1868-1941 | Belgian
Signed “G. Morren” and dated 1892 (lower right); signed, titled and dated “George Morren / Le Renouveau / 1892” en verso
Oil on canvas
“Every woman nursing a child is a Virgin by Raphael.”
– Pierre-Auguste Renoir
A wet nurse is caught in a moment of reflection as she breastfeeds an infant in this outstanding oil on canvas by Belgian Pointillist painter Georges Morren. The subject of this work, entitled Le Renouveau (The Renewal), is one that was rendered often during the late 19th century due to the burgeoning concepts of childcare and early childhood development. The great Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, for one, delved into this subject in his 1886 painting entitled Motherhood, which undoubtedly influenced this work by Morren. Secular rather than religious, the thoroughly modern subject is nevertheless reminiscent of the traditional Raphaelian Madonna and Child theme, a connection that is strengthened by the Madonna-like blue veil of Morren's subject. The artist captures the scene using the latest concepts of Luminism, which lends the work an incredible radiance few artist could successfully achieve. It is for his incorporation of these elements that Le Renouveau is ranked among the most accomplished works of the Neo-Impressionist movement.
The vivid composition is set in Koning Albert Park in Antwerp. A very similar work by Morren, which includes the same model in the same setting, is currently in the collection of the Musée d'Orsay (Paris). Comparable in both subject and palette, each reveals Morren's genius for capturing the feeling of a sunny summer's day.
Morren was particularly skilled at emphasizing fleeting moments of light in the natural environment, a technique known as Luminism. The present work demonstrates his remarkable talent brilliantly. Situated outdoors, the wet nurse and her charge are awash in golden sunlight. The vivid golden hue radiating from the manicured lawn gives the canvas a magnificent glow.
An active member of the Neo-Impressionist movement, Morren's works represent one of the most innovative painting techniques that developed out of Impressionism. Known as Pointillism, the technique was born from avant-garde research into color theory, or how the eye interprets line and color. The style relied on the eye's ability to blend individual points of color into an overall tone - through the precise placement of minuscule dots of pure color, Morren and his contemporaries, including Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, were able to create effective, striking works of art. The result was one of the most radical innovations in modern painting.
Having trained briefly as a painter in his native Antwerp, Morren moved to Paris in the late 1880s. It was there that he first encountered the Pointillist technique of painting that he would soon incorporate into his own work. By the 1890s, his work exemplified the rich possibilities of this innovative method, characterized by tiny, tightly painted dots of color. Because he was independently wealthy and did not need to sell his art, Morren never gained the prominence of his compatriot and fellow Neo-Impressionist painter Théo van Rysselberghe. Nonetheless, Morren participated in exhibitions with van Rysselberghe, Signac and Seurat, and his compositions of the 1890s rival those of his elite colleagues. Shimmering with the light and reflection of the midday sun, this scene displays Morren's talents at his very best.
Canvas: 31 7/8” high x 36 1/4” wide
Frame: 42 1/2" high x 46 1/4" wide
Exposition de Gand, Salon de 1892, XXVeme Exposition centenaire, 1892, Ghent, Casino, no. 534
Twenty Years of Post-Impressionism 1880-1900. A Selection of Paintings from the Gallery's Collection, 1977, New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, no. 18, illustrated in the catalogue
George Morren: 1868-1941, 2000, Tony Calabrese, p. 39 and 9. 212, no. 15 (illustrated)
Galerie Campo, Antwerp, October 5-6, 1965, lot 91
Hirshl & Adler Gallery, New York
Private collection, 1977
M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans