Between May 1818 and May 1819, Charles-Frédéric Soehnée filled three albums with an extraordinary series of watercolour paintings and sketches. These, together with a single lithograph, ‘as far as we know, […] make up the bulk, if not the entirety of Soehnée’s œuvre.’ Some details from these watercolours, scanned from the catalogue of his work published last year, follow below.
Soehnée had been born in 1789 in the Rhineland town of Landau, which at that time was part of France: his odd-looking surname is the Gallicized equivalent of Söhne. His family moved to Paris before the turn of the nineteenth century. From about 1810, Soehnée was a pupil of the Neoclassical painter and illustrator Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson. The best likeness we have of him is that painted by his friend and fellow-pupil Pierre-Louis de Laval (or Delaval), in 1812.
Excepting a few conventional landscapes, Soehnée’s paintings are almost entirely devoted to fantastical and grotesque subjects: groups of faceless figures are juxtaposed with variously ratlike and batlike creatures, or skeletal birds; and there is a strange preponderance of stilts, whips and fishing-rods. The titles that Soehnée gave to some of his pictures are further suggestive of a ‘gothic’ sensibility: ‘Journey to Hell;’ ‘Cradle of Death;’ ‘A Place of Silence;’ and ‘The Winds, Grouped around Plague and Death, Cover the Earth with Tombs…’
At the time these works were executed, it is likely that Soehnee was already engaged in research that would culminate, in 1822, with the publication of a technical treatise in which he disputed the traditional account of Van Eyck’s having invented oil-painting, arguing instead ‘for the existence, since antiquity, of a form of oil painting, or a mixture of encaustic and varnish, which in his view, could be the only explanation for the durability and preservation of ancient paintings.’ Thereafter, Soehnée seems to have abandoned art, and to have ‘become a technician, and a dealer; [and] not content with theorising, he perfected a varnish which was extremely successful—Delacroix mentions it several times in his journal—and which is still in use today.’
The present images were scanned from Patrick Mauriès’ catalogue Charles-Frédéric Soehnée (1789-1878): Un voyage en Enfer which was published by Le Promeneur in association with the Galerie Jean-Marie Le Fell, to coincide with an exhibition there last summer. Mauriès’ article Soehnée’s Capriccios: The Paradox in Art, (translated into English by Judith Landry), which appeared in issue 17 of FMR magazine, was my source for the information quoted and paraphrased above.
Addendum (02/07/08): the first, second, fourth, seventh and eighth of the images above are reproductions of photographs of Soehnée’s paintings taken by François Doury and copyright © Galerie Jean-Marie Le Fell; the third and sixth of the photos are copyright © Christie’s Images Limited; and the fifth photograph is by Photo RMN, and is copyright © Thierry Le Mage. All of the above images been reproduced here only for as long as no-one objects to their presence on this site.Posted by misteraitch at March 25, 2007 01:27 PM