Charles ANGRAND | Couple in the street [Couple dans la rue]

Charles ANGRAND
France 1854 – 1932

Couple in the street
[Couple dans la rue]
1887
oil on canvas
canvas 38.5 (h) x 33.0 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Purchase 1950
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

In this small, intimate portrayal of a couple in an unremarkable Parisian street, the mundane subject choice is deliberate. Angrand’s commitment to the popular anarcho-socialist ideals of the time meant that for him the life of the ordinary, working-class citizen in the suburbs was as worthy of attention as that of an aristocrat on the Champs-Elysées. Angrand treats these ordinary subjects with compassion: they are dignified in spite of their poverty, and a genuine tenderness has been captured between them. The simple clothing of the couple, and the nondescript street they walk, are an implicit repudiation of the academic art that characterised the official Salon.

After studying to be a teacher, Angrand, who was raised in a small town near Rouen, moved to Paris to pursue a career in painting. He took up a position as a mathematics teacher to support himself and lived in an area close to the cafes favoured by artists and writers of the avant-garde. He was quickly admitted to their circle, and in 1884 was a founding member of the Société des Indépendants.

Couple in the street, while not exhibited in his lifetime, marks an important turning point in Angrand’s career. He had previously painted rural subject matter reminiscent of the Realists Jean-François Millet and Gustave Courbet, in a style heavily influenced by the Impressionists. Between 1886 and 1887, he began painting in the Neo-Impressionist style championed by Seurat and Signac. This work, painted in 1887, is a clear indication of this new direction.

Unlike Seurat or Signac’s Pointillist paintings, which employ bright, sharply contrasting colours, here Angrand uses a muted palette. On closer inspection it becomes apparent that dots of blue, green, pink and red have been used to deepen shadow and establish tone, but there is no trace of the violent colours that characterise much Neo-Impressionist painting. Yet the whole work glows with warmth. The delicate use of light and shadow is typical of Angrand, whose black and white conté crayon drawings were described by Signac as ‘poems of light’.1

Despite the success of his paintings in the Neo-Impressionist style, Angrand abandoned the technique and in 1896 moved away from Paris. He spent the rest of his life in almost total isolation, concentrating on the drawings in pastel and conté crayon that Signac so admired.

Emilie Owens

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay exhibition book, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay exhibition book, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009

  1. Quoted in Pierre Angrand, ‘Charles Angrand’, in Jean Sutter (ed.), The Neo-Impressionists, London: Thames and Hudson 1970, p. 79.