Pasteur and the Fine Arts
Latest article appears in Annals of Science, “Pasteur’s lifelong engagement with the fine arts: uncovering a scientist’s passion and personality” (53 pp., 18 illustrations). Published online: 29 Apr 2021. https://doi.org/10.1080/00033790.2021.1921275 .
Abstract: The French chemist Louis Pasteur (1822–1895) chose to be actively engaged in the fine arts throughout his life—yet scholarship has ignored or dismissed these pursuits. This empirical study documents his unknown, but deep involvement with art and artists from age thirteen until his death. This was no casual pastime. Art animated Pasteur. It was also at times useful to him for making political statements, cultivating status, and supporting loyal friends. This account identifies nearly twenty significant friendships with painters and sculptors and uncovers over thirty other artists with whom his associations deserve examination. The narrative suggests points at which art was especially germane to his scientific career and possible junctures that merit further research. Evidence from his artistic friendships also corrects the common picture of Pasteur as a dour workaholic who never laughed or smiled.
My research on the fine arts in the life and career of Louis Pasteur began with some documentation about Pasteur that my student Richard E. Weisberg presented in his 1995 dissertation in History at New York University, The Representation of Doctors at Work in Salon Art of the Early Third Republic in France. The entire dissertation is accessible in PDF format at his Legacy site at RichardWeisbergScholar.com.
The Scholarly Legacy of
Richard E. Weisberg (1943-2011)
Medicine in Art in Nineteenth-Century France
That site also provides Richard’s biography and a complete list of all the images he included in the dissertation.
In 2010, Richard and I agreed to collaborate on a piece about Pasteur’s friendships with artists, using his dissertation as a starting point. After Richard’s death in May 2011, my research on several of these friendships was continued, and some of it appeared in these three articles under both names. Research on other aspects of Pasteur’s engagement with the fine arts is currently underway.
1. Richard E. Weisberg and Bert Hansen, “Collaboration of Art and Science in Albert Edelfelt’s Portrait of Louis Pasteur: The Making of an Enduring Medical Icon,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 89:1 (Spring 2015), 59-91.
2. Bert Hansen and Richard E. Weisberg, “Louis Pasteur’s Three Artist Compatriots —Henner, Pointelin, and Perraud: A Story of Friendship, Science, and Art in the 1870s and 1880s,” Journal of Medical Biography 25:1 (February 2017), 18-27; published on-line on May 29, 2015).
3. Bert Hansen and Richard E. Weisberg, “Louis Pasteur (1822–1895), His friendships with the Artists Max Claudet (1840–1893) and Paul Dubois (1829–1905), and His Public Image in the 1870s and 1880s,” Journal of Medical Biography 25:1 (February 2017), 9-18; published on-line on May 29, 2015).
A unique print of the Edelfelt painting “Pasteur in his laboratory”
It is a privilege to share a very interesting etching of Edelfelt’s painting from the collection of the Science History Institute (SHI) in Philadelphia. Only recently was this rare print identified as an artist’s proof, signed by the engraver, and inscribed to a friend. A special thanks is extended to Amanda Shields, Curator of Fine Art and Registrar at CHF, for making this notice and reproduction possible.
The image. Louis Pasteur posed for this unusual milieu portrait by the Finnish artist Albert Edelfelt (1854-1905) in late spring 1885. The painting was finished by June and first exhibited in the Paris Salon that opened on May 1, 1886. It was received with great acclaim. The large canvas was purchased by the French government and is now on exhibit in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. A full-sized replica painted by Edelfelt himself is at the Institut Pasteur in Paris.
The engraver. In that era, most people viewed paintings primarily in the form of smaller etchings, engravings, lithographs, and photographs. These prints traveled easily and gave access to canvases that were not currently on display or were held in another city. Prints of the latest Salon successes were big business in the late 19th century. Léopold Flameng (1831-1911) was a leading engraver, creating both his own designs and versions of large paintings like this one. When the artist learned that Flameng had been hired by a dealer to make a print of his painting, he was very pleased. In an excited letter to his mother on June 3, 1886, the artist proclaimed Flameng “France’s best engraver.”
This print and its inscription. By their nature, etched or engraved plates produce multiple copies of the inked image, with tens or hundreds of prints from the same plate. Sometimes the artist adds a reversed signature to the plate, and it then appears in all prints. Other times, the artist will place a pencil or ink signature on one or more paper prints. The SHI exemplar is unique in several ways. It was a trial run or “proof” print made by the artist or under his supervision before the final edition. Clearly the artist was very satisfied with the test since he saved the proof and inscribed it with these phrases Épreuve d’État and À mon cher Raymond-Signouret. Léopold Flameng 7 mai 93. That is, “Artist’s proof – To my dear [friend] Raymond-Signouret. Léopold Flameng, May 7, 1893.” (CSI, Gift of Fisher Scientific International, Fisher Collection, FA 2000.001.226. Image 21.25 x 17.5 in.)
The recipient. Paul Raymond-Signouret (1831-18??) is little known except through a number of books he wrote. He published several French translations of plays, including Shakespeare’s Macbeth. He wrote or edited catalogues of Paris art exhibits in 1878 and 1896. The provenance of this print has not been determined for the time before Chester G. Fisher added it to his large collection of chemical and alchemical images in the early 20th century.
Resources. Orsay Museum (Paris) and Science History Institute (Philadelphia).