JOSEPH GABRIEL TOURNY

(Paris 1817 – 1880 Montpellier)

 
 

Allegory of Summer

Signed center left J . TOURNY ., inscribed and dated center right LYON . 1862

Watercolor and pastel on paper

23 ¼ x 23 ½ inches (59 x 59.7 cm)

Provenance:

Private collection, France.

Joseph Gabriel Tourny was a talented and in-demand artist in mid-19th century Paris, however today he is probably best known

as the subject of Edgar Degas’ (1834-1917) Rembrandtesque etching Portrait of Joseph-Gabriel Tourny. The artists

met at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris in 1855, where Tourney became a main influence on Degas’ exploration of

Rembrandt’s prints and an ‘anti-academic’ approach to art. Although his name has not left as strong a mark on the Western

cannon as that of his friend Degas, Tourny earned multiple honors and medals throughout his career. He was best known for

his watercolor copies of famous artworks, most notably those of the Sistine Chapel frescoes, which were commissioned by the

historian and politician Adolphe Louis Thiers (1797-1877) in 1857. It is likely that Tourny earned the commission after winning

the Prix de Rome for engraving that year. In 1863 Tourny’s watercolor copies of Raphael’s cartoons for the tapestries on the

Sistine Chapel were awarded a third-class medal at the Paris Salon, a rare honor for a non-painting submission. It was an

even rarer occurrence for the French government to acquire works on paper, as opposed to paintings, however over the years

the state purchased several of Tourny’s watercolors at the Salon. Today the Louvre has at least twenty-two works by Tourny

in their collection.

Early in his career Tourny studied under the history painter and co-founder of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Louis

Martinet (1814-1895). The artist also briefly held a position in 1846 as an upholsterer at the renowned Gobelins Manufactory,

the historic tapestry factory responsible for supplying the royal court of the French monarchs as early as Louis XIV. Tourny

spent a substantial amount of time in Rome, traveling to Italy to copy its famed masterworks as early as 1844, the year he

placed second in the Prix de Rome. In addition to the city’s abundance of museum treasures, Tourny was undoubtedly taken

with the architecture and design of the ancient city, including the ancient floor mosaics that once decorated centuries-old

homes and palaces. The current work, Allegory of Summer, is a beautiful example of Tourny’s bravado as a watercolorist, as

well as a reflection of his diverse influences and experience working with different textures and media. This work on paper is

fundamentally a trompe-l’oeil, in which Tourney seems to have magically animated the female subject of an ancient mosaic.

Behind the delicately painted portrait the artist has carefully rendered hundreds of unique tesserae, the minute Roman tiles

manufactured specifically for opulent interior decorations as early as 200 B.C. The beautifully subjective woman wears ancient

Roman jewelry and her classical hairstyle is finished with flowers and sheaves of wheat, indicating her identity as an

allegorical depiction of summer. We know the work was originally accompanied by a pendant portrait of the allegory of winter,

as the Benezit Dictionary of Artists notes the following auction record under the entry for Joseph Gabriel Tourny: “Paris, 26

Nov 1894: Summer and Winter, Two Female Heads, FRF 465 et 485.” Its location is currently unknown.