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Ephrussi, Charles

Date born: December 24, 1849

Place Born: Odessa, Russia (modern Ukraine)

Date died: September 30, 1905

Place died: Paris, France

Author of a Dürer monograph; art critic; chief editor of Gazette des Beaux-Arts. Ephrussi was born to a Jewish family of grain exporters, as the youngest son of Léon Ephrussi (1826-1871) and Mina Lindau (1824-1888). The business based in Odessa (then part of the Russian Empire) later developed into a successful banking enterprise under the direction of Ephrussi’s grandfather. The young Ephrussi grew up in Odessa until age 10. He then moved to Vienna, where his father and his uncle Ignace further expanded the family business. The young Ephrussi was tutored in the prestigious family home, together with his siblings and cousins. He learned Latin, Greek, English, and German, while he spoke French and Russian. He had a special interest in art, especially in the drawings of Albrecht Dürer, which he saw at the Albertina. In 1871 his father set up a branch of Ephrusssi et Cie in Paris. He died the same year leaving Ephrussi’s elder brother, Jules, in charge. As the youngest, Charles was free to do whatever he liked. He soon traveled to Italy, where he spent a year collecting Renaissance art works, such as drawings, medallions, enamels, and tapestries. After his return to Paris, where he had his own suite of rooms in the Hôtel Ephrussi, he became involved in the contemporary art scene. He dedicated himself to art-historical research, and he became a regular contributor to the Gazette des Beaux-Arts and, to a lesser degree, the Chronique des arts et de la curiosité. In 1876 he published his first critical articles in the Gazette, “Jacopo de Barbarj. Notes et documents nouveaux”, and “Le Triptyque d’Albert Dürer exécuté pour Jacob Heller”. These studies provoked a controversy between Ephrussi and the director of the Albertina, Moritz Thausing, the author of a monograph of Dürer the same year. Ephrussi published further studies on the drawings of Dürer in nine installments in the Gazette, between 1877 and 1880. His later monograph was based on these articles. Both well-educated and among the highest social strata, Ephrussi regularly visited the private salons, hosted by ladies of distinctive families, such as Madame Straus (1849-1926), Princess Mathilde (1820-1904), Madame Lemaire (1845-1928), and Countess Greffulhe (1860-1952). Ephrussi shared with many others an interest in Japanese art objects, including woodcuts, folding screens, lacquer boxes, and netsuke. He owned several lacquer box- and an important netsuke collection. In 1878 he published a study on Japanese lacquer boxes on display in the Trocadéro, “Les lacques japonais au Trocadéro” in the Gazette. Ephrussi himself was involved in the organization of several exhibitions. In 1879 he curated, together with Gustave Dreyfus, an exhibition of 674 Old Master drawings, held in the École des Beaux-Arts. This exhibition led to Ephrussi’s friendship with the curator of the Department of paintings and drawings of the Louvre, L. Both de Tauzia (1823-1888). In the Gazette Ephrussi wrote articles on the curator’s acquisitions, including the Villa Lemmi fresco’s of Botticelli, which he had helped to bring over from Italy to Paris. He also authored a study on the collection of drawings bequeathed to the Louvre in 1878 by His de la Salle (1795-1878) and installed in 1882. To complete his research on the drawings of Dürer, he traveled to London, Vienna, Munich, visiting museums and private collections. With the assistance of his secretary, the poet Jules Laforgue (1860-1887), he revised and corrected his previously published articles, and incorporated them into a description of all the drawings in chronological order. This major work, Albert Dürer et ses dessins, appeared in 1882. The same year, Ephrussi helped organize a show of his friend, the academic painter Paul Baudry (1828-1886), in the Orangerie of the Tuileries, and was awarded the “Croix de la Légion d’honneur”. Ephrussi reviewed Impressionist exhibitions, eventually acquiring over forty works by Morisot, Cassatt, Degas, Manet, Monet, Sisley, Pisarro and Renoir. He appears in a top hat behind the guests in Renoir’s “Le déjeuner des canotiers” (the “Luncheon of the Boating Party”). In 1885 Ephrussi became co-owner of the Gazette. In 1887 his monograph on Baudry appeared. He also produced studies of the prints in early books such as the 1499 Dream of Poliphilus and the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle. From 1894 onwards Ephrussi fully devoted himself to the Gazette as its editor in chief during the time the magazine was becoming more scholarly. The popular anti-Semitism of the Dreyfus Affair caused repercussions on Ephrussi as well (E. de Waal). In 1903 he was honored as “Officier de la Légion d’honneur”. He died two years later, in 1905. The figure of Swann in Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past is modeled in part on Ephrussi.

