Jean Baptiste Discart (1856-1944) was a French painter that became well-known for his beautifully detailed depictions of the vibrant streets of Tangiers.
At the age of seventeen, he joined the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts and began studying under the German classical painter, Anselm Feuerbach (1829-1880). It seems that he stayed here until Feuerbach’s retirement in 1877 when the course was handed over to Leopold Carl Müller (1834-1892). Discart, along with his contemporaries, Ludwig Deutsch (1855-1935) and Karl Von Merode (1853-1909), all applied to study under Müller but were refused entry.
From here, the next we know about Discart is when he exhibits at the Paris Salon in 1884 so presumably, he left Vienna to immerse himself in the cosmopolitan environs of the French Capital.
At that point in time, Paris would’ve been an exciting place for a young emerging artist. In 1884, the Société des Artistes Indépendants held their first show, which included works by Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Vincent van Gogh, and Georges Seurat. It was also the year that John Singer Sargent exhibited a controversial portrait of Madame Gautreau, wearing an almost strapless dress, at the Paris Salon.
Discart’s success in Paris was due in part to his prior travels around the Moroccan City of Tangiers. During his stay, he created sketches of local scenes with masterful precision and accuracy. His remarkable talent for capturing every fine detail of Moroccan street life, helped him to establish himself as one of the most important ‘orientalist’ painters of the 20th century.
Portrait Of A Lady With A Yellow Rose
In October this year, we acquired a beautiful early portrait by Jean Baptiste Discart of a lady with a prominent décolletage. The painting dates to 1879 when low cut dresses were popular among the rising classes despite the disapproval of an older, more stoic, generation.
The portrait certainly feels like the kind of work that a young artist could create shortly after leaving an academy and it’s highly likely that he was paid for his time. However, despite its obvious quality, it lacks one important attribute - a verifiable signature.
As you can see, our portrait bears an elaborate vertical signature (on the left), whereas the one most commonly associated with Discart is horizontal and generally more modest. So is this actually by the famous orientalist painter or is it by someone else entirely? Or could it be a fake?
When faced with an entirely different signature, any of the following scenarios are possible.
- It’s by a completely different artist.
- It’s a fake.
- It’s by the artist but they’ve used a different signature.
So let’s explore each of these possibilities in turn.
Is it by a completely different artist?
It helps to consider the artist’s known timeline.
1856 - Born in Modena, Italy.
1873 - Joined the Vienna Academy (17).
1877 - Left the Vienna Academy (21).
1879 - The date of our portrait (23).
1884 - Exhibited at the Paris Salon (28).
So we know that in 1879, Discart had recently left his course in Vienna, but had not yet reached France. This ties in with the provenance of the portrait, which had been previously owned by a family in the Austrian City of Graz. It’s easy to imagine that Discart painted this lady during his time in Austria. He was clearly trying to establish himself as a professional artist and portraits were often a good source of income.
It also seems unlikely that there could be two J Discarts with this level of proficiency working at the same time in the same place.
Is it a fake?
This is the least likely of the three options for a number of reasons.
- A competent faker would generally use the artist’s most popular signature.
- Discart’s paintings reach six figures at auction when they depict orientalist themes, so surely a faker would opt for a similar subject rather than a portrait.
- The portrait has an area of white towards the top which may suggest that the painting was unfinished.
Is it by the artist but they’ve used a different signature?
It’s fairly common for artists to use several different signatures throughout the course of their career. Discart’s later signature, following his move to Paris, is simpler and more modest than the one on our portrait. But perhaps this makes perfect sense as it seems plausible that, as a young man, Discart used a confident large signature that’s hard to ignore. Shortly after leaving the Academy, his signature was a little brash and ‘over the top’, but when he matured, he placed more emphasis on his actual art and less on his name.
It’s also interesting to note that Discart studied at the Vienna Academy with Carl Von Merode (1853-1909) who seemed to share a fondness for large vertical statement signatures.
In fact, the similarities between Merode’s signature and Discart’s could lead you to wonder whether it was actually Merode that painted this lady and tried to sell it as a Discart. However, Discart was unknown at that point in time, so hardly worth faking and it would also seem odd to sign another student’s name in your own style.
So, with all of that in mind, we’re quite sure that this beautiful portrait of a lady was painted by a young and confident Jean Baptiste Discart while still residing in Austria.
If you have any further information to share about the artist or this particular work, do please get in touch.