To be sold at Uppsala Auktionskammare’s Important Sale: Classic & Asian 15-18 June 2021
Uppsala Auktionskammare have the pleasure of presenting a significant collection of seven paintings and watercolours by Julia Beck. These newly rediscovered works were exhibited at Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde in Stockholm during the summer of 2019 and here we now offer the opportunity to acquire some of Julia Beck’s finest works.
In 1872 Beck enrolled as a student at the Konstakademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts), which not only offered a free five-year course, but was one of the earliest European academies to accept female students (from 1864). The French École des Beaux-Arts did not accept women until 1897. Sweden’s female students, the “painter-girls”, had the same teachers as the men and mingled freely with their male peers, but they took their classes in a different part of the academy.
Beck quickly became one of the dominant figures of the ladies’ section and was instrumental in founding a student newspaper, Palettskrap (“Palette Scratch”), which published poetry, art world news, tittle-tattle and cartoons (some of which were the work of Carl Larsson, who would become one of the most eminent Swedish painters of the day). Along with many of the students, Beck was disenchanted with the prevailing syllabus, which taught a Germanic, brown-hued realism, and was more interested in French art. She helped organise like-minded peers into a free-roving artists’ colony that would decamp to the countryside outside Stockholm to paint directly from nature. Shortly after finishing at the academy in Stockholm, Beck left for Paris, where she enrolled in the private Académie Julian, which was international and espoused a less conservative art than the official schools. She later continued her training with the Belgian painter Alfred Stevens, who specialised in pictures of modern and modish women: Beck herself was one such woman. In Paris she shared a studio with a group of other Scandinavian female artists and found early success as a portraitist, exhibiting at the Salon showcase for the first time in 1880. As an advocate of female painters she was also a regular exhibitor at the women-only Salon de l’Union des femmes peintres et sculpteurs.
Beck’s arrival in Paris coincided with the early years of the Impressionists. Their eight group exhibitions, which spanned 1874 to 1886, were influential if not critically successful, and Beck added their example to the more traditionally naturalistic way of painting landscape practised by the Barbizon school of artists.
During her first stay in France in the early 1880s, Julia Beck had worked in Grez-sur-Loing and Paris, among other places. After two years back in Sweden, she returned to France in 1887. In 1889 she settled in Vaucresson, Seine-et-Oise, where she lived until her death in 1935. Vaucresson is a small town situated between Versailles and Paris, surrounded by woods and parks. Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796-1875) visited this area regularly throughout his life, painting subjects inspired by the many ponds in the area. In 1817, his father had bought a house on the Étang Neuf in Ville-d’Avray, where they spent their weekends. Julia Beck was a great admirer of Corot and owned one of his paintings, which may have contributed to her decision to settle in the area. Proximity to Paris was certainly also a factor in her choice. She regularly exhibited her work in Paris and became part of the French art scene.
It was in the Vaucresson area that Julia Beck found the subject matter for which she is perhaps best known today: natural ponds with shimmering water mirrors reflecting the surrounding trees and bushes, often with water lilies. One of Julia Beck’s last known paintings, executed in 1931, depicts a section of a water lily pond. The foreground of her paintings is often lined with foliage and reeds, reminiscent of the Japanese and Chinese calligraphy of the time; even the long, narrow formats of her canvases show an influence from the East. The Étang de Saint Cucufa in the Forêt de Malmaison, the Étang de Villeneuve in the Parc de Villeneuve and the Étang Neuf, now known as Les Étangs de Corot, were some of the places Julia Beck came to draw these motifs from. Usually she worked early in the morning or late in the evening. She has recounted ”how she would get up early in the morning, properly dressed with forest boots, easel, paintbox and umbrella to set off into the countryside”.
The auction’s seven newly rediscovered works by Julia Beck were all executed in France and have been in French ownership since their creation. The works were painted between 1890 and 1910, when Julia Beck lived in Vaucresson outside Paris.
