September Morn

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For the album by Neil Diamond, see September Morn (album). For the upcoming film, see September Morn (film).
September Morn
A nude woman standing along the beach
Artist Paul Émile Chabas
Year 1912 (1912)
Type Oil on canvas
Dimensions 163.8 cm × 216.5 cm (64.5 in × 85.2 in)
Location Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Accession 57.89

Matinée de Septembre (or September Morn) is a painting by the French artist Paul Émile Chabas (1869–1937). Painted over three summers ending in 1912, it became famous when it provoked a scandal in the USA.

Description and creation[edit]

September Morn depicts a young woman standing at the edge of a lake, credited by Jonathon Green's Encyclopedia of Censorship as Lake Annecy in Haute-Savoie.[1] She is sponge bathing.[2]

This oil painting on canvas was completed by the French artist Paul Émile Chabas, ending circa 1912. The painting measures 163.8 by 216.5 centimetres (64.5 in × 85.2 in).[3]

Chabas never identified his model.[1] Before his death in 1937, however, he did state that she was by then "married, plumpish, [aged] 43".[4]


Paris and Chicago[edit]

Chabas first exhibited the painting in the Paris Salon of 1912, where it won a medal and was reasonably successful. There was no scandal in Paris, nor when a reproduction was published in Town & Country afterwards.[1] September Morn was purchased by Philip Ortiz of New York later that year.[3]

An illustration of the model in The Seattle Star, censored with a petticoat

A full size reproduction of the painting was displayed in a window of Jackson and Stammelmeyer in Chicago, Illinois, in 1913.[1] Then, it came to the attention of the mayor of the city, Carter Harrison, Jr., who charged the owner of the gallery with indecency.[5] Throughout the city reproductions of the painting were banned This charge culminated in a court case to decide whether the painting was indecent. The Chicago Vice Committee argued that, as the woman was clearly committing the illegal act of bathing in public, September Morn had to be banned.[1]

The resulting court case, which the art dealer won, made the painting famous. Reports of the case sometimes included the painting, though censored. Fred L. Boalt of The Seattle Star, covering an exhibit of the painting, explained his newspaper's rationale thusly: "For humane as well as other reasons, [...] the Star artist has painted in a short petticoat. He didn't want to do it. He suffered. But we made him do it".[6]

New York controversy and fame[edit]

Two months after the conclusion of the Chicago trial, Anthony Comstock, head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, threatened a Braun & Company, New York City art dealer who was displaying the painting in his window.[5] While walking past the gallery, he saw September Morn being displayed; he then rushed into the dealership, raging "There's too little morn and too much maid! Take it out!". After the owner refused, Comstock threatened him.[5] This controversy was highly covered in the press, and promoted polemics regarding the painting.[2] Comstock ultimately never followed up this threat with legal action.[5]

Lithograph copies of Summer Morn were popularly sold for over a decade, extending the success that followed the scandal. Reproductions were featured on a variety of products, including calenders, cigar bands, postcards, bottle openers, statuettes and candy boxes. A couplet referring to the painting, "Please don't think I'm bad or bold, but where its deep its awwful cold", was also widely circulated. In 1913, Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. created a stage reproduction of the painting starring Ann Pennington the model, wearing a sheer cape, with leaves placed strategically over her body.[2] The interest in the work continued despite efforts of purity societies to ban reproductions, such as on postcards,[2] and the arrest of a New Orleans art dealer who displayed a reproduction. Ultimately some 7 million reproductions were sold,[1] and the "steady stream" of reproductions continued into the late 1930s. Life deemed September Morn "one of the most familiar paintings in the world".[4]

According to public relations pioneer Harry Reichenbach, he was responsible for the controversy – and resulting popularity – of September Morn. Having acquired the painting and brought it to New York, he hired "a small gallery of urchins" to lust over the painting, then called Comstock anonymously about it. He then worked towards maintaining interest in the work.[1] However, Reichenbach's claim has been questioned,[7] and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the current holder of the painting, does not include Reichenbach in its history of the painting's provenance.[3]

Subsequent history[edit]

September Morn on display in the Toledo Museum of Art, 1958

Leon Mantacheff bought September Morn in c. 1913. In 1931, he sold it to art collector and philanthropist Calouste Gulbenkian for $30,000. After Calouste's death in 1955, the painting was acquired by Wildenstein & Company.[3]

In 1957 William Coxe Wright and his wife anonymously donated September Morn, which they had purchased from Wildenstein & Co. for $22,000, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Since then it has been displayed at several venues, including the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco in 1958, the Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, Ohio (also 1958), and by the Municipal Art Commission of Los Angeles in 1959. As of September 2014, it is not on display.[3]


Ultimately, the painting would be labelled as kitsch by critics who thought it lacking in interesting artistic features: contrast, coordinated lines, and a worthy subject. It has never lacked admirers, however, and copies of the image are still sold on postcards and reproduced prints.[citation needed]


Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]