Europeans & Americans Abroad; Philadelphia Collection 73; September 2004
Victor Émile Prouvé
(French, 1858–1943)
Jacques Majorelle (1886–1962), 1890
Oil on canvas, 18 1/8 × 15 inches
Signed, dated, and inscribed at lower right: “Vr. Prouve/a l’ami L. Majorelle/1890”
Inscribed in pencil on stretcher verso: “710”
Stencil on canvas verso: “8”
Stamped (probably supplier) on stretcher verso: “RENE WIENER”
ILLUSTRATED: Félix Marcilhac, La vie et l’oeuvre de Jacques Majorelle (1886–1962) (Paris: ACR Édition/Les Éditions de l’Amateur, 1995), p. 11 (repro. in color)

Born in Nancy, France, Victor Émile Prouvé studied in Paris with the painter Alexandre Cabanel (1823–1889). For the next ten years he concentrated on painting, but an early interest in the decorative arts can be traced to his father’s association with the ceramicist Gallé-Reinemer, the father of the celebrated Nancy glassmaker Emile Gallé (1846–1904), Prouvé’s friend from childhood. Prize money from the Salon des Artistes Français in Paris allowed him to visit North Africa in 1888 and 1890. Although he lived in Paris until 1902, he did not lose touch with the artistic life of Nancy, an important center of French Art Nouveau. When he returned to Nancy, he was part of a group of artists and craftsmen known as the École de Nancy, who were interested in the integration of the fine and decorative arts. Another member was the furniture designer and maker Louis Majorelle (1859–1926), the “L. Majorelle” to whom this painting is inscribed. Louis Majorelle had one child, Jacques Majorelle (1886–1952), who became a painter; the painting illustrated here is a portrait of Jacques at the age of four. Prouvé collaborated with Majorelle as he did with many of the craftsmen of the École de Nancy, frequently designing marquetry for his friend’s furniture.

Prouvé himself exemplified the integration of the arts that these artists sought, for he was a painter, sculptor, engraver, lithographer, and decorator. Collaborative projects involved him in leatherwork, jewelry, textiles, wrought iron, ceramics, embroidery, and furniture design. Although the Impressionistic painting illustrated here exhibits none of the Symbolist overtones, decorative patterning, and sinuous line usually associated with Art Nouveau, other examples of Prouvé’s work display elements of this style. For example, A Bather, which is in the Museum of the École de Nancy, manifests the decorative line and boldly massed color typical of Art Nouveau. The Museum of the École de Nancy also owns Prouvé’s 1892 portrait of Emil Gallé, and additional works, including color-soaked views of North Africa, can be seen in the Museum of Fine Arts in Nancy. Prouvé’s many awards include an honorable mention (1885) and a third-class medal (1886) from the Salon des Artistes Français in Paris, and a bronze medal (1889) and silver medals (1900 and 1910) from the Expositions Universelles in Paris. He became director of the École des Beaux-Arts in Nancy, a chevalier of the French Legion of Honor in 1891, and an officer of the Legion of Honor in 1925.

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