The Organ Rehearsal

Henry Lerolle (French, Paris 1848–1929 Paris)

Oil on canvas
93 1/4 x 142 3/4 in. (236.9 x 362.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of George I. Seney, 1887
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    Lerolle belonged to a dynamic circle of French intellectuals at the turn of the last century. Along with his brother-in-law, the composer Ernest Chausson, he collected works by Bonnard, Degas, Denis, Renoir, Vuillard, and other contemporaries.

    The Organ Rehearsal is Lerolle's most important painting. Set in the choir loft of the church of Saint-François-Xavier in Paris, the figures are members of the artist’s family and close friends. Lerolle's wife, shown with sheet music on her lap, sits between her two sisters: one is the singer; the other was married to Chausson, who plays the organ. Lerolle appears at left, facing outward.

    This monumental composition, which bears comparison to other contemporary scenes of modern life, such as Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (1884–86, The Art Institute of Chicago), was exhibited at the Salon of 1885. The following year, it debuted in New York, in the first major Impressionism exhibition held in America. The picture was a triumph: shortly before it was presented as a gift to the Museum by the banker and philanthropist George I. Seney (1826–1893) in 1887, a critic wrote "thousands will remember The Organ Rehearsal…spectators often spoke low before it, as if waiting for the organ to play and the voice of the singer to be heard."

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Signed (lower right): h.Lerolle

  • Provenance

    [Durand-Ruel, Paris, 1886]; George I. Seney, New York (1886–87)

  • Exhibition History

    Paris. Salon. 1885, no. 1563 (as "A l'orgue").

    New York. American Art Association. "Works in Oil and Pastel by the Impressionists of Paris," April 10–28, 1886, no. 29 (as "The Organ").

    New York. National Academy of Design. "Works in Oil and Pastel by the Impressionists of Paris," May 25–June 30, 1886, no. 29 (as "The Organ").

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Loan Collection of Paintings and Sculpture," November 1886–April 1887, no. 137 (as "The Organ").

  • References

    Louis Énault. Paris-Salon 1885. Paris, 1885, pp. 69–70, ill. between pp. 68 and 69, praises this picture for its "quelque chose d'intime, de réel, de vécu, qui ne sent ni la pose ni l'atelier; mais la nature même, prise et surprise chez elle, par le plus sincère des artistes".

    Le Livre d'or du Salon de peinture et de sculpture. Paris, 1885, p. 46, ill. between pp. 46 and 47, erroneously lists it as no. 1553 in the Salon of 1885.

    André Michel. "Le Salon de 1885 (2e article)." Gazette des beaux-arts, 2nd ser., 31 (June 1885), p. 495, calls it sadly incomplete and stark; reproduces a drawing by Lerolle of the singer in this picture (p. 489).

    "The Metropolitan Museum: The Fourteenth Semi-Annual Exhibition." Evening Post (November 6, 1886), p. ?, calls it "The Organ Loft" and notes that the owner of this picture "is unknown to the curator of the Museum, and there is some curiosity as to who owns this really fine painting".

    Luther Hamilton. "The Work of the Paris Impressionists in New York." Cosmopolitan (June 1886), p. 240, calls it "The Organist": states that the acquisition of this picture would provide a "revolutionizing lift" to the MMA.

    "Nos gravures. À l'orgue." L'Illustration 83 (December 25, 1886), p. 448, ill. pp. 438–39 (engraving).

    "Fine Paintings on Exhibition." Mail and Express (November 6, 1886), p. ?.

    "The Loan Collection: Today's Display at The Metropolitan Museum." New York Advertiser (November 8, 1886), p. ?, as "The Organ".

    "Metropolitan Museum: Opening Reception—The Loan Collections and Recent Acquisitions." New York Herald (November 9, 1886), p. ?, calls it "At the Organ" and states that its ownership, while unknown, is attributed to Erwin Davis.

    "Fine Art Exhibition: Some of the Masterpieces to Be Seen in the Metropolitan Museum." New York Star (November 8, 1886), p. ?, as "The Organ Loft".

    "Loan Collection: Paintings and Sculptures at The Metropolitan Museum of Art." New York Times (November 7, 1886), p. 9, erroneously refers to the artist as Rolle.

    "Paintings for Amateurs." New York Times (April 10, 1886), p. 5.

    "The Fine Arts: The Loan Collection at the Metropolitan Museum, New York." Philadelphia Telegraph (November 8, 1886), p. ?, as "The Organ"; comments that "we know that [the singer] is moving her unseen auditors by the rapt expression of the few people who cluster about the organist and who are listening with all possible intentness".

    Mrs. Schuyler van Rensselaer. "The French Impressionists." Independent 38 (April 22, 1886), pp. 7–8.

    C. M. S. "Gallery and Studio: Loan Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Brooklyn Eagle (November 28, 1886), p. 2, comments that "people who pass before it seem to be not only looking, but listening".

    Town Topics (November 11, 1886), p. ?, as "The Organ Gallery".

    "A Late Art Exhibition." World 26 (May 25, 1886), p. 8, as "Organ Loft".

    "The Fine Arts: Recent Gifts to the Metropolitan Museum." Critic (April 16, 1887), pp. 193–94.

    "The New Pictures at The Metropolitan Museum." Harper's Weekly (May 14, 1887), p. ?, calls it "The Organ Rehearsal".

    Montezuma [Montague Marks]. "My Note Book." Art Amateur 16 (May 1887), p. 122.

