in 1873 at the Paris Salon, his career was forever changed.
Vély was born in Ronsoy, located in northern France, of humble parentage. At a young age he was fortunate enough to be apprenticed to a mechanical draftsman, M. Patrouillard of Saint-Quentin. From 1853—1857 he also received lessons from M. Q. de Latour of the École de Dessin in Saint-Quentin. Biographers would later note that his financial circumstances were so dire that “during his studies he suffered severe privations”. By twenty he was enrolled at the Academy of Valenciennes where his talent came to the attention of Alfred-Emilien Count de Nieuwerkerke, the Director General of French Museums, who arranged for a small pension to be awarded to Vély. The income allowed the artist to attend the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris, where he studied with Emile Signol. Under Signol’s influence he painted classical as well as religious subjects; but also excelled at portraiture, particularly of beautiful women. He first exhibited at the Salon in 1866 with a Mort d’Abel. In 1868 his entry of the Mater Dolorosa was purchased by the State for the Church of Anzin. In 1869 his Temptation of St. Anthony was again acquired by the State for the Musée de Picardie, Amiens. In the 1870s, Vély’s historical and religious works were supplanted by romantic subjects often featuring medieval young maidens contemplating love. Le Puits qui Parle (The Talking Well), was the first major work of this type exhibited by Vély. 
In all likelihood this change of direction was partially inspired by the growing influence and popularity of Pre-Raphaelitism in France from the mid-1860s onwards.  Vély further drew upon the tradition of Troubadour paintings which had flourished in France between 1802 – 1824, with periodic revivals and transformations until at least the 1860s. These works were characterized by settings displaying softly lit figures in relaxed poses, smoothly executed and beautifully rendered. A large number of these paintings featured women in subjects not previously painted concerning themes of chivalric romance, meant to engage the viewer’s emotions.  The combination of these two-aesthetics created something new and striking, and Le Puits qui Parle was the perfect embodiment of both trends. With a facile brush and keen sense of color, built on charming subject matter, Vély dazzled his audience.
The importance of exhibiting at the Paris Salons cannot be overstated. The Salon set the standards for the art market not only in France, but throughout the entire Western world, and from 1848 – 1898 it was at the peak of its power. Thousands of works were exhibited at each Salon, creating the largest exhibition of contemporary art in the world. Thousands poured into Paris to attend the Salon, with 500,000 visitors a year not unusual. The public regarded painters whose work had been accepted by the Salon as worthy of purchase, with the exact opposite being true for those whose paintings had been rejected.  Undoubtedly an artist’s submission to the Salon was agonized over, with only his best work sent, as each time the future success of his career was at stake.
Whereas most artists did not dare hope for more than inclusion in the Salon, to be singled out by the press from the 1,491 paintings on view in 1873 was an important achievement. For Le Puits qui Parle’s image to be reproduced on the cover of L’Univers Illustré in August 1873, must have been a dream come true for Vély. Just as important was the work’s recognition by the esteemed firm of Goupil & Cie, who published it in their two volume set reproducing the most remarkable works of the Salon that year (see: Le Salon de 1873: Reproductions photographies des oeuvres le plus remarquables, Goupil, Paris, 1873, volume II, no. 89). They had a highly successful business of not only selling original works of art, but also prints and photographs. Carefully choosing works that “sparked discussion” and “prompted reviews”, Goupil sold prints in various price brackets, so that almost anyone could afford to own a version of a famous Salon painting.  Reproductions after Le Puits qui Parle sold steadily for years and was even the subject of a court case in 1887. Boussod, Valadon et Cie, Goupil’s printers, sued one Charles Jean for counterfeiting, as he was selling unlicensed images of Vély’s painting embossed on perfume bottles and match boxes. These objects were confiscated, and fines levied. 
