The front of a painting reveals to the observer the beauty of a masterpiece, whereas the back of a painting tells us its history. Today, we will look at the labels on the reverse of Georges de La Tour's “Fillette au braisier”, the highlight of the Bischoff Collection, to find out what they reveal about the various stations of its exhibition history.
National Museum Stockholm 1950: The Beginning of the Exhibition History
The exhibition of French art in the National Museum in Stockholm in 1950 was the first in the long exhibition history of this masterpiece. “Fillette au braisier” was discovered in Toulouse in 1940, just ten years prior to the exhibition. Several years later, it underwent scientific analysis in the Courtauld Galleries in London and Georges de La Tour's authorship was confirmed. The painting was not yet exhibited in the Georges de La Tour retrospective in the Louvre in 1972, but it was later lauded in the exhibition catalogue as a late, authentic work by the artist.
Permanent Loan to the Kunsthalle Bremen: The Collector as Bourgeoisie Patron, 1976-1980
Hinrich Bischoff came from Bremen, a North German city with a long-standing tradition of bourgeoisie collectors and art patrons. The Kunsthalle Bremen with its important collection of modern art and old masters is a visible sign of this love of art – and thus it is unsurprising that the Bischoff couple, who were always highly generous with their museum loans, presented it to the museum on permanent loan so soon after purchasing it. The painting remained in the museum from 1976 to 1980. One wonders if the couple missed the work whilst it was gone?
Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Grand Palais, “French Painting of the 17th and 18th Centuries in German Collections”, Paris 2005
This label is one of the highest honours that can be attained by any masterpiece. It is the label of the National Art Museums of France, to which the Grand Palais and the Louvre in Paris belong. The 2006 exhibition in the Grand Palais was curated by Pierre Rosenberg, long-time director of the Musée du Louvre. It provided an overview of the rich array of classic French paintings found in German collections. It was the second time that “Fillette au braisier” was exhibited in one of the most important institutions in France. In 1997, the work was also shown in the great Georges de La Tour retrospective in the Louvre. For Pierre Rosenberg, who also curated this retrospective together with Jean-Pierre Cuzin, “Fillette au Braisier” was an old acquaintance with which he had been engaged in scholarly research since the early 1970s. His entry in the 2006 exhibition catalogue reads like a small hymn to the painting: “La beauté rustique du modèle, la source lumineuse unique, la simplification des formes, tout fascine dans ce petit chef-d'œuvre”.
Bundeskunst- und Ausstellungshalle Bonn, “French Painting of the 17th and 18th Centuries in German Collections”, 2006
The exhibition “French Painting of the 17th and 18th Centuries in German Collections” was also shown in the Bundeskunst- und Ausstellungshalle in Bonn, the national exhibition institution with which Germany presents itself to the world as a nation of art and culture. The exhibition brought together for the first time the two authentic works by Georges de la Tour housed in Germany: The poetic late work “Fillette au braisier” from the Bischoff collection and the dynamic early work “Peasant Couple Eating” from the Berliner Gemäldegalerie. Interestingly, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin acquired the painting in 1976 – just one year after the Bischoffs purchased “their” de la Tour.
Lempertz Cologne, Auction 1164 - Masterpieces from the Bischoff Collection, 8th December 2020, 5 pm
Georges de La Tour's “Fillette au braisier” is more than 370 years old, it was rediscovered 80 years ago and housed in the Bischoff Collection for 45 years. When the painting comes up for auction at Lempertz as lot 11 on 8th December 2020, it could be the last time that it is offered on the art market. Regardless of who may acquire this masterpiece, whether a public museum or a private collector, it will bear a Lempertz label on the reverse – that makes us a little proud, even though we know that we will soon have to say goodbye to the “Fillette au braisier” again.