An avant-garde circle of friends
Because of the remarkable group who assembled there, the salon of the Avenue Duquesne held a noteworthy place in the Paris of the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Painter and musician, Henry Lerolle welcomed painters, sculptors, musicians, novelists and poets whose fame continues today. Amidst their works, which he collected, Lerolle received Degas, Besnard and Denis, and it was at the piano that Debussy and Chausson, both regular visitors, shared their creations. Mallarmé, Claudel, Gide and Valéry also participated and they have left brilliant accounts of the evenings spent there. But it is perhaps Maurice Denis who best evoked Henry Lerolle and his circle, in a small book now available online through the Bilbiothèque Nationale de France’s Gallica (link below), Henry Lerolle et Ses Amis, Paris, Duranton, 1932.
Here are several excerpts:
Maurice Denis evoking Henry Lerolle and his circle of friends:
Source : Gallica
Nocturne de Chopin, huile sur toile, 1877
0,60 x 0,40 , Colombes collection particulière
“Oh my sadly numerous dead! To my already long list, last year a new bereavement has been added: and I cannot even begin to give the measure of my grief when, in the beginning of May 1929, upon my return from the Orient, disembarking in Marseilles, I learned of the death of Henry Lerolle, whose delicate and comforting friendship I have known for thirty-eight years. I had arrived too late to see him for the last time; to draw his features on his deathbed, to witness his last expression, in that supreme encounter where I have so many times, alas, beyond the pallor and the immobility of the face, surprised the reflection of a soul, the testament of an entire life, the expectation and the resurrection.
I remember this day in April 1891, when I went to his house for the first time, his welcome, his cordiality and my pleasant surprise when I entered into this charming dwelling. I had exhibited at the Independants, which was then held in the Pavillon de la Ville de Paris, long since disappeared, in the Cours de la Reine. It was my first initiation into this milieu of the avant-garde; the new movements were only appreciated by a very limited number of members of the public….
Discovered and protected by him, the novice that I was thus entered into a refined, elegant and comfortable environment, and which, without being either worldly or official, was still quite different from the brasseries, creameries and modest cenacles that I, the young painter I was then, patronized. Henry Lerolle’s interior was that of a bourgeois artist, in the traditional sense of the term, which implied urbanity, stability, family life, and in no way excluded veritable originality. These exquisite traditions of the Parisian bourgeoisie touted by Jacques Blanche in the “advanced” milieu of Berthe Morisot, I suspect that they were slightly stilted during the era of the Bertins who received Monsieur Ingres et Delacroix, and that one must go back to the time of artists such as Chardin or Largillière in order to find the atmosphere of friendly simplicity, naturalness, and the cast of mind that made the charm of Henry Lerolle’s sitting room…
There one met Degas, Renoir, Besnard, J. M. Sert, the sculptors Alfred Lenoir and Devillez, Mallarmé, Claudel, Gide, Henri de Regnier, Maurice Bouchor, Pierre Louÿs, Paul Valéry, Samain, Adrien Milhouard, Francis Jammes, Pierre Lalo, Octave Maus, Jules Tannery… et above all musicians.”
Maurice Denis, Henry Lerolle et Ses Amis, Paris, Duranton, 1932.