Hermann Eichens was the engraver of Vély’s painting for Goupil, and in numerous biographical dictionaries, it is recorded as one of his principal works. Jan Veth’s engraving after Le Puits qui Parle (Da Pratende Put) is in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Jean Dolent wrote in his 1874 Petit manuel d’art à l’usage des ignorants Le Peintre, La Sculpture, “La peintre sur porcelain est la spécialité des femmes artistes… Les puits qui parle de M. Vély est en faveur” (“Painting on porcelain is a specialty of female artists… The Talking Well by Mr. Vély is a favorite”). Angele Causse and Blanche Dupwich exhibited porcelain plaques after Vély’s painting in the Salon of 1874, as did Angéle de Lagarde in 1877.
Such continued admiration in Europe is a bit surprising given that when the painting was sold in 1873 it was whisked off to America. William T. Walters, the chairman of the purchasing committee of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, was sent to Europe in preparation for the museum’s opening the following year.  In all likelihood he purchased Le Puits qui Parle at the Salon after viewing it.
In 1869 William Wilson Corcoran founded America’s first art museum in Washington, D.C., which officially opened in 1874. When Edward Strahan published his 3-volume set of The Art Treasures of America, being the choicest works of art in the public and private collections of North America, he began the series with the best works in the Corcoran. Naturally, Vély’s painting was among those singled out for discussion. The reason behind these books was outlined in Strahan’s introduction. “This work presents, it will be seen, America’s case as an art collector. I believe its pages will surprise the best-informed expert by showing what a proportion of the highest genius finds a home on these shores. For the art of the old masters we have to go to the Vatican and the Louvre. But there is a great modern art, which is the development of this century… For this art, on which posterity will sit in equity, America will be the judgment-hall for its Vaticans and Louvres are here.” [9
Le Puits qui Parle hung in the main gallery of the Corcoran. The catalogue entry on Vély stated, “This charming picture is by one of the leading figure painters of France… The picture has been made familiar to the public by the excellent photograph published by the Corcoran Gallery of Art.”  Thus popularized, it was further lauded in contemporary travel guide books as a must-see when in Washington.
Sadly, on June 10, 1882, Vély suffered an attack of apoplexy at his studio in the Rue de Breteuill, Paris and died at the age of 41. It was a stunning loss in the midst of a brilliant career, and his passing was noted around the world.  This must have been the catalyst for Angéle Causse’s reshowing of her plaque after Le Puits qui Parle in the 1882 Paris Salon. But perhaps the greatest tribute to the painting came in 1888 from the Tiffany Glass Company, under the directorship of Louis Comfort Tiffany, in the form of a stained-glass window that replicated Vély’s painting. When on view in their Fifth Avenue galleries, it garnished favorable reviews with the critics, who in particular applauded its rich coloring.  The window’s current location has proven untraceable.
After World War II the Corcoran undertook a change of direction intended to draw new audiences. The gallery’s focus switched to boosting their American holdings, and mounted thematic shows such as the American Processional, 1492 – 1900; and The American Stage.  Vély’s work, along with quite a number of other important European nineteenth century paintings, had no place in this new push. One could argue that once the Corcoran lost sight of its mission as outlined by Edward Strahan in The Art Treasures of America (i.e. masterpieces of the Gilded Age) it was the beginning of the end. Finally, after years of mismanagement, the Corcoran closed its doors in 2014.
When the Corcoran deaccessioned the Vély in 1948, it was consigned for sale to M. Knoedler & Company, who handled numerous similar transactions for the museum. It was quickly sold to another New York dealer, Victor Spark, and lastly acquired by the Pittsburgh Athletic Association.
When the Pittsburgh Athletic Association opened in 1908 it offered a pool, basketball and squash courts, a bowling alley, spa services, fine dining and overnight accommodations to its members. Located in a building that replicated a sixteenth century Venetian palace, the Association would also play an important role in the cultural life of the city.  Through purchases and donations, they amassed a significant nineteenth century painting collection. Unfortunately, the club had been “in a downward spiral in recent years amid changing lifestyles, declining membership, dwindling revenue and the high costs of maintaining an aging facility.” In 2017 they were forced to file for bankruptcy protection, and subsequently sell off all their assets.
