Étude pour Lucy Hessel à Sallenelles, en Normandie
Study for Lucy Hessel at Sallenelles, Normandy
Pastel on laid paper, 1905
Signed and dated on the lower right corner Roussel 1905
330 x 455 mm
Pierre Caen, France; Private collection, Lyon
A beautiful pastel by Ker-Xavier Roussel, who was called the “Bucolic Nabi”. Trained at the nonconformist Académie Julian, he became a close friend of Pierre Bonnard, Félix Valloton and Édouard Vuillard. The present pastel was completed at the intersection of two major periods of his artistic career. At the turn of the 19th century, Roussel’s work focused on small decorative paintings influenced by Japonism. In 1905, Roussel, attracted by the melancholic atmosphere of the coast of the French English Channel, painted the present work. It is only later, in 1906, that he discovered the light of the Mediterranean Sea, while visiting Paul Cézanne at Aix-en-Provence and Paul Signac at Saint-Tropez. He then progressively focused mostly on large-format pastoral scenes filled with nymphs, centaurs and satyrs.
Between 1903 and 1914, Ker-Xavier Roussel and his family – he married Vuillard’s sister in 1893 – used to spend summers in Normandy, where they rented each year a house in the small village of Sallenelles (Calvados). Édouard Vuillard stayed not far at Château-Rouge, in Amfreville, with the Hessels. Lucy Hessel, the wife of Jos Hessel, was also Vuillard’s muse and lover. The present pastel has recently been identified as a preliminary study of a larger painting depicting Lucy Hessel reading near the coast of Sallenelles. However, two major differences are to be noted: here, the point of view from where the painter captures the garden does not resemble the final one; furthermore, Lucy is not yet part of the scene. The artist here focus his complete attention towards the depiction of nature, and the balance of colors and contrasts. The light effects offer an interesting photographic blur to the garden. Our pastel shows the artist’s skills as he vividly captures the atmosphere of Normandy in a manner close to Edgar Degas. Such a work would have had its place in the recent exhibition held in Giverny (2019), dedicated to magnify Roussel’s gardens with the attractive title of “Ker-Xavier Roussel : Jardin privé, Jardin rêvé”
This pastel will be included in the catalogue raisonné of Ker-Xavier Roussel in preparation by Mathias Chivot.
 Ker-Xavier Roussel, Lucy Hessel à Sallenelles [Lucy Hessel in Sallenelles], 1905, oil on canvas, 112 x 148 cm, signed and dated, London, Bonhams, 25 April 2012, Paris, Artcurial, 24 October 2012, lot 149.