The eye of the collector by Jean-luc Ferrand

Oil on canvas "The harvesting of cherries" signed Theodore LEVIGNE circa 1880

Wednesday 22 March 2017, by Barbara Cogollos

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Theodore Levigne, born November 17th, 1848 in Noirétable and died in Lyon on November 11th, 1912, showed his attitude to painting during the first years of his life: at six he tries to reproduce the paintings of the windows of the church of his native village. Settled in Lyon in 1856 with his family, he trained with the Lyonnais Jean-Pierre Laÿs, a specialist in floral painting very popular in Lyon, Joseph Guichard and Michel Genod. At the age of 10, he joined the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Lyon, where he remained until 1862. At the age of 15, he received the first prize for painting and a praise from the school director, who declared: "The history of art offers no precedent for such a distinguished work on the age of the young artist, who is barely 15 years old."
Awarded a scholarship of 1,500 francs offered by the City of Lyon to continue learning his craft, he settled in Paris and exhibited at the Grand Palais in 1865. He trains with Alexandre Cabanel and Jean Léon Gérôme, before leaving school and abandoning classes, which deprives him of the scholarship that allowed him to live.
On returning to Lyon, he finally regretted his attitude, and at the instance of the Prefect, he had his scholarship back and returned to Paris in 1867. That same year, at the age of 19, he was entrusted with the decoration of the Jesuit chapel of Avignon where, in three months, he designed and painted 112 saints, life-size.
Wounded in the left hand during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, he didn’t stop painting and worked for several months the palette attached to the arm, so much painting was a vital need for him. Engaged voluntarily in the legion of the Rhone, he draws everything he sees, including battles.
The artist’s productions have little to do with the teaching of his masters.
With his photographic eye, he becomes the champion of the commercial genre scene, both urban and rural: he is then a great specialist in realistic painting, with his everyday life scenes and humble tasks of peasants as they appear to him.
The obituary of Lyon Republicain of November 12th, 1912, sums up quite well the experience of the artist by writing that "he has painted thousands and thousands of paintings with a carelessness of his reputation equal to no other. Would he be denied the title of artist for having produced so much? Those would be wrong, because before the painter became the slave or rather the victim of the struggle for life, Levigne had signed paintings not without merit. A « Pasture in Charollais » earned him a gold medal at the Salon de Paris in 1885, and a similar award was awarded to him by his peers in 1899 in Lyon, where he exhibited a picturesque « Leaving the Students Ball ». [...] Death is sometimes for a painter the beginning of celebrity, this aphorism does not seem to apply to Th. Lévigne. But later, some of his paintings, the rarest ones, finally!, will perhaps be like the good Beaujolais that he loved so much: they would take on value and this would not be surprising.
Art, the universal language capable of being understood by all, is for him the primordial mode of expression. Thus, even during the war, he recorded the scenes by his brush. Throughout his life, he had no difficulty in producing in abundance, certainly, compelled by the necessity to earn his bread, but also to translate what his senses perceived. Intuitive and imaginative, he was inspired by the invisible and the spiritual, whose mystery he is able to decrypt.

The painting we present here is a perfect example: LEVIGNE represents, in all its delicacy, a galante encounter that happens during a cherries harvest. Even symbolizing passion, they make a frame to the tender exchange of looks between the two young people in 18th century costume.
The geometrical disposition, the omogeneous treatment of colors, in a delicate and harmonious range of green and pink, the surface that is often overcome by matter in a touch sometimes fast and sometimes very attentive, make a set of a unique, pleasant and very decorative sweetness.

Two oils on canvas of the painter are in the Musée de Beaux-Arts Chéret of Nice (La Vogue de la Croix-Rousse à Lyon - Bouquet de fleurs) , of Lyon (Portrait d’homme) and of Chambery (Paysage d’automne).

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