OCTOBER 3, ON THIS DAY
Born on this day, October 3, 1848 in Paris, Henry Lerolle was the second son of Adele-Edme Delaroche and Timothée Lerol, a bronze manufacturer, engraver and landscape painter. Henry began studying the violin at a very young age with Edouard Colón. He played this instrument with talent all his life. At the age of sixteen, Lerolle entered the studio of a former student of Ingres, Louis Lamothe, who taught many artists of that generation, including Edgar Degas. He got the basic knowledge of art from this studio. His work was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1868 and through the 1870s and 1880s. He is famous for his large paintings at the Hotel de Ville, Paris.
In addition to his painting, Lerolle was a friend and collector of artists such as Degas, Denis and Vuillard. Renoir painted portraits of Lerolle and his daughters, and Debussy dedicated piano works to Leroll’s daughter Yvonne. He was the first patron of Maurice Denis, who greatly supported his early work and was a friend of the composers Debussy and Dumkas. Together with his brother, composer Ernest Chausson, he collected the works of Bonnard, Degas, Denis, Renoir, Vuillard and other colleagues. Lerolle, himself a composer and violinist of some talent, proved his reputation as a delicate colourist and master of form with his visual arts. Leroll’s portrait of his mother (Musée d’Orsay) is reminiscent of Whistler in its colour palette and composition in profile.
Henry married Madeleine Escudier, also an accomplished musician, on February 8, 1876. He devoted himself to painting with passion. First known for his religious painting, a genre he helped revive by introducing concrete realism, he received critical acclaim at the 1874 Salon for Le Baptem de Saint-Agoir et Saint-Agilbert. From the 1880s, Leroll’s penchant for outdoor scenes made him a keen observer of rural life. Many of his works represent women at work, such as Les Moissonneuses (The Reapers) (Musée des Beaux-Arts in Mulhouse) or Paysanne Portant des Seaux (Peasant Woman with Bucket) (Musée des Beaux-Arts in Orléans). During this decade, the painter alternated between nature-based themes and religious themes. Lerolle’s paintings are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Musée d’Orsay and the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. The Organ Rehearsal is perhaps artist’s most famous painting which features members of Lerolle’s intimate circle.
Henry Lerolle died on April 22, 1929 and was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery. Shortly after his death, his friend Maurice Denis paid tribute to him in a small book, which without nostalgia reported about the glorious circle of friends around the artist and his family. “How can one say enough about his personal charm, his conversation, his friendship… he simultaneously embodied a grand bourgeois and a street kid of Paris.”