Alfred Stevens had an artistic career that many would be envious of. His circle of friends and patrons and his far ranging influence established him as one of the more important painters of his time. Stevens’ artistic studies began in Brussels under the guidance of François Navez (1787-1869). In Paris he studied under Camille Joseph Roqueplan (1803-1855). His first canvases date from 1848. Stevens’ year of absolute triumph came in 1867. Just forty-four years old, he had eighteen paintings entered in the Universal Exposition which won him a First Class Medal. He was promoted to Officer of the Legion of Honor and invited to the Imperial Grand Ball at the Tuileries. Indeed, no small feat for one whose debut was only nineteen years previous. Stevens spent the first three decades of his career painting elegant women of the haute bourgeoisie dressed à la mode. It is with these paintings that Stevens made his fame and no small fortune.
In 1874 King Leopold of Belgium commissioned Stevens to paint a set of works illustrating the four seasons. This set remains in the Royal Collection.
Stevens’ paintings were avidly collected by the most prominent individuals of the latter part of the 19th century: Walters, Havemeyer, Stewart, Belmont and Vanderbilt. American Impressionist William Merritt Chase owned no fewer than twelve of Stevens’ paintings. Vincent Van Gogh was also an admirer. Writing to his brother Theo in 1885 he said “Everything depends on the amount of life and passion that an artist knows how to put into his figures; when they live, an Alfred Stevens girl for example,...[is] really very beautiful.”
This picture is a later repetition of one of Stevens’ most popular and best known pictures. The original version has been in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles since 1902.
This painting has been accepted as authentic by Paul Eukhorst, Conservator of the Musées des Beaux-Arts of Ghent, by Peter Mitchell of London, and by the curatorial staff of the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles, where the two versions were compared side by side.
In reference to the version in the collection of the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles, William A. Coles has written:
Stevens’ first child, Leopold, who was himself eventually to become a painter, was born in 1861 and the theme of maternity is quickly represented in the painter’s work, as one of the tenderest aspects of woman’s life. Nowhere is the theme realized with greater sincerity and beauty than in Tous les bonheurs, one of the painter’s earliest and greatest masterpieces. That Stevens used this theme infrequently probably testifies to the strength of his conviction that it not be cheapened, for twice in his Impressions on Painting of 1886 he comments on its greatness: “Painters are to be pitied who have not deigned or have not known how to sing of woman and child” and “all the masters have painted the Virgin and the Infant Jesus. It is always a mother and her son, and this will be an admirable subject to all eternity.” The painting of the Virgin and Child which hangs within the curtain of the cradle in Tous les bonheurs serves to enforce the parallel and to underscore the timelessness of maternal devotion, whether it be in a humble cottage or in an elegant interior.
Though Stevens’ chosen domain is obviously the latter, it is noteworthy that he has especially simplified the setting for the intimate scene. The maternal drama is a focus of white against the dark background of a velvet gown whose beautiful folds recall the rich drapery of early madonnas. As Philip Hale has pointed out, even the exact painting of the lovely cashmere shawl in no way attracts one’s attention away from the center of significance in the picture. Also, anecdote is here reduced to a bare minimum, in the gloves carelessly tossed onto the cradle and fallen on the floor, which indicate the haste with which the mother has come in to nurse her child. The beautifully painted cradle, though elaborate to our eyes, has the same kind of charm one finds in the handling of polished metals in seventeenth-century Dutch interiors, and the parquet floor, one of the richest of the many which Stevens was to depict, reminds us again, vaguely, of the marble pavements at the feet of enthroned madonnas.
—William A. Coles, Alfred Stevens (Ann Arbor, Michigan: 1977), p. 11
Hammer Galleries, New York
Private Collection, Newtown, CT
Hammer Galleries, New York, European Masters: The Gallery Collection, January 15-March 31, 1990