Our painting is a large-scale oil study for one of Clairin’s most popular commissions, the ceiling decoration for the Eden Theatre in Paris.
ProvenancePrivate collection, France
Georges Clairin was a multi-faceted and eclectic artist; he was an Orientalist, a portraitist (most well-known for his depictions of Sarah Bernhardt) and even at times a Symbolist. He was as comfortable seated in front of an easel as he was climbing up scaffolding to paint the ceiling decorations or murals for many of France’s most emblematic monuments, such as the Paris Opéra, the Bourse de Commerce, the Sorbonne and the Hôtel de Ville. Our painting is a large-scale oil study for one of his most popular commissions, the ceiling decoration for the Eden Theatre in Paris.
Called “not only the most beautiful venue in Paris, [but] also the best” in the Annales du Théâtre et de la musique (1885, p. 535), the Eden Theatre was built in 1883 on 7, rue Boudreau. It was located near Garnier’s Opéra and was larger in scale and decorated in an Orientalist style inspired by Mughal architecture (fig. 1). It could hold 1200 seats and 500-600 performers on stage at one time. The programs included ballets, operas and musicals; in fact the first act of Wagner’s Walkyries debuted in 1886. However, the Eden was designed to be more than a theater; it was also an entertainment destination with several interior venues, including indoor gardens decorated with giant palm trees, artificial grottos and there was even a velodrome. Sadly, the colossal structure was largely demolished in 1895 due to ongoing financial difficulties and eventual bankruptcy.
Fortunately, Clairin’s oil study provides a glimpse of what was once the theater’s opulent painted ceiling. It is dedicated it to William Klein and Albert Duclos, the Eden’s architects. Because the building itself was based on an Orientalist style, Clairin was the ideal candidate to paint the interior given his history in painting the genre, however, his subject choice had more to do with theatrical iconography, suggesting perhaps he was chosen as “painter-decorator” because of his connection with reigning stage star, Sarah Bernhardt.
Painted in a semi-circle, like an over-sized fan (Clairin also painted fans), the artist has included a veritable “smorgasbord” of theatre imagery in his ceiling decoration. Ballerinas do pirouettes as they dance out of the picture, almost replicating their exit off the stage. The center figure group reclines on the wings of a butterfly with the face of a hybrid sock and buskin mask. Located in the center is a model with outstretched arms reminiscent of the main figure in Carpeaux’s La Danse on the façade of Garnier’s Opéra. Playful putti play tambourines and help lift the butterfly group above the clouds.
A pastel study for the ceiling of the Eden Theatre is in the Collection of the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.