Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville (French, Saint-Omer 1835–1885 Paris)
Oil on canvas
51 1/4 x 84 in. (130.2 x 213.4 cm)
Bequest of Collis P. Huntington, 1900
Not on view
The Dispatch-Bearer was exhibited at the Salon of 1881. As de Neuville explained in the exhibition catalogue, this painting depicts an incident from the Franco-Prussian War, 1870–71. A French soldier, disguised as a peasant, was caught during an attempt to pass through the German lines surrounding the French city of Metz. He knew that when the German officers finished their search and interrogation he would be shot. Metz capitulated after a fifty-four day siege, and after the war the city was ceded to the Germans. The present painting, extolling the courage and bravery of the captured Frenchman, is an example of the numerous paintings with patriotic and nationalistic themes that appeared in the Salons during the seventies and eighties. As one critic wrote, "This dark haired man with his fine proud features, and strong agile body, and solid lively elegance, this man carries in his face the authentic mark of the race. Who could fail to recognize in him a son of France?"
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower left): A de Neuville / 1880
Goupil & Cie, Paris, 1881; stock no. 15065; bought from the artist in January; sold on June 23 for Fr 42,750 to Knoedler]; [Knoedler, Paris and New York, 1881; stock no. 3509; sold on October 1 for $11,000 to Whittier]; General Charles A. Whittier, Boston (from 1881); Collis P. Huntington, New York (by 1891–d. 1900; his bequest to MMA with life interest to his widow, Arabella D. Huntington, later [from 1913] Mrs. Henry E. Huntington, 1900–d. 1924; life interest to their son, Archer Milton Huntington, 1924–terminated in 1925)
Paris. Salon. May 2–June 1881, no. 1724 (as "Un Porteur de dépêches; —Sainte-Marie-aux-Chênes, près Metz [septembre 1870]").
New York. William Schaus Gallery. end November–early December 1891, no catalogue [see Critic 1891].
New York. Union League Club. "Exhibition of Oil Paintings," December 10–12, 1891, no. 1 (as "Searching the Spy," lent by Collis P. Huntington).
Chicago. World's Fair. "World's Columbian Exhibition: Fine Arts," May 1–October 26, 1893, no. 2960 (as "The Spy," lent by Collis P. Huntington, New York).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Impressionism: A Centenary Exhibition," December 12, 1974–February 10, 1975, not in catalogue.
Edward Strahan [Earl Shinn], ed. The Art Treasures of America. Philadelphia, , vol. 2, pp. 95–96, ill. (sketch), calls it "French Spy" and locates it in the collection of General Whittier, Boston; states that it was in the Salon of 1881.
Georges Lafenestre. Le Livre d'or du Salon de peinture et de sculpture. Paris, 1881, p. 70, no. 1724, states that the painting is signed and dated 1881.
A. Baluffe. "Le Salon de 1881 (2e article)." L'Artiste 52 (1881), pp. 753–54.
J. Buisson. "Le Salon de 1881 (2e article)." Gazette des beaux-arts, 2nd ser., 24 (July 1, 1881), p. 47.
Eugène Montrosier. Les Artistes modernes. Vol. 2, Les Peintres militaires et les peintres de nu. Paris, 1882, p. 15, describes de Neuville's trip to Sainte-Marie-aux-Chênes to make sketches for this picture, when he was nearly arrested by the German police.
"Pictures in New York.—Importations, Auction Sales, and Exhibitions." American Architect and Building News 11 (January 28, 1882), p. 42, states that it was on view at Knoedler's and had been in the previous year's Salon in Paris; calls the artist's approach to depicting the German faces caricature.
Jules Richard. En campagne: Tableaux et dessins de A. de Neuville. Paris, , pp. 66, 68, ill. p. 63, as "Le Porteur de dépêches".
"The Fine Arts: Art Notes." Critic 16 (December 5, 1891), p. 325, calls this picture "Un Porteur de Dépêches" and notes that it has been on exhibit at Schaus's gallery for the past week.
"Pictures at the Union League." Critic 16 (December 19, 1891), p. 356, calls it "Bearer of Despatches," notes that it was previously shown at Mr. Schaus's gallery, and locates it in Huntington's collection; comments that it "occupied the place of honor" at the Union League Club exhibition of December 1891.
Montezuma [Montague Marks]. "My Notebook." Art Amateur 26 (January 1892), p. 30, notes that Huntington "has become its owner".
G. M. E. Rowe. "Art Causerie from Boston." Congregationalist 78 (March 9, 1893), p. 372, states that "not long ago the French Government turned to Boston for the finest example of Alphonse de Neuville, offering General Whittier $20,000 for The Capture of a Spy, but fortunately for us it was declined".
General Lew[is]. Wallace. Famous Paintings of the World: A Collection of Photographic Reproductions of Great Modern Masterpieces. New York, 1896, p. 138, ill., as "A Bearer of Despatches"; locates this scene in the village of Sainte Marie aux-Chenes, near Metz, in September 1870, just before the surrender of Louis Napoleon during the Franco-Prussian war.
"The Huntington Pictures: No Accurate Estimate of Their Value Yet Formed." New York Times (August 26, 1900), p. 12.
Robert Hénard. "Alphonse de Neuville." L'Art et les artistes 17 (April–September 1913), p. 87.
Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 2, XIX Century. New York, 1966, p. 192, ill., mistakenly state that a second version of this picture must have been the one exhibited at the Salon of 1881, citing Lafenestre's (1881) description of the Salon painting as being dated 1881 and having slightly smaller dimensions.
Carl R. Baldwin. The Impressionist Epoch. Exh. brochure, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. [New York], 1974, p. 23, comments that this picture makes "an overt appeal to national sentiment".
Philippe Chabert. Alphonse de Neuville: l'épopée de la défaite. [Paris], 1979, pp. 27, 76.
Robert Jay. "Alphonse de Neuville's 'The Spy' and the Legacy of the Franco-Prussian War." Metropolitan Museum Journal 19/20 (1984), pp. 156–61, fig. 8, states that de Neuville seems to have executed at least two versions of this subject, mistakenly suggesting that a later version was included in the Salon while ours had probably already been sold to an American agent; identifies the German mounted officers as members of the First Leib-Husaren Regiment and notes that de Neuville made sketches on site across the German border; calls this picture "the first instance in a full-scale painting where de Neuville developed the theme of the solitary French patriot at the mercy of his German captors".
François Robichon. Alphonse de Neuville, 1835–1885. Paris, 2010, pp. 118, 124, 131, 135, ill. pp. 112, 130 (color, overall and detail).
Agnès Penot. "The Perils and Perks of Trading Art Overseas: Goupil's New York Branch." Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide. Vol. 16, Spring 2017 [http://www.19thc-artworldwide.org/index.php/spring17/penot-on-the-perils-and-perks-of-trading-art-overseas-goupils-new-york-branch], states that Goupil purchased The Met's picture when it was at the Salon of 1881, that Knoedler bought it from Goupil, and that Knoedler sold it to Charles A. Whittier, all that year, citing the Goupil and Knoedler stockbooks as her source.
An oil study for this picture (16 x 12 cm.; present location unknown) was included in the artist's estate sale, Paris, May 23–25, 1898, no. 26.