All auction prices listed are for general reader interest only, and are shown in this order: $ (USD)/£ (GBP). All prices listed are Hammer Price (the winning bid amount) unless noted as Premium, indicating that the figure quoted includes the Buyer’s Premium of an additional percentage charged by the auction house, as well as taxes.
In Goethe’s 1808 version of the legend of Faust, one of the greatest works of German literature, Faust sells his soul to Mephistopheles, the devil, in return for youth, knowledge and magical powers. Faust meets and seduces the beautiful and innocent Marguerite, who comes to an unhappy end.
The story was popular across Europe, especially in France. In 1827, the publisher and lithographer Charles Motte persuaded French romantic painter Eugène Delacroix (1798 –1863) to illustrate the first French edition of Goethe’s Faust.
Ary Scheffer (1795 – 1858), a painter with Dutch origins who painted in France, enjoyed great success in Paris with his series of paintings based on scenes from Faust: Faust in his Study, Faust Doubting, Marguerite at the Spinning Wheel, Faust Holding the Cup, Marguerite at the Sabbat, Marguerite Leaving Church, Faust and Marguerite in the Garden (1846), and the most popular of all, Marguerite at the Fountain (1852).
Scheffer’s biographer wrote of the profound experience felt by readers of Goethe’s tragedy in verse, and its potential in the hands of an artist: “Profoundly as it explores the mysterious relations between the sensual and the intellectual natures of man, whilst exhibiting the varied workings of human passions and weakness, Faust deals likewise with the tragic element, in a way to touch the deepest chords of sympathy.”
In 1859, a year after Scheffer’s death, Tissot traveled to Antwerp, augmenting his art education by taking lessons in the studio of the Belgian painter Hendrik Leys (1815 – 1869). Leys’ painting, The Trental Mass of Berthal de Haze – replete with numerous characters enacting a historical drama against a detailed architectural background – won a gold medal at the 1855 Paris International Exhibition.
Studying under Leys, who himself imitated painting styles he admired, Tissot’s work now began to combine academic technique with minute detail, historical accuracy and a dark paint surface. He also would have noted that Leys painted Faust and Marguerite in 1856.
In Paris, Charles Gounod’s grand opera version of Faust premiered at the Théatre-Lyrique on March 19, 1859.
In 1860, Tissot, as a cocky 24-year-old, priced Le Rencontre de Faust et de Marguerite (The Meeting of Faust and Marguerite, oil on panel, 78 by 117 cm) at 6,500 francs. Tissot and his picture attracted the attention of the Comte de Nieuwerkerke, Director-General of Museums, who purchased the painting by an order of July 17, 1860 on behalf of the French government for the Luxembourg Museum for 5,000 francs. (The Luxembourg was founded in 1818 to display works by living artists, who could not be exhibited at the Louvre). Nieuwerkerke was the man to impress – thanks to his mistress, Princess Mathilde (the Emperor’s first cousin) he was in charge of the Louvre, the Luxembourg, and the Salon. Le Recontre de Faust et de Marguerite was exhibited at the Salon in 1861. It remained at the Luxembourg until 1907, when it was with the Minister of the Interior, Paris. From 1960 to 1982, it was with the City Hall at Le Chambon-Feugerolles, in central France. After 1982, the painting was assigned to the Musée d’Orsay, where it now is on display with others once exhibited at the Salon.
Faust and Marguerite, a small study for The Meeting of Faust and Marguerite, was sold at auction at Koller, Zurich in 2012 for 6,000 CHF ($ 6,640/£ 4,159).
Le Recontre de Faust et de Marguerite was one of six paintings Tissot had accepted for exhibition at the Salon in 1861. Two of the others also were based on Goethe’s Faust: Faust and Marguerite in the Garden, and Marguerite at the Service.
Tissot asked 5,000 francs for Faust et Marguerite au jardin (Faust and Marguerite in the Garden, 1861). In 1976, it was sold at Christie’s, London for $ 10,123/£ 5,000; as of 1986, it was in the collection of David Rust (1930 – 2011), Washington, D.C. Rust, a collector, curator and connoisseur, worked for two decades as Chief Curator of European Art at the National Gallery.
Tissot painted four very different versions of Marguerite à l’église (Marguerite in Church), which over the years have been labeled with a confusing array of similar names, all portraying Marguerite after she has been abandoned by Faust.
