Charles Ephrussi

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Charles Ephrussi
Ephrussi, Charles.jpg
Born (1849-12-24)December 24, 1849
Odessa, Russian Empire
Died September 30, 1905(1905-09-30) (aged 55)
Paris, France
Nationality French
Occupation Art historian, critic

Charles Ephrussi (December 24, 1849 – September 30, 1905) was a Jewish-French art critic, art historian, and art collector. He also was a part-owner (from 1885) and then editor (from 1894) as well as a contributor to the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, the most important art historical periodical in France.

A member of the wealthy Ephrussi family, he spent the first ten years of his life in Odessa, a major port on the Black Sea where his grandfather was a grain industrialist, before moving to Vienna. His father Léon and his uncle Ignace were in charge of establishing branches of the family business in Europe.

In 1871, Charles Ephrussi moved to the newly built Hôtel Ephrussi, 81 rue de Monceau, in Paris, with his parents and brothers. The next year, he traveled to Italy, where he began to collect art. On his return to Paris, he became more involved in both the purchase of art and writing about it, publishing his first article in Gazette des Beaux-Arts in 1876. Like most of his publications, it concerned Renaissance art. He also gave two works of art to the Louvre at this time.

In about 1880, Charles Ephrussi became interested in the art of the Impressionists and, within the next few years, purchased some 40 works by Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, and Pissarro, among others. He has been identified as the man in a top hat standing with his back to us in Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party (Phillips Collection, Washington, DC.). An account of the collection hanging in his study appears in a letter written in 1881 by the Symbolist poet Jules Laforgue (later published in La Revue blanche). But, to the distress of some of the Impressionists, he continued to buy other types of art, including pictures by his friends Gustave Moreau and Paul Baudry.

It also was at this time that he began to collect Japanese lacquers and netsukes, the subject of Edmund de Waal's The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010) which also devotes considerable attention to Charles' life and artistic interests.

Charles Ephrussi, by Jean Patricot, 1905

In 1891, Ephrussi moved with his brother Ignace to a grander Parisian hôtel at 11, avenue d'Iéna. His taste had changed, and he decorated his part in the Empire style. By this time, he was a well-established figure in the Paris art world, and a welcome guest at some of the most famous salons. He was one of the inspirations for the figure of Swann in Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time; titled Remembrance of Things Past in the first translation).

All of this changed with the Dreyfus affair in 1894, which polarized France and caused many doors to be closed to Jews. The Ephrussi family was very prominent and thus became the target of anti-Semitic attacks.

Charles died in 1905, before Dreyfus was exonerated. He had never married, and left much of his estate to his niece Fanny Kann and her husband Théodore Reinach.

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