Rediscovering a forgotten work: the case is not so rare. Discovering a legendary work that was thought to have disappeared: it’s less common. In 2018, the gallery owner and expert Johann Naldi was approached by individuals living in the Paris region. It is because of its specialty, the XIXe century. He has thus previously identified works by Géricault, Delacroix and Courbet. Nothing like this this time: he is only contacted to inspect a collection “Of little interest”, he recalls. Until he opens a large trunk, which turns out to be full of “Jumble of documents, drawings, objects wrapped in rags”. In one of them, a painting “Dusty”, uniformly black. On the back, two labels are glued. One is only a number, 15. The other bears this inscription: Inconsistent arts – 4, rue Antoine-Dubois, 4, PARIS. Inconsistent arts: it can only be the exhibition of the same name which took place from 1er October 1882 at the home of its organizer, Jules Lévy (1857-1935), journalist and publisher. But it has become legendary, like this blackboard and like the provocations, farces and balls of the Incohérents, which shook Paris throughout the 1880s.
In the exhibition catalog, published by the Montmartre review The black Cat – another legendary name of the time – the number 15 corresponds to the title Fight of niggers during the night, exhibited by “Bilhaud (Paul), poet, born in Nohaut, pupil of Gray and rapin of Leugi-Loir; 76 rue de Seine ». This black rectangle framed by wooden sticks can only be this monochrome in 1897, in its Primo-Aprilesque Album, the writer Alphonse Allais (1854-1905) renames Fight of niggers in a cellar, during the night. He adds : “(Reproduction of the famous painting)”. He thus discreetly recognizes that he was predeceased by Paul Bilhaud (1854-1933), poet and playwright, today much less famous than him.
As the unpacking of the trunk continues, sixteen other works emerge which were presented in one or the other of the Incoherent Arts exhibitions between 1884 and 1893.
As the unpacking of the trunk continues, sixteen other works emerge which were presented in one or the other of the Inconsistent Arts exhibitions between 1884 and 1893. From a fabric comes a roll of green silk attached to it. a cylinder of varnished wood. This is a cab curtain, a common model. Less banal is the inscription on a metal plate attached to the cylinder: Pimps still in the prime of life and their stomachs in the grass drink absinthe. So many allusions to green. Now this monochrome figure, in the form of a light green rectangle, in thePrimo-Aprilesque Album, Allais, under the same title. It is accompanied, in addition to black, other monochrome: for example a red – Harvest of tomatoes on the edge of the Red Sea by apoplectic cardinals – and a blue – Stupor of young recruits perceiving your azure for the first time, O Mediterranean.
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