A Fine Original Pencil & Watercolour Painting by Paul Emile Becat, 1885-1960, with Inscription; "Sensibility"


Origin: French
Period: Early Twentieth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1920-40
Height: 6.25 inches / With Frame: 13 inches
Width: 4.5 inches / With Frame: 10.25 inches

Depicting two Eastern figures seated on a settee, bared by two griffins, with poem titled 'Sensibility' to inscribed label verso; the work in pencil & watercolour heightened with white.

The condition is superb; the gilt frame is more contemporary and thus is in good order whilst the painting, bordered by two inset borders, suffers no flaws.

Intricately worked, the drawing and painting is sensitively fashioned in a limited and unobtrusive colour palette, the orange watercolour and white body colour forming much of the composition, and there is certainly some pre-Raphaelite nuance stylistically in the piece.

Along with the name ‘Lucy’ written to the back of the picture there is also a significantly important handwritten poem entitled 'Sensibility', an extract from William Hayley’s ‘The Triumphs of Temper; A Poem: In Six Cantos’ that reads;

"The leaves, as conscious of their queen's command,
Successive fall at her approaching hand;
While her soft breast with pity seems to pant,
And shrinks at every shrinking of the plant. "

William Hayley (1745-1820) was an English writer, poet, patron of the arts and biographer of William Cowper.  Hayley is best remembered for his friendships with William Blake, the great pre-Romantic poet, painter, and designer, and with 18th-century poet Cowper.

With the two figures and the swooping phoenix to the center we may interpret one figure as possibly Serena, the fictitious heroine of the lengthy poem Triumphs of Temper. In six cantos, Hayley chronicled the trials and tribulations she faced and how she overcame them by exercising her virtues of a pleasant nature and unfailing sweet temper. Her reward, in true eighteenth-century sensibilité style, is a good husband and happy marriage. Intended as a morality tale for the young and noble woman of the day, Hayley’s Triumphs was very soon a hit among polite society’s leading ladies, championing Serena as a role model, and the poem proved popular in fashionable circles as a result.

Paul-Émile Bécat (born 2 February 1885 – died 1 January 1960 in Paris) was a French painter, printmaker and engraver, and was awarded first prize in the Prix de Rome in 1920. He was a student of Gabriel Ferrier and François Flameng and exhibitioned at the Salon de Paris in 1913. Returning from his travels to the Congo, Gabon, and the Sudan, he specialised from 1933 in the technique of drypoint in his erotic works. Today he is best known for his portraits of French writers, and for his erotic works.

This is a truly intriguing piece, the presence of the poetry making it more of a mixed media artwork, and thus a painting with many layers of meaning, bringing with it a very romantic, mythical and rather special quality.