Still-life with a Steaming Coffee Pot and Demi-tasse Cup and Saucer with a Silver Spoon, and Two Lumps of Sugar

Nicholas Hall and W. M. Brady & Co.

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François Bonvin (1817-1887)
Still-life with a Steaming Coffee Pot and Demi-tasse Cup and Saucer with a Silver Spoon, and Two Lumps of Sugar
Black chalk
5 7/8 x 8 inches • 150 x 204 mm
Signed and dated, lower right, f. Bonvin. 26 8bre 1879., and numbered, lower left, No 3.


Private collection, France (sale: Pau, 14 December 2019, lot 44);
Talabardon & Gautier, Paris, until 2023

Further Information

Towards the end of 1878, Bonvin, suffering great physical pain from a series of kidney stone attacks, was confined to his house on the rue des Coches in Saint-Germain-en-Laye for over a year. His artistic production was significantly reduced as a result and he exhibited only one painting in the annual Salon of 1879, Les Religieuses, or Pendant les vacances, an ambitious composition of nuns making jam during the summer holidays. Nonetheless, during this difficult year he embarked on a remarkable series of small-scale drawings of kitchen utensils and other small, ordinary household objects such as kettles, tea pots, colanders, milk pots, candlesticks, mortars, stove grills, and a coffee grinder, isolated on a white tablecloth. Each of these humble objects is drawn with tenderness, acute observation, and strikingly virtuoso-like draughtsmanship, endowing these simple utensils with dignity and a quality that recalls the vie silencieuse achieved by the great French masters of still life in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

All of the drawings in the series are individually numbered within the year of their making: the 1878 drawings, made only in November and December of that year, are generally simpler and more stark in conception, and number at least 26 sheets; the drawings made from January through December 1879, larger in scale and more complex in composition and execution, appear to be fewer in number, the latest in the series dating from 24 December 1879 being annotated "14." The numbering of the drawings in sequence suggests that Bonvin may have intended to publish them as a group in an album, or as a series of engravings. Drawn simply with charcoal or black chalk on a white ground, these sheets anticipate the mature, rich black crayon drawings of everyday life of Georges Seurat (1859-1891) of the 1880s and 1890s.

The present sheet, signed and dated 26 October 1879 and numbered "3" in the series from 1879, depicts a pewter coffee pot and to its right a porcelain demi-tasse cup and saucer with a silver spoon, into which hot coffee has just been poured. Steam rises from the spout of the coffee pot as well as from the demi-tasse cup. Two lumps of sugar appear on the table between the coffee pot and the demi-tasse. Similar to the Impressionist artists who had their first exhibition in 1874, Bonvin has captured here a fleeing moment in time, an impression or snapshot of his life on October 26th, 1879. The transitory nature of human existence could not be more clearly expressed. Within moments, the steam rising from the objects will have dissipated, and the light shifted. As with other still lifes in this series, Bonvin's coffee pot and demi-tasse are set on a white tablecloth and against a densely and richly worked black background, off-set and highlighted in these ways, light against dark, and in the strength and proficiency of his modelling. The same pewter coffee pot, seen in isolation and facing left as opposed to right, was drawn by Bonvin on the 18th of December 1878 (fig. X), the sheet numbered "86."