Young Italian Girl was painted when Hugues Merle was at the height of his career.
Roughton Galleries, Inc., Dallas, Texas
Private Collection, Texas (acquired from the above in 2004, and sold Sotheby’s, New York, October 23, 2008, lot 75)
Private American Collection
Young Italian Girl was painted when Hugues Merle was at the height of his career. His subject matter and highly finished painting style have been rightly compared to those of his contemporary and rival, William Bouguereau. Both artists found a receptive market – primarily in America – for their depiction of charming genre subjects featuring young women and children. It may be argued that Merle was in greater demand as recounted in a letter to Bouguereau from his American client, sugar magnate, Robert L. Stuart, who had commissioned a painting from Bouguereau in 1873. In his letter, Stuart outlines very specifically what he wants included in the final painting, and it is evident he is thinking of an existing painting by Merle as the prototype (see Robert Isaacson, “Collecting Bouguereau in England and America,” in William Bouguereau, 1825-1905, exh. cat, Paris, 1984, pp. 109-110).
Depictions of Italian peasants were popular at the time and many of Merle’s (and Bouguereau’s) paintings depict models in traditional costume. The colorful regional fabrics allowed the artist to explore a wide range of highly saturated hues, such as those featured in our painting with its palette of rich reds, blues and the olive-green of the girl’s apron. In addition, Merle’s extreme talent is on full display here as seen in the sensitive rendering of the features of his model, where a perfect balance of light and shadow define the contours of her face and interlacing fingers.