DescriptionALEXANDER HARRISON (American, 1853-1930)
Oil on canvas
26 x 32 inches (66.0 x 81.3 cm)
Signed lower left: A. Harrison
THE JEAN AND GRAHAM DEVOE WILLIFORD CHARITABLE TRUST
Doyle, New York, May 4, 1994, lot 14.
Philadelphia-born artist Thomas Alexander Harrison spent most of his career in France where he specialized in painting the sea and won many awards for his work in international exhibitions. Some of his most beautiful paintings are nocturnes, where he studied the effects of moonlight on water and how the colors of the sky and sea shift far away from their usual local color. This large painting recording one wing of the palace of Versailles at night shows Harrison's affection for the intense color shifts that render the familiar quite unfamiliar once daylight has faded.
Harrison studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts before moving to Paris in 1878 to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts with Gerome and Bastien-Lepage. Chafing under the restraints of the schools, he traveled to Brittany, where at Pont-Aven and Concarneau he turned his attention to marine painting and landscape. Harrison rented a ramshackle cottage near the Brittany town of Beg-Meil, and each evening raced to the dunes to watch the sun set over the ocean. Late in the summer of 1896, he was joined there by struggling writer Marcel Proust and composer Reynaldo Hahn. He opened their eyes to how light plays on water: "We have seen the sea successively turn blood red, purple, nacreous with silver, gold, white, emerald green, and yesterday we were dazzled by an entirely pink sea specked with blue sails." (Hahn to Marie Nordlinger, quoted in William C. Carter, Marcel Proust, A Life (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 197.) Hahn is considered the inspiration for the title character in Proust's attempted first novel Jean Santeuil, but another character, "C", seems to be based on Harrison, along with aspects of the character Elstir, the painter in Remembrance of Things Past.
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