900/​43

Bertha Wegmann (b. Soglio, Switzerland 1847, d. Copenhagen 1926)

Trompe l'oeil with a little girl standing under a flowering apple tree on a canvas attached to a wall under a flowering apple branch. Signed. B. Wegmann. Oil on canvas. 121×57.

Provenance: Bruun Rasmussen auction 815, 2010 no. 139.

In this captivating painting, Wegmann has played with a combination of several different genres and periods from art history.

The painting in the painting – the little girl standing in the shade under a flowering fruit tree – is painted with clear, and in some places very loose, brushstrokes, which together with the sharp contrasts between the shadows of the foreground under the trees and the sharp sunlight in the background, clearly show how much Wegmann was inspired by French Impressionism. She had come to know this style of painting in great detail during her many study trips to Paris in the 1880s. This small painting could very well be a study made during one of these trips to France.

But Wegmann does not stop here. By implying that the small painting hangs on a gold-grounded wall attached with thumbtacks except in the lower right corner, which has caused the canvas to roll up, revealing the back and casting a small but distinctive shadow that provides a heavy spatial effect, Wegmann highlights an old tradition within art history – namely the trompe-l'oeil genre.

Trompe-l'oeil is a French term and means ‘deceive the eye’. It is an independent genre originating from still life painting, which became widespread and very popular in the Netherlands during the 17th century. It is an artistic technique used to trick the viewer into thinking that he or she is looking at a real three-dimensional object in space and not a flat painting. The painter typically does this by using a very high degree of realism and craftsmanship to make the painting and its concrete tangible reality or parts of it into a motif in and of itself. For example, by making the actual back of the painting the motif, or, like Wegmann, by implying that a painting is 'clearly' attached with large thumbtacks on a studio wall where one corner of the canvas or paper has often become detached and reveals the back to the viewer. The purpose is to trick the viewer into believing that he or she sees something in whole or in part that is the actual reality as opposed to the attached painting, which is clearly 'painted'. A master within this genre was the Flemish painter Cornelis Norbertus Gijsbrechts (1630–1683). He was active in Denmark for a period of his life, which is why several of his trompe-l'oeil paintings can be seen at the National Gallery of Denmark.

With the blossoming apple branch, which surprisingly and a little unmotivated, one might say, enters the painting from the upper left corner, both as an illusionist trompe-l'oeil-like element that lies on top of all the other objects in the painting, and as a decorative surface element at the same level as the gold ground, Wegmann also adheres to the Japonisme of the time, where Japanese art and design became very popular in western Europe. The pronounced framing and off-centre placement of the flowering fruit branch are often seen as central elements in Japanese woodcuts.

References to the trompe l'oeil genre are not known from any of Wegmann’s other works. However, her fascination with Japonisme is seen in several other works, including the recently acquired painting by The Hirschsprung Collection entitled "Blå vifte med en grøn kande med blomstrende æblegren” (Blue fan with a green jug with flowering apple branch).

This lot is part of our ongoing Theme: Female Artists

Condition

Condition report available on request.

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Auction

Paintings, furniture, carpets, decorative arts and books, 8 March 2021

Category
Estimate

200,000–300,000 kr.

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Price realised

650,000 kr.