    Mrs. Schuyler van Rensselaer. "Fine Arts: Gifts to the Metropolitan Museum." Independent 39 (April 21, 1887), p. 6.

    M[ariana]. G[riswold]. van Rensselaer. "Pictures of the Season in New York. III." American Architect and Building News 21 (April 23, 1887), p. 195.

    Mrs. Schuyler van Rensselaer. "The Wolfe Collection at the Metropolitan Museum. I." Independent 39 (November 17, 1887), p. 6, as "Organ Loft".

    Mrs. Schuyler van Rensselaer. "The Wolfe Collection at the Metropolitan Museum. II." Independent 39 (November 24, 1887), p. 9.

    C. M. S. "Gallery and Studio." Brooklyn Eagle (March 27, 1887), p. 2, remarks that when this picture was shown at the Impressionist exhibition [Exh. New York 1886] "spectators often spoke low before it, as if waiting for the organ to play and the voice of the singer to be heard".

    Clarence Cook. Art and Artists of Our Time. New York, 1888, vol. 1, pp. 142–44, ill., calls it "In the Organ-Loft"; tentatively identifies the setting as the chapel of the Tuileries, the organist as Massenet, and the singer as Mme Massenet.

    "The Metropolitan Museum of Art—The French Painters." New York Times (May 22, 1895), p. 4.

    Arthur Hoeber. The Treasures of The Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. New York, 1899, p. 82.

    "Organ and Choir." Etude 18 (July 1900), p. 262, ill. (engraving), as "In the Organ Loft"; interprets it as an audition for choir singers.

    D[aniel]. Cady Eaton. A Handbook of Modern French Painting. New York, 1909, p. 319, fig. 224, calls it "The Organ" and admires the "apprehended stillness of the unseen congregation".

    Maurice Denis. Henry Lerolle et ses amis. [Paris], 1932, pp. 14–15, fig. 8.

    Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. "XIX Century." French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2, New York, 1966, pp. 210–11, ill., call it "A Rehearsal in the Choir Loft"; note the influence of Degas and Seurat in the composition and quality of light; mention a drawing of the singer; note that the artist's son identified Mme Lerolle standing behind the organist, the artist, second from the left, and Mlle Lerolle in the right foreground.

    Lois Dinnerstein. "Beyond Revisionism: Henry Lerolle's 'The Organ'." Arts Magazine 54 (January 1980), pp. 172–76, figs. 1–3, 7 (overall and details), identifies the setting as Lerolle's parish church of St. François-Xavier, adding that it "is both a genre scene and a family portrait, for among the figures gathered about the organ are members of the artist's most intimate circle"; identifies the artist's wife, Madeline Escudier Lerolle, seated with sheet music in her lap; her sister, Marie, as the singer; their sister, Jeanne, seated on the left; Jeanne's husband, Ernest Chausson, playing the organ; the artist's mother standing beside the organist; the sculptor Alfred Lenoir standing third from left; and Lerolle himself glancing out of the picture; relates the irregularity of the composition to Degas and Renoir.

    John Leighton and Richard Thomson. Seurat and the Bathers. Exh. cat., National Gallery. London, 1997, pp. 98–99, 105 n. 9, pl. 115, comment on stylistic similarities with contemporary paintings by Seurat, suggesting that it is as if both artists "independently agreed that the modern had to be subjected to a style, to a legible order which would be the proof of the artist's transformation of nature, his obedience to the idealism of his training and his ability to give pictorial cohesion to the confusion of contemporary experience".

    Agnes Armstrong. "'A l'orgue' d'Henry Lerolle: Le tableau et ses sujets." La Flûte harmonique no. 79/80 (2000), pp. 19–35, ill. p. 20 and cover (detail), suggests that the man on the far left, standing behind Lerolle, is the composer Claude Debussy, a close friend of the artist; notes that the standing man on the right, identified by Dinnerstein [Ref. 1980] as Lenoir, could alternatively be Maurice Bouchor or Paul Poujaud, both also members of Lerolle's intimate circle; mentions that Chausson, the organist in this picture, composed at least two works for a female soloist accompanied by the organ.

    John Collins in Ann Dumas and John Collins. Renoir's Women. Exh. cat., Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio. London, 2005, p. 95, asserts that Lerolle promoted Chausson's music in this picture.

    Emmanuelle Amiot-Saulnier. "Henry Lerolle (1848–1929), peintre naturaliste et chrétien." Histoire de l'art no. 58 (April 2006), pp. 85, 88, 91 nn. 19–21, fig. 2, calls it "À l'orgue" and dates it 1885; suggests that it depicts the nave of the church of Saint-Gervais; notes that Lerolle approved of the program of religious music established by the "maître" of that chapel, M. Bordes, adding that the Chanteurs de Saint-Gervais played an essential role in the music of the period.

    Isabelle Duvernois. "A Technical Study of Henry Lerolle's 'Organ Rehearsal'." Metropolitan Museum Journal 45 (2010), pp. 217–24, figs. 1 (color), 4, 10 (color details), 5, 7, 8, 9 (infrared reflectograms), 6 (diagram).

  • Notes

    A reduced version of this picture was sold at Christie's, New York, November 2, 1995, lot 176. There is also a drawing of the singer [see Ref. Michel 1885] and an engraving after the composition [see Refs. Illustration 1886, Etude 1900]. Ref. Denis 1932 reproduces another painting of the singer.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History