Jeune femme au piano (Young Woman at the Piano) or Portrait de Mlle Maguie D. (Portrait of Mlle Maguie D.), 1880
For the Swiss, Charles Giron’s most emblematic work is undoubtedly Le berceau de la Confédération (The Cradle of the Confederation, 1901), a gigantic Alpine landscape which decorates a room in the Parliament in Bern; for the French, the name Giron evokes La Parisienne (1883, Paris, Petit Palais), a large society portrait showing the quintessence of Belle Époque feminine grace. Together, these two paintings sum up the contrasting career of this Genevan painter who lived and exhibited in Paris from 1876, and did not move back to Switzerland permanently until 1896.
In the 1880s, Giron shared his time between summer stays in the Swiss mountains, where he devoted his time to genre and landscape painting, and Paris, where his portraiture found clients among the upper bourgeoisie and aristocracy. Basking in the prestige garnered abroad, he returned fairly regularly to Geneva and received commissions there, including this painting for which his sitter was Jeanne-Marguerite Dominicé, a twenty-year-old daughter of the local bourgeoisie. Maguie, as she was nicknamed, is shown sitting up straight on a pouf, her hands graciously resting on the keyboard of an upright piano.
The fashion for “musical” portraits was started by James Abbott McNeill Whistler in the 1860s with his Symphonies in White series. In these pieces a limited palette was like a visual chord setting off the faces of melancholic women. Here, Giron proposes an arpeggio chord in yellow, black, blue and white. Against the muted, austere note of a floral tapestry evoking the golden grounds of proto-Renaissance Italian painters, he sets up the firework display of a turquoise silk dress with purple violets pinned to the bodice. This contrast is repeated in the disparity between the apparent docility of the model – who lends herself to the conventional social exercise of playing the piano – and the wild power of her face with its thick eyebrows, boldly fixing the viewer with a strange and disconcertingly placid gaze.
Claudia Villa, Charles Giron. À la recherche de l’Arcadie alpestre. Scènes de genre et paysages, University of Genève, MA thesis, June 1997.
Simone Giron, Charles Giron, exh. cat. Bern, Kunstmuseum, Geneva, Éditions de l’Épée, 1955.