François Brunery (1845 – 1926)
Arab Pipe Smoker
Oil on panel
8.7 x 4.7in22cm x 12cm
The artist known as François Brunery was christened Francesco Bruneri in the northern Italian city of Turin at the heart of a region that is today part of both Italy and France.
Although cultural and familial ties with France ran deep in the region, Turin was also the centre of the mid-nineteenth century movement towards Italian unification; and in fact served briefly as the capital of the new Italian nation from 1861 – 65. Within this cultural context, it is not unusual to find families whose lineage contains both French and Italian branches – and surnames that change. François Brunery thus signs his paintings with both the French and Italian versions of his last name.
Brunery seems to have left Turin in the 1860’s for Paris where he studied with two of the most prestigious academic painters of the day, Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824 – 1904) and Léon Bonnat (1833 – 1922). The elder of these two mentors, Gérôme had established his reputation in the 1850s as a painter of classical themes, and then expanded his repertoire to include Orientalist themes. In addition, his interest in anecdotal history painting, in which famous historical figures are shown going about ordinary everyday activities, would serve as an example to Brunery in later years.
Brunery’s visit to Cairo in 1868 with his artist companion Léon Bonnat is evidenced with the Arab Pipe Smoker. It has a jewel like quality and he has captured the mood of his subject to perfection. The richness of his dress indicates his important social standing. Orientalist paintings are extremely rare and we are privileged to have this subject in our collection. It has an original geometric design and the frame is in gold leaf.
With his education completed, Brunery returned again to Italy. Although many of his paintings remain undated, there are a number of them that seem to have been created in the 1870s in Venice and the surrounding regions. Given his Italian citizenship, Brunery may well have decided to leave France during the disastrous Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 when the country was torn apart by both a resounding defeat at the hand of the Prussians and by civil war during the Commune period of 1871. During these years, Brunery created many small format views of Venetian canals, piazzas and bridges, perhaps using the plein-air technique of painting on-site. The emphasis on light and the use of stenographic brushwork suggests an influence of the very early work of the Impressionists as well. These typically small paintings were very appealing to the tourist trade and no doubt provided Brunery with a respectable income from his art.
He also mastered anecdotal genre painting during his time in Italy, beginning with the so-called “cavalier” painting tradition that had been popular in Venice since at least the 1700s. These scenes typically showed a dashing young man, dressed in the frock coat and silk stockings of the 18th century, either courting a young woman or admiring him in a mirror. Such images were enduringly popular and Brunery’s technical virtuosity showcased his considerable skill in creating a convincing light-hearted and often slightly satirical narrative.
Brunery’s years in Italy served him well in terms of his career. When he made his Salon debut in 1879 with Le retard du fiancé (The tardiness of her fiancé), he presented an appealing combination of social satire at the fiancés lack of enthusiasm for his upcoming nuptials and sensual delight in the beauty of fabrics, textures and decorative objects. [i] The following year at the Salon 1880 he turned his attention to portraiture with a work titled simply Portrait of Mme. A.L… [ii] Throughout the rest of his career, Brunery exhibited regularly at the Salon, receiving an Honorable Mention for The Eavesdropper in 1903.
By the 1890s, Brunery established an international reputation as a painter of anecdotal genre scenes and like many other artists; he began to explore the alluring American market for collectors. In 1891, a pair of paintings, Before the Ball and After the Ball, was included in an exhibition at the Powers’ Art gallery in Rochester, New York. [iii]. Again in 1911, a number of Brunery’s paintings were included in an auction at the American Art Association. [iv] His work seems to have been a popular success in the United States, including not only the Cardinal Paintings, but the landscapes and cavalier genre paintings as well.
There is little information on the last decades of Brunery’s life, in part because of the disruption of World War 1 throughout Europe. Despite the lack of a definitive chronology for his artwork, Brunery seems to have continued painting until shortly before his death in 1926.
[i] Salon de 1879, Catalogue illustré, contenant cent douze fac-similes d’après les dessins originaux des artistes. Publié sous la direction de F-G. Dumas. Paris : L. Baschet Libraire, 1879. Number 450 Bruneri (F.), Le retard du fiancé. 25.
[ii] Illustrated Catalogue of the Paris Salon containing nearly four hundred reproductions in facsimile, after the original drawings of the artists. Published under the direction of F-G. Dumas. London: British and Foreign Artists’ Association, 1880. Number 537 Bruneri (F.). Portrait de Mme A.L. 10.
[iii] Trenor, James Delafield. A descriptive catalogue of the Powers’ Art Gallery, Rochester, NY. Rochester, NY: E.R. Andrews, printer and Bookbinder, 1891.
[iv] American Art Association, Illustrated catalogue of the valuable modern paintings belonging to Mr. Julius Oehme of New York City. (New York: American Art Association, 1911). Press of The Lent & Graff Company,