Mesmerizing use of light and intoxicating bursts of brilliant color depict a bustling nighttime view of a prominent square in Paris, focused on a 31-foot tall bronze statue of Marianne, the personification of the French Republic. A moment in time is captured in rapturous precision, simultaneous palpable and dreamy, the eye easily lured from the historic center to dance around the canvas.
Unseen for 114 years, Place de la Republique en Soir (circa 1905), has mysteriously made its way to Manhattan’s Rehs Galleries, Inc., in pristine condition.
Howard Rehs, the world expert on Edouard Cortès, was enticed when a Parisian seller claimed to own an early painting by the French post-impressionist master that had never been on the market. Some 500 works by Cortès have passed through Rehs’ hands over the years in his family business.
“After receiving the initial images I was intrigued and followed up to learn more about the work and its condition. The seller informed me that to their knowledge, the painting had never been on the market and was in perfect condition,” said Rehs. “I asked for some additional images to assess the condition, and then we took the plunge. The painting arrived at the gallery a short time later, and we were pleased to see that it was not only a great example but in excellent condition – something we rarely see in works by Cortès from this period.”
The gallery had the painting expertly cleaned and framed, and is now selling it. Buyers may contact the gallery for pricing.
Born Aug. 6, 1882, in Lagny-sur-Marne, France, some 20 miles east of Paris, into a family of artists, including his father, Antonio Cortés, a painter for the Spanish Royal Court, Édouard Cortès began training as a boy. At age 16, he made his debut at the Paris Salon with Le Labour, which borrows from realist and naturalist painters, as well as his father and his older brother André, best known as a skilled painter of horses.
The Salon jury’s acknowledgement of his work led to critical acclaim. “His style and his color have greatly impressed the jury. Young Cortès did, of course, attend a good school: we all know what a talented artist his father is,” boasted French newspaper Le Figaro. French newspaper Le Matin reinforced the praise: “A little chap, only so high, who by rights should still be wearing out the seat of his trousers on his school bench, but who, nonetheless, with his light touch, has already entered canvasses for the Salon.”
The young painter studied diligently under his father, living with his parents in Lagny, and sending several paintings each year to the Salon jury. At age 17, he joined the influential art school École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. The perseverance was productive, as his work was featured in the annual exhibition for three consecutive years from 1901 to 1903.
By 1905, Cortès began surveying the streets of Paris, a recurring theme that both enlivened his work and led to commercial success in his own lifetime. Those streets are cemented with his spirit, as Lagny named one in his honor after he died on Nov. 28, 1969. His work was exhibited in North America in 1945, furthering his fame beyond France. Shortly before he died, he was awarded the prestigious Prix Antoine-Quinson from the Salon de Vincennes.
The earliest examples of his paintings were quintessentially impressionist, but his works quickly shifted toward realism. The rare Place de la Republique en Soir is one of the most sublime examples of his more cultivated style to have ever emerged on the market.
The origin of Place de la Republique en Soir before joining a collection in Paris remains a secret, even to Rehs. Over the past two years, the gallery has bought and sold more than 65 paintings by Cortès. Also on view at the gallery is Place de la Republique (1949).
“It is interesting to view the two paintings side-by-side. You immediately see how the people and streets of Paris changed in the 45 years,” said Rehs, of the two latest Cortès acquisitions.
A prolific and lucrative painter, Cortès was tireless and passionate. “As long as I am able to get up and go to my easel, I will paint until my last breath, because I was born from and for painting,” he said.
Cortès’ work has been at the cynosure of global fascination, and even the subject of government probes.
On Nov. 30, 2000, four paintings by Cortès were recovered in Kalispell, Mo., following an eight-month investigation by the FBI’s San Francisco division. The paintings were stolen in a 1988 burglary of the Simic Gallery in Carmel, Calif.
In 2008, a lost Cortès painting of a Paris street scene was uncovered amid donated items at a Goodwill Industries thrift store in Easton, Md. An attentive store manager astutely observed that it was a signed original, and the painting fetched $40,600 at Sotheby’s.
In December 2018, Cortès’ Boulevard De La Madeleine sold for £40,000 ($51,700), nearly triple the high end of its £10,000 to £15,000 estimate, at Sotheby’s London.
Rehs Galleries, along with its principals, is regarded among the world’s leading dealers of 19th -and early 20th-century European paintings, and is currently creating the catalogue raisonné research projects for Daniel Ridgway Knight, Julien Dupré, Emile Munier, and Antoine Blanchard. Rehs was a past president of the Fine Art Dealers Association, and currently serves on the Board of the Antiques Council, He’s been an expert member of the Internal Revenue Service’s Art Advisory Panel since 2008.