Europeans & Americans Abroad; Philadelphia Collection 73; September 2004
Désiré-François Laugée
(French, 1823–1896)
Land of the Golden Fruit
Oil on canvas, 29 × 24 inches
Signed at lower left: “D. Laugee”
Inscribed at upper left: “Connais tu le pays ou fleurit l’oranger/Le pays des fruits d’or . . .” [The same inscription is on the stretcher verso.]
Stencil (supplier) on canvas verso: “Mon. DEFORGE CARPENTIER Sr./COULEURS FINES/et TOILES a PIENDRE./6 Rue Halevy 6/PARIS/Atelier Rue Legendre, 62. Batignolles”

Désiré-François Laugée was a versatile artist who exhibited at the Paris Salon annually for a fifty-year period (1845–95). Born at Maromme near Rouen, he began his artistic training at Saint-Quentin with Louis-Nicolas Lemasle (1788–1870), a student of Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825). He then studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris under the well-known teacher François Edouard Picot (1786–1868), another student of David. In his paintings of historical and religious subjects Laugée achieves emotional intensity though the powerful rendering of his figures, and the figures in his portraits and genre pictures—like the one illustrated here—have the same solidity and presence. Several of Laugée’s Salon entries were purchased by the French government, including Saint Louis Washing the Feet of the Poor (Ministry of State) and The Death of Zurbaran (Ministry of the Interior). Works in museum collections include Peasant Women of Picardy (Museum of Fine Arts, Bordeaux) and A Picardy Woman Spinning Wool (Museum of Fine Arts, Amiens).

The inscription at the upper left of the painting shown here, which may be translated “Do you know the country where the orange trees bloom, the land of the golden fruit . . . ,” no doubt refers to the orange in the young woman’s hand, suggesting that Laugée intends her to be a personification of a Mediterranean area, like Sicily, where oranges grow. The lines are in fact taken from a poem that appears at the beginning of the first chapter of book I of Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1795–96) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in which he expresses the northern European’s longing for the warmth and color of Italy. Called “Mignon’s Song,” the poem was set to music by the German composers Schubert, Schumann, and Wolff and inspired the opera Mignon by the French composer Thomas.

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