Oil on canvas
25 x 43 inches (63.5 x 109.2 cm)
Signed: BULAND ’83
Hammer Galleries, New York, 1953
Private Collection, USA
Private Collection, USA
Salon Sztuki Antykwarnia, Poland
Jean Buland 1852-1926, Le musée des beaux-arts de Carcassonne, associé aux musées des beaux-arts de Chartres, de Quimper et au musée de l’Ardenne de Charleville-Mézières, October 2007 – January 2009
Jean Eugene Buland studied under the influential artist Alexandre Cabanel (1824-1889), who was a professor at the École des Beaux-Arts from 1864 and highly regarded by the Emperor Napoleon III. Buland was awarded the Prix de Rome, the highest accolade for any young artist. Buland’s early small-scale works show the marked influence of Jean Louis Ernest Messonier (1815-1891), also a favorite of Napoleon III, in their precision and eye for detail. By 1879, Buland had received an honorable mention at the Paris Salon. Although continuing to show at the Salon to widespread acclaim, Buland also exhibited his works at the somewhat more conservative Societé des Artistes Française.
In the early 1880s, Buland began to turn towards large scale works on canvas, like Le Tripot or gambling den, of 1883, and Marriage Innocent of 1884. In compositional terms, with the figures in the frontal plane, these works mirror the format of those of Jules Bastien Lepage (1848-1884), one of the most widely influential artists of the 19th century. The subject matter of Le Tripot is, however, in marked contrast to that of Marriage Innocent of the following year. The latter is redolent of childhood innocence and the beauty of the landscape of rural France. The precision and detail seen in his early works remains in these larger canvases, and it is these elements together with his commentary on contemporary French Society that affirmed his continuing popularity.
Buland’s anecdotal naturalism was of widespread appeal. He exhibited at the Salon in 1884, receiving a third class medal, and a second-class medal in 1887 and 1891. In 1900, he received a gold medal at the Exposition Universal. He also worked as an illustrator for Le Figaro, reflecting his popularity and significant contribution to painting and the development of Naturalism. Buland was appointed Chevalier de Legion d’Honneur.
In our painting Le Tripot, also known as The Gambling Den, Buland has depicted a group of people positioned in front of a gambling table. It is one of the great masterpieces of French Naturalism, and it reveals an extraordinary richness in character. The gamblers include a shrewd grandmother, a wealthy cigar-smoking playboy, the highly successful banker, and moneylender and the rash, resigned and virtually penniless student, along with female onlookers, all caricatures to some degree. The five gamblers that are facing the viewer have striking facial expressions that reveal both boredom and alienation. Together with the three people that are watching the game, as smoke fills this seeming den of iniquity, Buland has created a powerful and compelling image. Each participant seems to have a story of his own, and the air of expectation and quiet desperation suggests that stakes are much higher than the chips laid on the table. They seem to be playing for their souls. Only the subject placed at the center of the painting is looking at the viewer. Three of the gamblers are starring at the gambling table while the last one is looking at something outside the pictorial space. The smoke-filled air, the dark interior setting, and the dim lighting leave the impression of a somewhat mysterious space. This feeling is further enhanced by the quiet despair that emerges from each character as he awaits his fate. Buland’s technique is extraordinary, the expressive faces, the detail in the hands, the delicate veil worn by one woman, her eyes beneath fixed on the viewer. It is an unusual composition all set in the forward plane, a number of light sources illuminating the figures, the glow of the hanging light, an unseen skylight bringing shafts of daylight to the center and an unseen light to the right. This is an intense and thought provoking work, a painting to be admired for its extraordinary quality, subject and composition.