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Indianapolis Museum of Art acquires major painting for renowned Neo-Impressionist collection
Henri Delavallée (French, 1862–1943), The Boot Polisher, 1890, oil on canvas, 62-5/8 × 31-7/8 in. Indianapolis Museum of Art, Mr. and Mrs. Richard D. Wood Art Purchase Endowment Fund, 2016.1.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN.- The Indianapolis Museum of Art unveiled the newest addition to its celebrated Neo-Impressionist collection today—Henri Delavallée’s painting, The Boot Polisher (1890). Now on display in the IMA’s Robert H. & Ina M. Mohlman Gallery, the canvas, a large-scale figural painting, is a major addition to the IMA’s Neo-Impressionist collection. The collection is considered the finest outside of Europe and includes works by Georges Seurat, Camille Pissarro, Paul Signac and Théo van Rysselberghe.

The oil painting—measuring approximately 62 by 31 inches—made its only previous appearance in America during the IMA’s 2014 exhibition, Face to Face: The Neo-Impressionist Portrait, 1886-1904. The international exhibition was the first to examine the role of portraiture in the paintings and drawings by followers of Seurat, founder of the Neo-Impressionist movement. Due to the movement’s emphasis on recreating natural light and vibrant color, landscape paintings were far more prevalent than portraits throughout the Neo-Impressionist era.

“I am delighted that the IMA can bring this exceptional painting to Indiana,” said Dr. Charles L. Venable, the IMA’s Melvin & Bren Simon Director and CEO. “When it was featured in our recent exhibition we discussed the possibility of acquiring the work for our extraordinary collection, and it is wonderful that we finally have been able to accomplish this. I am confident that The Boot Polisher will be well loved by the public.”

French painter and printmaker Henri Delavallée (1862–1943) studied with the same academic teacher as Seurat. In The Boot Polisher, he combines the skilled draftsmanship of the French tradition with the dotted brushwork of the avant-garde Neo-Impressionist movement and a keen awareness of Impressionism. Setting himself a challenging subject for pointillist treatment, the artist took on the demands of painting floral wallpaper, a plaid jacket and the fine print of newspaper, varying the size and direction of his brushwork.

The subject of the painting—a young shoe polisher—holds the popular Parisian journal Gil Blas, which published news stories, serial versions of novels and sports reports. Though the identity of the boy is unknown, he has a distinct individuality, suggesting that the portrait was inspired by an actual person. Adding to the subject’s appeal is the uncommon combination of delicate wallpaper and a scattered array of tools of the shoeshine trade. It is the artist’s only known portrait.

Ellen W. Lee, The Wood-Pulliam Distinguished Senior Curator at the IMA, described The Boot Polisher as “an unusual figure painting that makes a unique contribution to the IMA’s robust Neo-Impressionist collection.” She continued, “In this canvas, Delavallée married a traditional portrait composition with tour de force brushwork and intriguing references to literary and social considerations of the day. This young man will have a distinct presence in our gallery.”

The acquisition of The Boot Polisher was made possible through the Mr. and Mrs. Richard D. Wood Art Purchase Endowment Fund.

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