France c. 1750
Pen and brown ink, white highlights, framing line ; inscriptions "St Bruno" at the top right, "P. Subleirase. N° 7" on the reverse ; 26 x 19.5 cm
Alfred Normand collection (Lugt collection mark 153c lower left) ; London, Sotheby's, 6th July 2010 (attributed to Jan Pynas) ; Paris, Le Polyptyque collection ; Paris, private collection.
Saint Bruno, founder of the Grande Chartreuse in 1084, was canonized in 1623. He is usually depicted either, as here, on his knees in prayer in the "desert", the wilderness around his hermitage, or in vision, standing or lying on the ground, looking up to heaven.
This fascinating drawing is still searching for authorship. The subject, and the bright white of the scapular, explain an early attribution to Subleyras which is contradicted by a Baroque sensibility and a delicate technique. The recent attribution to Jan Pynas, a pre-Rembranesque painter, is less explicable. We propose, cautiously, a French painter of the middle of the 18th century.
Whoever the author of this drawing, he shows a very pictorial vision, as well as a very personal and mastered graphic style, which works perfectly with more or less dense washes and white highlights. The composition is structured by the two diagonals of the cross and the crucifix, and the arc of a circle that links them to the head of the saint and the skull. The full tonsure, in accordance with the Carthusian rule, makes the "face to face" with the skull more striking, while the formal analogy of the skull and the head of the abbot's crook reinforces the idea of vanity.
Alfred Normand (1910-1993), an engineer from a long line of cabinetmakers and architects, was from 1950 to his death one of the great collectors and connoisseurs of old drawings in France.