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Alfred Agache

(1843 - 1915) | D.889.2

Date : 1888 | Medium : Oil on canvas

The title of the work, Enigma, is explicit: the painting itself is a riddle. At the Salon of 1888 where it was presented, it was accompanied by a plaque reproducing a poem by Edmond Haraucourt (1856-1941), whose elegant abstruseness finds its perfect expression here: ‘Priestess of enigma and daughter of mystery / Beneath heaven I guard the secrets it wants to create / And I know the future as an act accomplished. / But I have closed my austere soul / In the pride of silence and the peace of oblivion.’

The modernity of the energetic model of this painting is still striking today; the planes are broadly brushed, and are laid out in an angular manner. The contrasts of light and colour are taken to an apogee. The iconographic elements are few, and are chosen meaningfully, whether the Egyptian motif painted on the wall, or the admirable giant poppy flowers, whose blood red contrasts strongly with the orangey background. This mysterious woman could be a Fate, a favourite subject with Agache, or Isis, as suggested by the hieroglyph in the background, or an archetype of the femme fatale. In any event, the flower of oblivion tossed onto the steps, the mask the woman has just removed and the entre setting of the scene make this composition an image whose force goes far beyond any affectation in the ‘fin de siècle’symbolism of the subject.