The Paris art gallery, Goupil & Co., acquired the first version of Marguerite à l’église (1860, oil on panel, 27 by 36 in./68.58 by 91.44 cm) from Tissot that year and exhibited it in 1861. At Goupil’s London branch in 1875, the firm began holding regular exhibitions of European paintings. In 1879, Goupil sold Tissot’s Marguerite à l’église for 300 guineas to Henry Martin Gibbs (1850 – 1928), who in 1917 bought Sheldon Manor, just west of Chippenham, Wiltshire, England, as a home for his eldest son, William Otter Gibbs (1883 – 1960), after his marriage in 1915. The painting remained at Barrow Court, Henry Martin Gibbs’ Jacobean manor house in Somerset, until 1947 and after 1960 at Sheldon Manor. Sheldon, primarily built in the sixteenth century, was a perfect setting for Marguerite à l’église. Tissot’s picture was included in major exhibitions in the U.K. from November 1984 to June 1985 and Washington D.C. from November 1985 to March 1986. Martin Antony Gibbs, the grandson of the man who had bought Sheldon, died in 1995. After Marguerite à l’église was exhibited at London’s Royal Academy, with “Art Treasures of England,” January to April 1998, it was sold in late June of that year at Christie’s, London for $ 81,898/£ 49,000. In 2007, Marguerite à l’église again was sold at Christie’s, London, this time for $ 139,965/£ 70,000.
Marguerite in Church (c. 1861), another version of Marguerite à l’église, was presented to the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin by American-born international mining magnate Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (1875 – 1968) in 1950. This version was exhibited at the Salon in 1861 as Marguerite à l’office (Marguerite at the Service, or Marguerite at Mass).
Charles Gounod’s Faust was revived in Paris in 1862, and it was performed in London at Covent Garden in 1864, with Mephistopheles played by celebrated French baritone (and art collector) Jean-Baptiste Faure.
Tissot exhibited Marguerite in Church (1865, oil on panel) at the Salon in 1866 as Jeune femme dans une église (Young Woman in a Church). It was purchased at Christie’s, London, in 1927 without a frame, as a gift for Florence Sloane, the wife of William Sloane. William and Florence were from wealthy families in New York; Sloane came to Norfolk, Virginia, in 1887 to work in his uncle’s knitting mills, and the couple married in 1893. After his uncle died, Sloane took over three mills, renamed the business William Sloane & Co. and acquired Tidewater Knitting Mill in Portsmouth, Virginia. In 1908, the Sloanes built an Arts and Crafts style house on the shore of the Lafayette River in Norfolk and called it The Hermitage.
During World War I, William Sloane’s mills turned out thousands of pairs of fleece-lined long underwear for the Army and Navy while Florence volunteered as postmistress, sewed for the Red Cross, helped at the local hospitals and entertained American, Australian and English troops on the lawn and gardens of her home with cookouts, games and music on summer weekends from 1914 to 1918. The Sloanes entertained as many as 1,800 at a time.
Mrs. Sloane helped secure the land for what would become the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, which began as the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences 1926. William Sloane was its first president, and Florence Sloane its first director. Even so, Florence traveled to Europe and built an extensive art collection of her own, which was opened to the public in 1942. You can see James Tissot’s Marguerite in Church – now framed – at The Hermitage Museum and Gardens.
And nearby, at the Chrysler Museum, you can see a marble sculpture of Marguerite!
Marguerite au rempart (Marguerite by the Rampart, 1861) was sold at Sotheby’s, New York in 1989 for $ 210,000/£ 133,945. A few years later, in 1994, it again was sold at Sotheby’s, New York, this time for just $ 120,000/£ 75,877. Note that Marguerite’s pose is identical to that in the National Gallery of Ireland’s Marguerite in Church (c. 1861), above, and that her costume is nearly identical.
Another painting in Tissot’s series, Marguerite à la fontaine (Marguerite at the Well, 1861, oil on canvas, 50 by 40 in./127 by 101.6 cm) was last sold at Sotheby’s, London in 1959 for $ 1,819/£ 650. As of 1986, it was in the collection of Dr. Arthur C. Herrington, Washington, D.C. His father was Arthur W. S. Herrington (1891 –1970), founder of the Marmon- Herrington vehicle manufacturing company in Indianapolis, Indiana, who designed the Jeep and other light trucks for military use, then trolleys and buses. Dr. Arthur Herrington’s mother, Nell Clarke Herrington, was a pioneer and leader in Indianapolis cultural development and owner of an impressive art collection.
Other paintings in Tissot’s Faust series known from his photographic record remain unlocated, such as the fourth version of Marguerite in Church, showing her in front of a carved choir screen and called Marguerite à l’office (c. 1861), and Marguerite in a Staircase.
Incidentally, a contemporary critic complained that Tissot had not bothered to read Faust, without suggesting how the artist might have portrayed these scenes differently, if he had. But Tissot surely must have enjoyed the fact that the Goupil gallery, with photographer Robert Jefferson Bingham (1824 or 1825 – 1870), published photographic prints of five of the young artist’s Faust paintings in 1860-61, and these prints sold across Europe and America.
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