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Portrait of Mr Gustave de Maupassant (father of the novelist)

Hippolyte Bellangé

(1800 - 1866) | 902.2

Date : 1838 | Medium : Oil on canvas

Some of the conservators at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen were talented painters in their own right, for example Edmond Lebel, Joseph-Désirée Court and Hippolyte Bellangé. Already famous in 1837 (he had been awarded the Légion d’Honneur for his painting entitled Napoleon’s Return from the Island of Elba in 1835), Hippolyte Bellangé became a conservator at the Musée de Beaux-Arts de Rouen where he stayed until 1853. These days, his artistic contribution is unjustly neglected. He was a student of Gros from the age of 16 and as widely recognised in his day as his close friend, Charlet. A prolific artist, he produced at least two hundred and fifty works which are for the most part military paintings, a genre that has very much gone out of fashion. For the year 1838, his biographer, Jules Adeline, lists nine paintings of which seven were military scenes and two were genre paintings. No portrait was mentioned, although the lovely work conserved in Rouen dates from 1838.

The picture was certainly destined to be given to a friend, Gustave de Maupassant, the father of the famous novelist. Bellangé knew the family well and often visited them at their estate at Neuville Champs d’Oisel where he even had a studio available to him. Much care has been taken with this portrait, particularly in rendering the fineness of the hands and the features of the face. Perhaps the painting has suffered from something of a negative reputation generated by Guy de Maupassant himself in a moment of pique. In a letter to Louis Le Poittevin in March 1875 he wrote, ‘And you are threatening me with taking the Bellangé painting to a pawnshop when you own a whole house!!!!!!! Only someone from Rouen would have such an idea! You damned bloody bugger and blasted devil, can’t you put it in an upstairs bedroom? […] Find someone to pack it up and tell me quickly how much it will cost to wrap the lousy thing and I’ll take it with me when I go to Étretat.’

In Guy de Maupassant’s lifetime the painting belonged to the artist Louis Le Poittevin, who was the son of Louise de Maupassant, Gustave de Maupassant’s sister. The work was passed to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen in 1902.