An Early 20thC French Trompe L'oeil Painted Canvas Cathedral Interior Theatre Backdrop

Origin: French
Period: 3rd Republic
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1915-25
Width: 92.5”
Height: 94.5”

The large hand-painted theatre backdrop on canvas linen depicting an atmospheric scene in mauve grey and silver hues showing the interior of a large Cathedral, with ethereal light penetrating the two large gothic windows at eventide, the whole at almost eight feet high and signed ‘Atelier. DeVaëre. Fontainebleau’ and surviving from the first quarter of the twentieth century.

The painted canvas is in good overall condition, with a few creases here which could be dropped out over time, and light paint loss throughout with a few small puncture holes to the top where it has been hung. It will be shipped rolled.

Beautifully hand crafted in the early part of the twentieth century, this backdrop would possibly have been an ever present at the start of productions for each and every production in the particular theatre, with it being part of a larger composition. The signature to the right flank for the workshop of DeVaëre at least gives us the confirmation that the work is French but we haven’t been able to find any other information on this artist. Further research may prove fruitful.

The skill here in employing the trompe-l'œil is of a good level, the background has a moodiness and fluidity to it, with a competent use of ‘chiaroscuro’ which is the use of strong contrasts between light and dark.

The major battle of romanticism in France was fought in the theatre. The early years of the century were marked by a revival of classicism and classical-inspired tragedies, often with themes of national sacrifice or patriotic heroism in keeping with the spirit of the Revolution, but the production of Victor Hugo's Hernani in 1830 marked the triumph of the romantic movement on the stage. By the middle of the century, theatre began to reflect more and more a realistic tendency, associated with Naturalism. These tendencies can be seem in the theatrical melodramas of the period and, in an even more lurid and gruesome light, in the Grand Guignol at the end of the century. Also popular were the operettas, farces and comedies of Ludovic Halévy, Henri Meilhac, and, at the turn of the century, Georges Feydeau. Before the war, at the time this backdrop was made, the most successful play was Octave Mirbeau's great comedy Les affaires sont les affaires (Business is business) (1903). The poetry of Baudelaire and much of the literature in the latter half of the century (or "fin de siècle") were often characterised as "decadent" for their lurid content or moral vision.

A hauntingly beautiful mix of theatre and prayer and a large decorator’s piece with huge possibilities.