The Vély’s unexpected reemergence into the market presents a unique buying opportunity. Due to the artist’s untimely death, very few masterworks representing French Pre-Raphaelitism were executed. Three others by Vély were in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Saint Louis Museum of Fine Arts and the Metropolitan Museum, New York. The artist is also known to have painted small replicas of his major works. In 1996 the Baltimore Museum of Art was able to purchase a version of Le Puits qui Parle (10 ½ x 6 inches, 26.7 x 15.2 cm.) that Vély executed in 1876 (inventory no. 1996.45.272). Such works offered a visual gateway into a romanticized past. Painted in a period characterized by economic boom, increasing industrialization and an uncertain future, their appeal was irresistible. As we live in paralleling times, Le Puits qui Parle’s charm remains undiminished.
 Biographical information taken from “Obituary, Anatole Vély. French Painter” in The Evening Telegraph, New York, January 12, 1882, p. 4l; Louis Viardot, op.cit., p. 37; Abel Patoux, Mémories de la Société Académique, volume XV, Saint Quentin, Aisne, 1907, pp. 69, 70, 86, 89; and E. Bénézit, op.cit., p. 433.
 Susan P. Casteras, “Symbolist Debts to Pre-Raphaelitism” in Worldwide Pre-Raphaelitism; Critical Theory, Popular Culture, Audiovisual Media, State University of New York Press, Albany, 2005, p. 121.
 Marie-Claude Chaudonneret, “The Genre Anecdotique, or The Evocation of a Dream-Like Past” in Romance & Chivalry, exhibition catalog, New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, June 23 – August 25, 1996, pp. 61, 65; and Nadia Tscherny, “Nostalgia and Nationalism: Subjects from French History and the Lives of Kings” in Romance & Chivalry, op.cit., pp. 80, 93.
 Gerald M. Ackerman, “The Glory and Decline of a Great Institution” in French Salon Paintings from Southern Collections, The High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia, January 21 – March 3, 1893, pp. 8-9, 12.
 Mayken Jonkman, “Frederick Hendrik Kaemmerer, The Darling of the Art Market” in The Dutch in Paris 1789 – 1914, exhibition catalog, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, October 13, 2017 – January 7, 2018, p 140.
 “Chronique Judiciaire des Arts” in L’Art Moderne, Brussels, May 29, 1887, p. 182; and “La Cour” in Annales de La Propriété Industrielle Artistique et Littéraire, volume 34, Paris, 1888, pp. 55-56.
 William T. Walters was the father of Henry Walters, the founder of the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.
 Catalogue of the Paintings and Statuary of the Corcoran Gallery of Art: a descriptive catalogue is in preparation for the opening of the entire gallery, op.cit; and Martin Gammon, Deacessioning and its Discontents: A Critical History, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2018, p. 243.
 Edward Strahan, op.cit., p. VI.
 William Macleod, “Anatole Vély” in Catalogue of the Paintings, Statuary, Casts, Bronzes & c. of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Gibson Brothers, Washington, D.C., 1887, p. 48, no. 34.
 “Notes From Paris” in The Architect and Building News, volume 27, no. 680, January 21, 1882, p. 34; and “Obituary” in The Artist and Journal of Home Culture, op.cit., p. 46.
 “The Fine Arts, Art Notes” in The Critic, A Weekly Review of Literature and the Arts, op.cit., p. 153; and American Architect and Building News, op.cit., p. 3.
 A Guide to the Corcoran Archives, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 1985, pp. 3-4.
 Luke Mullins, “Crisis at the Corcoran” in Washingtonian, November 27, 2012.
 Gabriel P. Weisberg, Collecting in the Gilded Age: art patronage in Pittsburgh, University Press of New England, 1997, p. 212.
 Patricia Sabatini, “Pittsburgh Athletic Association Bankruptcy Documents Show Iconic Oakland Club Overwhelmed by Debts” in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 3, 2017.