Portraiture and Symbolism: Edmond Aman-Jean 2

Edmond Aman-Jean (1858–1936), Portrait of a Japanese Woman (Mrs. Kuroki) (1922), oil on canvas, 185 x 62 cm, National Museum of Western Art 国立西洋美術館 (Kokuritsu seiyō bijutsukan), Tokyo, Japan. Wikimedia Commons.

As I showed in the first of these two articles, prior to about 1900 Edmond Aman-Jean (1858–1936) had painted a range of motifs, some of which were strongly Symbolist. His surviving work since then consists mainly of portraits of young women, in which he seems to have been prolific. Although his earlier portraits included some famous contemporaries, such as the poet Paul Verlaine and the writer and salon hostess Natalie Clifford Barney, I’ve been unable to identify anyone prominent among these later paintings.

Miss Ella Carmichaël, by Edmond Aman-Jean
Edmond Aman-Jean (1858–1936), Portrait of Miss Ella Carmichael (1906), oil on canvas, 150 x 120 cm, Petit Palais, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of Miss Ella Carmichael (1906) could easily have been titled Boredom: the sitter rests her head on the heel of her left hand, looking full of ennui. The clue to this may come from the painting (or print) behind her, which shows a couple out walking together in a wood. Perhaps this was less of a portrait than an ad for a partner.

Edmond Aman-Jean (1858–1936), Portrait of Mademoiselle V. G. (1907), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

One of the more curious traditions of the Salon had been that portraits didn’t name their subject in full, except presumably those of public figures. Aman-Jean follows that convention in this Portrait of Mademoiselle V. G. from 1907, showing another Miss wanting to become Mrs, judging by the red roses behind her. The background is a park with a statuary fountain in the middle of a lake, which is depicted far more sketchily than VG’s alabaster flesh.

Edmond Aman-Jean (1858–1936), Hair (c 1912), oil on canvas, 72.9 x 91.5 cm, Ohara Museum of Art 大原美術館, Kurashiki, Japan. Wikimedia Commons.

A few of Aman-Jean’s surviving paintings show domestic scenes involving young women, including Hair from about 1912, in which one woman, possibly a friend or sister, is brushing the long tresses of a half-dressed young woman, in front of a dressing table mirror. Although the plane of the mirror has been carefully adjusted to show the back of the young woman’s head and the reflection of a large perfume spray, there’s no sign of the sophisticated mirror play seen in Pierre Bonnard’s paintings from the same period.

Edmond Aman-Jean (1858–1936), Woman at a Masked Ball (1919), pastel engraving, dry point and aquatint by Nori Malo-Renault, 25 x 21 cm, Cabinet des Estampes, La Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

In Aman-Jean’s Woman at a Masked Ball from 1919, the woman shown holds her mask away from her face. Her gown is disintegrating on her left shoulder, revealing much of her left chest.

Edmond Aman-Jean (1858–1936), Portrait of a Japanese Woman (Mrs. Kuroki) (1922), oil on canvas, 185 x 62 cm, National Museum of Western Art 国立西洋美術館 (Kokuritsu seiyō bijutsukan), Tokyo, Japan. Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of a Japanese Woman (Mrs. Kuroki) (1922) is a formal full-length portrait of a woman in a full traditional kimono.

In 1923, Aman-Jean was one of the founders of the Salon des Tuileries, which first exhibited in June of that year.

Edmond Aman-Jean (1858–1936), Festival of Venice (1923), oil on canvas, 214 x 430 cm, Ohara Museum of Art 大原美術館, Kurashiki, Japan. Wikimedia Commons.

Festival of Venice from 1923 is one of Aman-Jean’s few paintings featuring multiple figures. Judging by the black shadows of passing gondolas in the canal behind, it’s set in Venice, at an open-air performance involving a Harlequin character with a moustache, who is offering a woman a pink flower, presumably in an effort to woo her. At the right is a chorus of three women, and another sits in a chair at the far right asleep. A young woman seated at the front of the wooden stage is playing a hurdy gurdy, and a girl to the left of her is making a floral decoration.

The remaining four paintings of Aman-Jean’s that I have are undated.

Edmond Aman-Jean (1858–1936), Reverie (date not known), pastel on paper, dimensions not known, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon, Dijon, France. Image by Rama, via Wikimedia Commons.

Reverie is a pastel painted in his distinctive lined style, which enhances the dreamy look on the young woman’s face.

Edmond Aman-Jean (1858–1936), Confidences (date not known), media and dimensions not known, Muzeul Național de Artă al României, Bucharest, Romania. Image by Yelkrokoyade, via Wikimedia Commons.

Confidences is a variation on his Confidence (1903), in which a secret is being shared behind the fan, but there is no sign of impending amorous catastrophe.

Edmond Aman-Jean (1858–1936), Woman with a Blue Vase (date not known), oil on canvas, 55 x 46.5 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Woman with a Blue Vase is a straightforward portrait of a young woman clutching a vase containing a plant which swirls over her head.

Edmond Aman-Jean (1858–1936), Woman with Vase (date not known), oil on canvas, 82.5 x 60.3 cm, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

Woman with Vase is a portrait of another woman holding an empty vase with both hands.

Edmond Aman-Jean died in Paris on 25 January 1936. The Salon des Tuileries lived another twenty years, by which time his art had largely been forgotten, as had the Symbolist portrait.