Soyer Lemerle: Teenage Girl Artist

Jeanne SOYER LEMERLE (1879-1967)
Le Long de la Seine

Lithograph on thin chine paper, 1896.
Edition unknown.
Monogrammed and dated in the stone.
Image: 9 ¼ x 13 ⅝ inches.

Jeanne Soyer Lemerle (1879-1967) did not always use her husband’s last name of Soyer when signing her work.

Despite being married she signed some works with her maiden name. Little is known of her, except that she assisted her husband, Théophile Soyer (1853-1940) in his work as an enamel painter.  She married into a family of artists, but was certainly already an accomplished artist before then.  Her husband’s father, Paul Constant Soyer (1832-1903) had the same trade as his son.

Interestingly, Jeanne Lemerle was married to a man whose paternal grandmother was an also artist.  Louise-Charlotte Soyer, née Landon, who was active in the 19th century, was an engraver (etching, pure-line engraving, and wood engraving).  She was the daughter of the painter and book dealer Charles-Paul Landon (1791-0826), and married another book dealer, whose last name was Soyer. Active from 1821 to 1839 (and possibly beyond), Louise-Charlotte Soyer engraved decorative models of furniture, jewelry, as well as portraits.  This shows that Jeanne’s entry into the Soyer clan of artists was deliberate, and probably very emancipatory for a female artist of the time.

Our lithograph is dated 1896 in the stone.  Jeanne was then just seventeen years old, and married!  This artistic precociousness certainly explains why she married into an artistic trade and was able to pursue a life in the arts as a woman.  Even her stylized monogram, JSLM, shows an attention to elegance unusual for such a young woman.  The composition is dark, and conveys a sense of melancholy.  One can’t help but wonder whether the figure, walking introspectively along a Parisian quay, is not Jeanne herself.  The darkness is however broken by bright light on the woman’s face, and at the windows on the opposite riverside, which reflect into the wrinkled waters of the river.  These bright happy lights further strengthen the sense of solitude of the night walker.

This work betrays training in drawing with charcoal at an early age.  The way she uses black, with white highlights, shows a dexterity that comes from practice and some form of apprenticeship.  It is unclear who trained Jeanne Lemerle in this drawing technique.  For further reading on the practice of charcoal drawing and the use of black, we refer to the amazing exhibition at the Getty, titled Noir.

This stunning composition is printed on a beautiful sheet of chine paper.  It seems likely to have been part of a deluxe publication of some kind.  We were unable to find out which one.

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