During Julia Beck’s lifetime, the works were owned by the writer and poet Countess Madeleine de Bouchaud, née de Bussy (1872-1970), known under the pseudonym Cardeline, and her husband, the art historian and writer Count Pierre de Bouchaud (1862-1925). One of the works, dated 1908, is dedicated to Madeleine de Bouchaud by Julia Beck. In May 1907, Julia Beck held a major exhibition, ”Exposition Julia Beck”, at Galerie La Française, 49 Rue Laffitte in Paris, where the most famous galleries of French contemporary art were located, including Paul Durand-Ruel and Ambroise Vollard. The exhibition included 50 works of art. Two of the works on display, No. 6 ”La Vierge” [The Virgin] and No. 7 ”Les Roseaux” [Reeds] were on loan from Pierre de Bouchaud. The latter painting is most probably identical to one of the works presented here (lot 702).
In the summer of 1925, Julia Beck held a large retrospective exhibition in Vaucresson on premises lent by the mayor of Vaucresson. The exhibition included some 65 works. Julia Beck produced a guest book for the exhibition (Private collection). Among the many visitors was Madeleine de Bouchaud, who visited the exhibition with her daughter Wilhelmine. In the guest book she has written a posthumous greeting from her husband who had passed away only a few months earlier:
« En souvenir du Poète et érudit
Pierre de Bouchaud
Vos amis de toujours vous redisent
leur admiration et vous souhaitent
la grande gloire, ma chère Beck.
Magdeleine de Bouchaud
« Cardeline »
« petite reine » de Julia Beck
Wilhelmine de Bouchaud
30 juin 1925 de Paris. »
”In memory of the poet and researcher Pierre de Bouchaud
Your lifelong friends repeat
their admiration and wishes
you great success, my dear Beck
Magdeleine de Bouchaud
Julia Beck’s ”little queen”
Wilhelmine de Bouchaud
Paris 30 June 1925”
Madeleine de Bouchaud was awarded the Prix Montyon of the Académie française in 1923, founded in 1772, and in 1926 she was awarded the Grand prix du roman de l’Académie Française. Both her and her husband’s books are constantly being reprinted. Pierre and Madeleine de Bouchaud have two famous flower varieties named after them; in 1900 a clematis called ’Comtesse de Bouchaud’ and in 1904 a water lily (nymphea) called ’Comte de Bouchaud’. In Pierre de Bouchaud’s home town of Chasselay, there is a library named after him, the Bibliothèque Pierre de Bouchaud.
In 1875, the French lawyer and horticulturist Joseph Bory Latour-Marliac (1830-1911) created a water lily pond at his home in Le Temple sur lot in Aquitaine, the world’s first artificial water lily pond, now a museum and commercial garden. There, Latour-Marliac began experiments with crossing the European white water lily, Nymphaea alba, with exotic colourful species, including red water lilies which he had imported from Lake Fagertärn in Sweden. His cross-pollinations were exhibited at the Paris World Fair in 1889, where they caused a sensation. They attracted Claude Monet’s attention and Latour-Marliac later assisted him in the creation of the famous water lily ponds at Monet’s home in Giverny. Monet’s first painting of water lilies, ”Nymphéas”, was painted in Giverny in 1897. As Julia Beck was represented in the Swedish section of the 1889 Paris World Fair, she would have had the opportunity to view Latour-Marliac’s water lilies. Julia Beck participated with a landscape from Normandy, ”La mare aux Saules”, which was bought by the famous writer Edmond Haraucourt (1856-1941).
The movement of water lily leaves under the influence of wind and water currents, and the resulting changes in colour and light, captured the interest of the Impressionists even before that time. They were interpreted as a symbol of nature’s constant change. Water lily leaves can be said to form a link between water and sky, their smooth and often moist surfaces reproducing reflections of both the currents of the water and the luminescence of the sky.
Around 1860-65, the renowned French photographer Eugène Cuvelier (1837-1900) depicted a natural water lily pond in Barbizon, one of the earliest known depictions of a water lily pond. Cuvelier was a close friend of artists working in Barbizon such as Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, Charles-François Daubigny, Théodore Rousseau, Jean-François Millet and their work came to influence each other.