Albert Besnard, decorated with an array of honours and positions (Prix de Rome in 1874, Member of the Académie des Beaux-arts in 1912, Director of the Villa Médicis from 1913 to 1921, admitted to the Académie Française in 1924, Director of the Ecole des Beaux-arts from 1922 to 1932, the Grand-Croix de la Légion d'Honneur in 1926), was the first painter to whom the government granted the honour of a State funeral, well before Georges Braque. However, in the context of the 20th century which first celebrated the misunderstood genius, this multitude of honours can distort the artist’s posthumous reputation by quickly categorizing him as a bleak academic. Yet this is far from the case, and it is his relative modernity that made him worthy of honour in his time, for the boldness of his colours and his rich inspiration. Nearly a century after his death, the time has come to reconsider Albert Besnard’s work itself. Famous for his grand decoration work (École de Pharmacie, Hôtel de Ville, the Chemistry amphitheatre of the Sorbonne, the dome of the Petit Palais, the ceiling of la Comédie Française etc.), Besnard dazzled his contemporaries with his “dazzling enchantment". He was a relatively late symbolist, a champion of the curvy silhouette of the 1900s woman, and was also an audacious and sought-after portrait painter. Still today we are immediately enchanted by the work produced by this adept pastel artist and unsettling engraver. After Evian’s Palais Lumière, the Petit Palais offers visitors the opportunity to reconsider the remarkable journey of this artist, from Paris to Rome, with stops in London and on the banks of the Ganges.
Chantal Beauvalot, Doctor in the History of Art;
Stéphanie Cantarutti, Curator at the Petit Palais;
Christine Gouzi, Lecturer at the University of Paris-Sorbonne;
Christophe Leribault, Director of Petit Palais;
William Saadé, Honorary Head Curator, mission head for the City of Evian.