Coignet’s visit to the Middle East in 1844–46 provided him with subject matter for paintings he later exhibited at the annual Paris Salons. This picturesque view is founded on formal conventions of Neoclassical landscape composition, but the spirited brushwork used to convey the shimmering Mediterranean light is characteristic of an informal sketch. As if to emphasize the speed with which it was completed, Coignet inscribed the location and date in the still-wet paint with the wood end of his brush.
Coignet studied with the neoclassical landscape painter Jean-Victor Bertin from about 1818 until 1820. As with Michallon, who preceded him as Bertin’s pupil, and Corot, who followed him, Coignet was imbued with a predilection to draw and paint directly from nature. He was as prolific as he was peripatetic, sketching throughout France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and elsewhere, as catalogues of the lifetime and posthumous sales of his oil studies as well as his published lithographs attest. In 1844–46, he visited the Middle East (it seems there was an interval in Paris, in late 1844), which provided subject matter for paintings exhibited at the annual Salons from 1846 until 1849; the present View of Beirut was painted in 1844. A single Egyptian view was included in an 1845 sale of works by the artist, with many more executed in Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt remaining in his atelier upon his death in 1860. Sometime in between these dates, he must have sold this painting. It is not known when it was acquired by Alexis Rouart (1839–1911), who had an impressive collection of works by artists of the Generation of 1830.
When this painting was catalogued for the 1911 Rouart sale, the inscription that identifies the view—which was made by using the wood end of the brush as a stylus before the paint dried—was misprised and understood to be a signature. Thus the painting appeared in the auction as the work of an artist called Beyruat, although no such artist ever lived. The attribution to Coignet, by whom it is a characteristic work, was deduced many decades later, by Whitney.
[Asher Ethan Miller 2013]
Inscription: Inscribed and dated (lower left): Beyrout - 44.
Alexis Rouart, Paris (until d. 1911; his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, March 8–10, no. 4, as "Une ville en Orient" by Beyruat); [Galerie Chéreau, Paris, until 1987; sold on May 23 to Whitney]; Wheelock Whitney, New York (from 1987)
New York. Wheelock Whitney & Company. "Nineteenth-Century European Paintings," October 27–November 25, 1987, no. 9 (as "View of Beirut").
Amherst, Mass. Mead Art Museum, Amherst College. "Delacroix and the Romantic Image: Oriental Themes, Wild Beasts, and the Hunt," October 12–November 12, 1988, unnumbered cat. (lent by a private collection).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850," January 22–April 21, 2013, unnumbered cat. (fig. 3).
Frank A. Trapp. Delacroix and the Romantic Image: Oriental Themes, Wild Beasts, and the Hunt. Exh. cat.Amherst, 1988, p. 9, ill. (color).
Asher Ethan Miller. "The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 70 (Winter 2013), pp. 6, 44, fig. 3 (color).