Saturday in the Museum with Pierre-Victor

Image:  The Bar at Maxim’s by Pierre-Victor Galland (c. 1890).

The Tour de France is in full swing.  Bastille Day is coming up this week.  For this week’s art post, something French seemed in order.  We discovered this painting poking around the internet, but there is little about it and only a little more about the artist.

The picture is The Bar at Maxim’s by Pierre-Victor Galland.  There is next to nothing about its provenance or current location, or if it still exists.  It depicts arguably the most famous restaurants right before its greatest moment.

The central figure of the woman in the painting is apropos.  Maxim’s was a bistro near the Place de la Concorde when Irma de Montigny stumbled across it in 1893 and decided she would use her position in society to make it famous.  Soon it was a hot spot of Belle Époque Paris.  For the 1900 Exposition Universelle, the owner Eugene Cornuche (he had bought out Maxime) redecorated it to become a centerpiece of Art Nouveau design.  It would become the setting for scenes in Gigi.  We are often reminded of Maxim’s when we recall a French teacher’s instruction that a woman should always be given the banquette seat so that she could take in the spectacle of the room.

The painter, Galland, was born in Switzerland and became a noted decorative artist.  He served as the director of the Gobelins factory, and carried out projects of note in Britain and the U.S.  He was a student at Ecole des Beaux-Arts and later became a professor of decorative painting there. He died in 1892, meaning that this was painted before the fateful day in 1893 when young Irma turned the bistro into a sensation and that Galland was prescient in his subject.  Which in turn relies on the internet being correct about all these things.  Or it opens the door to a mystery.


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