In the introduction to his study, Albert Dürer et ses dessins, Ephrussi celebrated the 1879 exhibition of old masters in Paris as finally giving Dürer the appreciation they deserved in France. One of Ephrussi’s goals was to contribute to a better knowledge in France of the “greatest master of Germany”. In this work all Dürer’s drawings are documented, previously unpublished drawings from private collections were reproduced in facsimile. While Thausing’s 1876 monograph, Albrecht Dürer: Geschichte seines Leben und seiner Kunst, revised in 1884, and subsequently translated into English and French, is still a reference book, Ephrussi’s work was overshadowed by this work and later catalogs (Hélène de Givry). MD

Home Country:  France

Sources: Thausing, Moritz. “Charles Ephrussi, Étude sur le triptyque d’Albert Dürer, dit le tableau d’autel de Heller.”  Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst 12 (1877): 283-287;  D’Amat, Fr. “Ephrussi Charles.” in D’Amat, Roman, ed. Dictionnaire de biographie française 12. Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1970, p. 1350; Kolb, P. and Adhemar, Jean. "Charles Ephrussi (1849–1905), ses secrétaires: Laforgue, A. Renan, Proust: 'Sa' Gazette des Beaux-Arts." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 6th ser., 103 (1984): 29–41; De Givry, Hélène. “Charles Ephrussi” Le dictionnaire des historiens de
l’art actifs en France
http://www.inha.fr/spip.php?article2310; "Ephrussi, Charles." Dictionary of Art 10: 432;  De Waal, Edmund. The Hare with Amber Eyes. A Family’s Century of Art and Loss. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010; [obituary:] Marguillier, Auguste. “Charles Ephrussi.” Gazette des Beaux-Arts 34 (1905): 353-360; “Charles Ephrussi” Chronique des arts et de la curiosité (October 7, 1905): 257-258. 

Bibliography: [complete bibliography:] “Bibliographie des ouvrages de Charles Ephrussi” Chronique des arts et de la curiosité 39 (1905): 275-277; De Givry, Hélène. http://whww.inha.fr/spip.php?article2310; Étude sur le triptyque d’Albert Dürer, dit le tableau d’autel de Heller. Paris: D. Jouaust, 1876; Le Tableau d’autel de Heller, Jacopo de Barbarj et le professeur Thausing. Paris: A. Quantin, [1877]; [in collaboration with  Dreyfus, Gustave]  Catalogue descriptif des dessins de maîtres anciens exposés à l’École des beaux-arts, mai-juin, 1879. Paris: G. Chamerot, 1879; Les Nouvelles Acquisitions du musée du Louvre: Fra Angelico, Domenico Ghirlandajo, Sandro Botticelli. Paris: A. Quantin, 1882; Albert Dürer et ses dessins. Paris: A. Quantin, 1882; Les Dessins de la collection His de la Salle. Paris: A. Quantin, 1883; Paul Baudry, sa vie et son œuvre. Paris: L. Baschet, 1887 ; Étude sur le Songe de Poliphile, (Venise 1499 et 1545, Paris 1546). Paris: L. Techener, 1888; “Le Vicomte Both de Tauzia” Gazette des Beaux-Arts 38 (1888) : 158-160; Étude sur la Chronique de Nuremberg de Hartmann Schedel, avec des bois de Wolgemut et W. Pleydenwurff. Paris: L. Techener, 1894.

Subject's name: Charles Ephrussi