Wednesday

Nicolet, Frank Lucien - portrait of Rodin with The Thinker


Although somewhat larger than most miniature portraits at 243mm x 165mm, this is a stunning miniature portrait by Frank Lucien Nicolet (1889->1944) of Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) standing by his most famous sculpture. It shows Rodin around 1905.

The bronze sculpture of Rodin shown here is by the British sculptor John Tweed (1869-1933), who was a good friend of Rodin.

It has been dated to around 1902 and is part of the Victoria and Albert Museum Collection, see www.vam.ac.uk/.../rodin/other_rodin/index.html

There is a miniature portrait of John Tweed in this collection which is painted by John Stewart Clark. Whenever Rodin visited London, he stayed with John Tweed.

An early painting of Rodin is this 1881 portrait by Francois Flemang (1856-1923).

No doubt there are other paintings of Rodin, but the miniature portrait, being nearly contemporary with Rodin, must be rare as a painted portrait.

There are many images of Rodin's sculptures available on the Internet, but not many photographs of Rodin himself.

Those available do seem to support the view that the miniature of Rodin represents him around 1905.

One example of a photograph is this 1905 portrait by Walter Henry Barnett which is helpful in dating the miniature, www.iatwm.com/200702/RodinZurich/index.html

The head of Rodin in the miniature portrait is about the same size as would appear in a normal sized miniature portrait.

No direct source for the miniature has been found, although a biography of Rodin includes several photographs which seem to have been taken around the same time, as he is wearing the same dust coat. Contact has been made with the biographer and also the Rodin Museum, but neither of them had seen the image previously.

As indicated below, it is even faintly possible that Nicolet painted the portrait from life, although Nicolet would have been only aged about 16 at the time the portrait relates to.

It is more likely that Nicolet painted the miniature of Rodin as an illustration for a magazine article, perhaps around the time of Rodin's death, but to date no such magazine article has been located.

He was in Canada at some stage as a kind visitor has advised that Nicolet used to go fishing with his father in Canada and in addition, painted a portrait of him.

While there he painted several images which were used for Victory Bond war posters. They included this one titled "Doing my bit- Four Years".

Other Canadian references to F L Nicolet are found in Canada as the painter of more World War I Victory Bonds posters such as "Be yours to hold it high" which is part of the Ontario Archives Collection at Canadian Posters from the First World War - Victory Bonds

Another poster by him is this 1918 poster of a soldier in poppy fields."If ye break faith, we shall not sleep".

Both the latter two posters were inspired by the words in the poem "In Flanders Fields" by John McRae, which was first published anonymously in the 8 December 1915 edition of Punch Magazine, as per the copy here below, where the words used on the posters can be seen.

It is owned by The Provincial Museum of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, see Parks Canada - Teachers' Corner - The Price We Paid for Nationhood ...

This second poster was used as part of a campaign to raise $150 million, but it was so successful it raised $400 million. As a result Frank Nicolet was awarded a prize by the Canadian Government, see Amanda French SCMLA 2005 Poetic Propaganda and the Provincial ...

An example of the poster which is 61cm x 89 cm, was sold at auction on 19 April 2008 for a hammer price of $300.

There were a number of poems written in reply to Flanders Fields and some of them can be read at Reply-poems to In Flanders Fields

It has been difficult to find further many definite references to Nicolet the person, as opposed to the artist, but it seems likely that he is the Frank Nicolet listed in the 1930 USA census as lodging in White Plains, Westchester, NY. He described himself as an artist who had arrived in America in 1912, having been born in England in 1889 of French and English parents.

There is also a USA draft registration record of June 1917 completed by Frank L Nicolet born 21 October 1889 at Brighton, Sussex, England, who described himself an artist and at that time was living in New York. However, most references say he was born in Sussex England in 1887 and immigrated to Canada at an early age.

After the end of World War Nicolet continued to create posters, including this 1919 one about reconstruction which is part of the Elizabeth Coenan Collection, Provincial Museum of Alberta.

Although no record of him has been found in British census records, it may be that he was the son of Theophile Nicolet (1849-?) of St Etienne, France and Clara Clements (1860-?) his wife who was born on the Ganges, in India. They were married in JFM 1880 and are recorded in the 1891 census record, where Theophile Nicolet was a teacher of languages who lived in Brighton, Sussex, England with five children.

There are a couple of art records for watercolour paintings by a Theophile Nicolet dated 1913 and 1915, one titled "Venise" and the other "Bord de rivière" thus it seems possible that the Nicolet family were in France or Italy at some point after the 1891 British census.

Given this it is quite possible Frank Nicolet did meet Rodin in France.

There are references to Nicolet also making posters for World War II, see Liste alphabétique des titres : À nous de jouer : guide pratique ... 251

4 comments:

Jack said...

I have a picture of my uncle Jack Brown fishing in the Laurentians. It was painted by Frank Nicolet in 1919. Frank was a friend of my uncle and they often went fishing together.

Don said...

Hi Jack, Many thanks for the extra information. If you have anything else I could add to the description, even a copy of your painting, you can contact me at collector(at)actrix.co.nz

Anonymous said...

Hello Don,

My Dad, John Portanova, had a picture that was painted by Mr. Nicolet as a gift to my Uncle Joseph Portanova, who died in 1936.
I checked the signature against the one here and it matches. On the painting, he added a small frog above his name. The story my Dad told me was that Mr. Nicolet was fighting alcohol dependence and my Uncle Joe would take him fishing as a distraction. The painting is supposed to be Rye Lake near Purchase, NY and would have been painted in the 1920's I would imagine. I have photos of the painting I can send you. My e-mail is newdoor@hotmail.com
Best regards,
John Portanova Jr.

Jacque said...

I have a portrait of a young woman facing west with short hair, finger on chin , blue green shawl draped low on shoulders, white gown , small gold chain hanging low around neck. The signature is Nicolet, no other name. Any one know the painter and what year ??