This composition, with its inventive cropping and velvety passages of pastel, reflects the influence of Degas, who befriended Bartholomé in the early 1880s. The sitter is the artist’s wife, Périe, known to be a "beautiful woman of delicate health, cultivated, and of supreme distinction." Upon her death in 1887 a grief-stricken Bartholomé abandoned painting and pastel. With Degas’s encouragement, he turned to sculpture; the monument he made for Périe's tomb marked the beginning of an accomplished career as a sculptor, working in metal and stone.
Inscription: Signed and dated (upper right): ABartholomé / 1883
the artist's family, by descent (until 1989; sale, Maîtres Henry Martin and François Branger, Commissaires-Priseurs associés, Angers, December 10, 1989, no. 460, as "Jeune femme à la lecture," for Fr 140,000 to Roberts); [Jane Roberts Fine Arts Limited, London, 1989–90; sold to The Met]
Paris. Salon. May 1–June 1884, no. 2523 (as "Femme lisant").
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity," February 26–May 7, 2013, not in catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Public Parks, Private Gardens: Paris to Provence," March 12–July 29, 2018, unnumbered cat.
LOAN OF THIS WORK IS RESTRICTED.
Léonce Bénédite. "Albert Bartholomé." Art et décoration 3 (December 1899), p. 163, as "Jeune femme lisant".
Paul Clemen. "Albert Bartholomé." Die Kunst für Alle 18 (October 15, 1902), p. 34, mentions it as "Die junge Frau lesend" among artworks Bartholomé exhibited at the Paris Salon.
La Gazette de l'Hôtel Drouot 98 (November 24, 1989), ill. p. 303, as "La Lecture".
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 489, ill., as "The Artist's Wife (Périe, 1849–1887) Reading".
Suzanne Glover Lindsay in Suzanne Glover Lindsay et al. Edgar Degas Sculpture. Washington, 2010, p. 353, fig. 2, under no. 63, compares it to Degas's "Head Resting on One Hand, Bust" (1890s, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.).
Impressionism, Fashion, & Modernity. Ed. Gloria Groom. Exh. cat., Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Chicago, 2012, p. 296, ill. (color) [not in French ed.].
Kathryn Brown. Women Readers in French Painting, 1870–1890: A Space for the Imagination. Farnham, England, 2012, pp. 134, 153 n. 30, relates the depiction of both the many pages Prospérie has left to read and the many books on the bookshelf behind her to a representation of the act of reading as a cumulative, addictive experience.
Thérèse Burollet. Albert Bartholomé, 1848–1928. Paris, 2017, pp. 29, 37, 164, under no. P.4, pp. 173, 191, under no. S.1, pp. 319, 326, no. PA.7, ill. (color), remarks on Degas's influence on the pastel's colors and layout, and states that he decided to paint a double portrait of Albert and Prospérie Bartholomé (never completed) because of this picture; compares its colors to those in "Bouquet of Lilacs" (1879, private collection, France); identifies it as "Femme lisant" from the Salon of 1884; notes that it was executed in Paris one year before the return of Prospérie's illness that would kill her four years later, and that it inspired Bartholomé's sculptural monument for her tomb (1888, old cemetery of Bouillant, Crépy-en-Valois); identifies its frame as the original one chosen by the artist.
Colta Ives. Public Parks, Private Gardens: Paris to Provence. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2018, pp. 146–47, 178, fig. 144 (color), notes that the flowers behind the figure are chrysanthemums; relates it to Degas's "A Woman Seated beside a Vase of Flowers (Madame Paul Valpinçon?)" (1865, The Met 29.100.128) as a possible homage to his friend's work.
Theodore Reff, ed. The Letters of Edgar Degas.. By Edgar Degas. New York, 2020, vol. 1, p. 359 n. 1; vol. 3, p. 316, sees the portrait as evidence of her longtime frailty, as she appears dressed warmly with gloves while reading.
Périe Bartholomé, née Anne-Gabrielle-Prospérie de Fleury, was born in 1849 and died in 1887. After her premature death, Bartholomé gave up painting and devoted the next two years to sculpting her tomb at Bouillant cemetery, near Crépy-en-Valois.
"Head Resting on One Hand, Bust" in plaster on a wooden base (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) by Bartholomé's close friend Degas, and the small bronze bust after it, of which The Met owns an example (29.100.417), may also represent Prospérie. The National Gallery dates the plaster to the 1890s.
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