A Portrait of Intimacy

Gustave-Claude-Etienne Courtois and Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret met at art school and shared a life together. Does their sensual, masculine figurative work tell the whole story?

BY Christopher Harrity

July 12 2014 4:00 AM ET

Gustave-Claude-Etienne Courtois and Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret

The Belle Epoque (Beautiful Age) in France lasted from approximately 1871 to the beginning of World War I in 1914. Artists Gustave-Claude-Etienne Courtois and Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret created a vast output of work, both painting and photography smack-dab in the middle of one of the most creative periods of French history. They kept a fashionable studio together in Neuilly-sur-Seine from the 1880s.

They met as protegés of Jean-Léon Gérôme at the École des Beaux-Arts, and both artists were among the first to use photography as a supportive medium to inform their paintings.

Pascal-Adolphe-Jean Dagnan-Bouveret (January 7, 1852–July 3, 1929), was one of the leading French artists of the naturalist school. He was born in Paris, the son of a tailor, and was raised by his grandfather after his father emigrated to Brazil. He eventuallyadded his grandfather's name, Bouveret, to his own.

Courtois was born to an unwed mother who was devoted to him. Early in life, Courtois showed an interest in art and entered the École Municipale de Dessin in Vesoul. His drawings were shown to Jean-Léon Gérôme, and in 1869, Gérôme encouraged Courtais to enter the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Courtois used some of the most beautiful male models of his day. Both handsome and muscle-bound, Maurice Deriaz and his older brother, Emile, were the most famous of seven athletic brothers. They were born in Baulmes, Switzerland — Maurice in 1885 — but lived in France from an early age. Maurice was 5 foot 6 and weighed about 200 pounds. His neck was 19 inches around, his chest 48, and his waist 35. His thighs measured 26 inches, calves 16 and a half, forearms 14, and biceps 17. Courtois used Maurice Deriaz for many of his paintings, and Deriaz is most likely the model in the photograph of Courtois working in his studio.

Another of Courtois's favored models was fellow artist Carl Ernst von Stetten. Von Stetten (1857-1942) was Bavarian. He went to Paris in the 1870s for training and there met Courtois and Dagnan-Bouveret at the studio of Gérôme; for Courtois and von Stetten, it was the beginning of a lifelong relationship. The young Stetten posed for several portraits and was a model for works by his friend (and possible lover).

Sources: Wikipedia, GodsAndFoolishGrandeur.blogspot.com

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