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[ Home: Art History: Jules Alexandre Grün: A Biography ]
"Jules Alexandre Grün: A Biography"
Page 1 of 5

Author: Scott_Burkett, Contributing Editor

It was a bright sunny day in the early spring of 1998. My soon-to-be wife and I finished a quick lunch at a local eatery, and decided to pass some time with a quick stroll up the boardwalk. We passed the storefront of a merchant that sold fine art prints and reproductions. The window was filled with reproductions and prints of the fine masters - Degas, Monet, Van Gogh. They were all there. My eyes glanced across the familiar works; The Dancing Class, Water Lilies, Starry Night. My eyes and brain were in lockstep as I scanned the window in just a few seconds, denoting each piece in a staccato fashion. I had already begun to turn my around and continue our stroll when I heard my fiance exclaim "Wow."
Displayed in the far corner of the window was an unfamiliar painting. It depicted a dinner scene, of sorts, with a number of participants engaged in after dinner conversation. At first glance, it appeared as if it might have been a Degas. After closer inspection, perhaps a piece by John Singer Sargent. It seemed to fit the period for both artists, depicting a scene around the end of the 19th century. Then, I saw it. The signature. Grün (Grun). Hmm.
As you can see from the image to the right, the picture was indeed an exquisite find. However, we took no action. After admiring the piece for a few moments, we meandered on down the boardwalk, in search of nothing in particular. However, she never forgot this piece. In fact, many months later, she regretted that she did not purchase the print. A year later, I found this piece offered as an oil replica from The Museum Company. It made a wonderful birthday surprise for her. After we hung her newly acquired treasure in her dining room, I decided to jump on the Internet and look up some more information on Mr. Grün. It is here that I begin my tale.Fin de Souper "After Dinner", also called "The Dinner Party" 1911, Jules Alexandre Grün Oil on Canvas
Now, before I begin, I should take a few moments to share with you my level of understanding of the Internet, specifically, my seemingly innate ability to locate information on just about any topic imaginable. I am a fairly technical person, having developed software for many years before discovering my passion for art. I'll quote my dear Mother - "If he can't find it, well, it isn't out there!"

After logging into my ISP and firing up my trusty browser, I pulled up Yahoo!, my normal starting point for a quick search. Other than a a few print companies that offered reprints of The Dinner Party, there wasn't really anything of a biographical nature, much less a site showing any of his other work. To make an already long story short, I then spent the next few weeks searching the Internet. German sites. French sites. Public Libraries. University Libraries. Art dealers. Rare book sellers. You name it, I was there.

I discovered a few tidbits of information, but certainly nothing that satisfied my curiosity about Jules Grün. With a name like Jules-Alexandre Grün, I knew the fellow wasn't English or American, at least not going by the name alone. Grün is German for "green". My friends, that equates to looking up someone named "Smith" in the United States. However, Jules-Alexandre is definitely of a French origin. He turned out to be French by birth. I finally discovered his dates of birth and death, which established the period for his pieces. I was right. He was born in 1868, and died in 1934. That put him in the same period as Degas, Matisse, you know, the Parisian crowds.

I then found the monkey wrench that the powers-that-be threw into my quest for knowledge. Buried deep within the bowels of the Internet, I found a site that offered reproductions and prints of nostalgic "posters". I also discovered that a "Jules Alexandre Grün" put out quite a number of color posters around the turn of the century. Not just "posters", mind you! These things were colorful. Brilliant. Posters that rivaled the innovation of Toulouse-Lautrec. But certainly this could not be the "Jules Grün" that I was searching for. I was looking for a very talented and refined French oil painter, who depicted scenes of Paris like no other. Could it be? Could there have been a man at the turn of the century who did both show posters and impressive works in oils?

After the Internet consumed what little bit of patience I had remaining, I decided that enough was enough, and headed down to the local library. I must have gone through 1,000 books that day. There were no books dedicated to his works, nor his life. After wallowing in the tomes of antiquity for the better part of a Saturday, I came away with a notepad full of "tidbits". Little obscure references to this most elusive of artists. I found a couple of references to him in a few books about the color poster revolution that swept Paris at the turn of the century. Voila! He did work in both mediums! I also found his name "mentioned" in a couple of ANCIENT artist directories. I stumbled across some old auction records for some of his work. Oddly enough, he wasn't mentioned in most of the books that I encountered on French painting around the turn of the century. I knew I was in trouble when on the way home I heard U2's I Still Haven't Found what I'm Looking For. On two different radio stations.

Once I arrived back at my home office, I brewed up a proverbial pot of Starbuck's, and spread my sparse treasure out on the table and began to piece his story together. After several hours of caffeine binges and muttering incoherent phrases to myself, I came up with enough information to begin to get a glimpse into the life of this mysterious artist. Armed with this meager information, I contacted my good friends at the Louvre and the d'Orsay in Paris. Dr. Samuel Howell at Marion State University pitched in with some additional data, and we managed to put together enough information to present our digital exhibit.

Here's a small factoid that may interest you. Around 1970 or so, the world reached a unique milestone. It was estimated that in 1970 there was more information stored electronically than was stored in printed form in all of the libraries of the world combined. With the advent of the Internet, we can only imagine what the ratio is today. Even so, in the end, it wasn't technology that conquered the quest, at least not entirely. It was only after I visited my local library that I was able to obtain enough information to put together a biographical sketch. Go figure.
Jules-Alexandre Grün, was a French painter, illustrator, and poster artist. He was born in Paris, on May 25th, 1868. He died of Parkinson's Disease, although the date of his death is debated. Some sources state that he died on February 15, 1934, while others, such as the Salon de Paris official documents claim 1938. Yet another source claims 1945. Grun was the pupil of Jean-Baptiste Lavastre, the famed theatrical decorator of the Paris Opera, and of Antoine Guillemet, a renowned landscape painter. Still life, portraits, and scenes of Parisian life were his favorite subjects. In 1890, his illustrations for Xanrof's Chansons sans Gene (1890) and Chansons ŕ rire (1891) made him the poet of the Bohemian element and the Montmartre atmosphere.