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Northwestern's Piece of Montmartre

September 27, 2005

Charles Deering acquired this portrait of French composer Erik Satie in the 1890s while he studied art in Paris.

If you've sat in the Eloise W. Martin Reading Room of the Charles Deering Library, you've probably noticed the series of portraits displayed high on the east wall. Six paintings show members of the family of Charles Deering, the benefactor for whom the library is named.

However, a seventh portrait in this permanent display -- of French composer Erik Satie -- is missing. It currently is on loan to the Art Institute of Chicago as part of the "Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre" exhibit through Oct. 10. The exhibit appeared previously at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

The Satie portrait, painted by Ramon Casas of Spain in 1891, shows the avant-garde composer standing in front of the famous Moulin de la Galette in the bohemian Montmartre district of Paris.

"It's getting quite the attention," said Russell Clement, head of University Library's Art Collection. "People who've seen the painting previously have remarked that, since it's been cleaned up a bit and now hangs at eye level, it looks better than they've ever seen it."

While living in Paris, Casas, like his contemporary Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, found inspiration in the lively environment that made Montmartre a magnet for Parisians seeking fame, fortune and unbridled fun on the outskirts of town. Casas also shared Lautrec's propensity for painting the intellectuals and artists who embodied the era, as represented by his work, Erik Satie, El Bohemio; Poet of Montmartre.

Known as an eccentric and forward thinking composer, Satie is said to have had a great influence on both contemporary colleagues, such as Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, as well as modern composers. He lived and worked in the Montmartre district at the same time as Toulouse-Lautrec and Casas.

Charles Deering acquired the portrait in the early 1890s while he studied painting in Paris. While there he moved in artistic circles and became close friends with a number of artists, among them Casas and John Singer Sargent. With the assistance of Casas, Deering assembled a significant art collection. After his death, his daughter, Mrs. Chauncey McCormick, bequeathed it to University Library in 1956.

When the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit ends next month, the Satie portrait will be shipped directly to the Cleveland Museum of Art in preparation for a show on the artists of modern Spain, beginning in October 2006. The show also travels to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art into 2007 before returning to Northwestern.

Topics: Campus Life