“Pour Élise” is the unusual story of a young Luxembourg emigrant and modest servant who, towards the end of the 19th century, gains access to the Parisian art world and builds up a small collection, which she later bequeathed to the City of Luxembourg. For the first time the exhibition at Villa Vauban places both Élise’s life and her collection in their historical and artistic contexts.

Élise Hack, born in Echternach in 1860, like many of her contemporaries, left her home country at the age of 20 to work as a housemaid in Paris. Around 1880, she finds employment with the well-known art historian, critic and Inspector General of the Arts Henry Havard (1838–1921). She stayed with him until his death and died in Paris in 1933. Henry Havard, well connected in the art scene and a jury member at numerous exhibitions, was friends with many artists. Through her participation in Havard’s professional and private life and thanks to his support, Élise Hack gained access to the Parisian art world. Dedications on several paintings given to her bear witness to the friendly relationship she maintained with various artists.

As early as 1905, Élise Hack informed the Mayor of the City of Luxembourg that she wished to bequeath an ensemble of over 30 works by French artists to the municipal collection. In 1922, she donated 16 oil paintings, 9 watercolours, 4 drawings, 13 prints and 4 terracotta sculptures to the City.The artists represented in this very personal collection all belong to the category of what the authors Gérald Schurr and Pierre Cabanne call the “Petits Maîtres de la peinture”. The term refers to a large number of French painters who were active between 1820 and 1920 and, according to Cabanne, “did not seek recognition, had no financial interests and, ignoring the dictates of art dealers, the judgement of critics and the vagaries of the art market, chose freedom”. During their lifetime, these artists belonged to the academic elite in Paris, exhibited at the salons and received numerous public commissions.

The genres and themes present in the works are varied: still lifes, history paintings, landscapes or children’s portraits. Among the artists are to be highlighted: the landscape painters Jean-Baptiste Olive (1848-1936) and Jean Laronze (1852-1937), Jean-Jules-Henri Geoffroy (1853-1924), appointed “official school painter” by the Ministry of Education, or Félix Bracquemond (1833-1914) and Léopold Flameng (1831-1911), both considered pioneers of the revival of French etching. In addition, the exhibition shows paintings owned by Henry Havard, which are now in the Musée des Ursulines in Mâcon, and, on loan from various French museums, a selection of other works by artists represented in the collection, all of which underline the Parisian artistic effervescence during this period.

« Pour Élise ». La Collection Hack et l’art à Paris à la Belle Époque / Die Sammlung Hack und die Kunst in Paris während der Belle Époque, Luxembourg 2021, 188 pages, colour plates, ISBN 978-2-919878-18-5, 20 €


3 July > 10 October 2021