A Trompe l’oeil Collage

This watercolor contains eight discrete designs on a single sheet of paper: a vertically-oriented scene at center portrays an elegantly dressed young woman reading a letter, while the seven surrounding vignettes offer views of the sea–beaches, a harbor, ships sailing by moonlight. The overall effect is that of a collage; the relationship, if any, between seascapes and reader is left to the imagination. Stevens made his name in the late 1860s and early 1870s as a painter of stylish domestic scenes; many of these feature young women reading letters (ostensibly from their suitors). From the 1880s onwards, respiratory problems frequently drove him to the Normandy coast, where he could breathe salt air and paint the sea. Therefore, although this sheet is not preparatory for any known composition–and the signature suggests the artist regarded it as a finished stand-alone work–it combines Stevens’s two primary interests as an artist.

Watercolor (about 1890)

by Alfred Stevens (Belgian, 1823-1906)

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