Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer (French, 1865-1953)
Portrait of a Woman, n.d.
Pastel on blue wove paper 22 7/8 in. x 18 1/4 in. (58.1 cm x 46.36 cm)
Crocker Art Museum, Collectors' Guild Purchase2001.48
Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer decorated ceramics, produced paintings, and was a talented portraitist in pastel. Born into a French-Jewish family living in Algiers, he moved to Paris at the age of fourteen to study art. In 1887, he began working as artistic director for the ceramic firm of Clément Massier, drawing on his early experience with Islamic forms and decoration. His lustrous glazes and unusual art nouveau designs made the company famous. After seven years with the factory, he moved to Paris and began his career as a painter in oils and pastels. It was at this time that he hyphenated his original surname of Lévy, perhaps to distinguish himself from other French families with the name.
An exhibition in 1896 introduced his paintings and pastels to the French capital. The works of this period, executed in a decidedly Symbolist style, evoked the melancholy of his sitters, mainly women. This drawing, on slightly faded blue paper, captures a distraught sitter silhouetted against the setting sun and gazing into the distance. The tangled lines of her hair and costume extend the mood. Later in his career, Lévy-Dhurmer turned away from this mode and created comprehensive settings for decorative arts, including the Wisteria Drawing Room of 1910–1914, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.