Description & Technical information

The present sheet is related to Alfred Stevens’ painting The Young Widow (La jeune veuve) of c.1873-1874, today in the Musée Royal de Mariemont in Morlanwelz, south of Brussels. The painting was purchased in April 1875 from the Brussels art dealer Henry Le Roy et fils by the Belgian collector Arthur Warocqué (1835-1880), whose widow later presented it to the museum. As Peter Mitchell describes the subject, ‘The young widow in black, with the portrait of the lost husband in the background, looks in the mirror to reassure herself that she is still attractive and able to attract a new admirer. She need have no worries because the promise of new love is assured by the well-timed appearance of Cupid from under the table.’ In his monograph on Stevens, published in 1906, Camille Lemonnier described The Young Widow as having ‘the charming caprice of a Fragonard’. 

The painting was one of eighteen works by Stevens shown at the Exposition Internationale de peinture at the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris in 1882, and was also exhibited at the Salon des Champ de Mars in 1890. On the latter occasion the artist wrote to Mme. Warocqué requesting the loan of the picture, noting that ‘This painting, which I consider to be one of my best, is unknown in Paris, and for the sake of my reputation I would so much like to have it seen.’ In a later letter to her, he mentioned that ‘your painting - The Young Widow - before sending it to the Champ de Mars, it was seen in my studio by many painters, who were all enthusiastic about it, which made me so happy, that I would like to tell you and express again all my gratitude to you for having had the goodness to grant me it for my exhibition.’

As Mitchell has noted of the painting of The Young Widow, ‘Critics at the time were unhappy that the ‘painter of modern life’ had lapsed into the realms of the imaginary. Clearly, they did not appreciate that it was an illustration to Les Fables by La Fontaine, a source of inspiration to artists from the 17th century onwards.’ Indeed, the present sheet is also closely related to a sketch by Stevens for an illustration of the fable ‘La jeune veuve’, intended for an edition of the Fables of Jean de La Fontaine published in Paris in 1873.

Two other drawings by Alfred Stevens of the same composition - a preparatory sketch in pen and watercolour in an American private collection and a more finished drawing in watercolour and gouache recently on the Paris art market – are, like the present sheet, likely to have been drawn as studies for the 1873 illustration before being reused for the painting of The Young Widow. All three works on paper differ from the final painting in several details, notably the fact that the Japanese paper screen seen in the drawings was replaced by two doors and the edge of a large tapestry in the painting.

As noted by the artist’s inscription on the old backing board, the present sheet was given by the artist to a Dr. Campbell on New Year’s Eve 1874. This was probably the English-born physician Dr. Charles James Campbell (1820-1879), one of the leading obstetricians in Paris and a pioneer of obstetrical anaesthesia in France. Over the course of his distinguished career Campbell performed or supervised over 1,500 deliveries. As his friend, the writer Octave Mirbeau, noted of him, ‘There was in his exquisite way of speaking to women such a paternal grace, such an envelopment of respect mixed with the authority of the doctor, that they all adored him…There is not a woman belonging to Parisian society who has not had recourse to Dr. Campbell's radiance and skill. Honoured with the favours and esteem of the Empress, he was the fashionable doctor, the obligatory doctor of all grace. A woman would not have believed herself well delivered if she had not been delivered by him. People were grateful for his care, and his flat in the Rue Royale was full of superb gifts and precious souvenirs.’

Medium: Pen and black ink and black wash, heightened with touches of white gouache
Signature: Signed AStevens at the lower left.
Titled LA JEUNE VEUVE and inscribed (Fable de Lafontaine) on the original mount.
Signed, dedicated and dated à mon cher Dr. Campbell / souvenir de reconnaissance / Alfred Stevens / Paris 31 Décembre 1874 on the old backing board.

Dimensions: 23.7 x 16.2 cm (9³/₈ x 6³/₈ inches)
Provenance: Given by the artist to a Dr. Campbell, probably Dr. Charles James Campbell, Paris.
Private collection, Bordeaux.

Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints