JULES DE GONCOURT (Nancy 1830 - 1870 Auteuil)
72 × 70 × 29 ½ inches (182.9 × 177.8 × 74.9 cm)
Brass plaque on proper left edge inscribed MEUBLE A DESSINS des GONCOURT,
located Auteuil and dated AVRIL 1897
The brothers Jules de Goncourt (1830 – 1870) and Edmond de Goncourt (1822 – 1896) inherited enough money from their mother to never be required to work in the mundane sense of the term—that is, to worry about making a living. They spent their lives together, seeing each other every day, until Jules’s death in 1870. Self-proclaimed arbiters of good taste in all areas of life, the brothers collaborated on novels, art and literary criticism, and social commentary.
The two made sketching trips to Algeria, Switzerland and throughout France to act out their idea of the “romantic artist”. Upon their return to Paris, their lives were ruled by high standards of aesthetics and orderliness. Like their friend Marcel Proust, the brothers were agitated by loud noises coming from the street, and often suffered from various nervous problems and stomach upsets.
The brothers’ novels—part of the social realist movement that was sweeping France—include carefully observed details of daily life among, not only their circle of friends, but also others, such as their housekeeper. By 1854, they were publishing these observations, drawing on their detailed notes and correspondences, as well as articles in newspapers, the fashions of the time, and even menus for dinners they attended.
They were collectors of 18th century art and produced a work entitled L'Art du dix-huitième siècle (1859/75), championing artists, such as Antoine Watteau (1684-1724), who were losing their luster in France during the Second Empire. In 1851, Edmond and Jules began writing their Journal, which Edmond continued after Jules’s death in 1870 and until his own in 1896. In 1867 they conceived of the literary society known as the Académie Goncourt; the prix Goncourt for literature was inaugurated in 1903 and is given to this day for an outstanding work of literature.
Our cabinet was designed by Jules and was installed in their house in Auteuil, where Edmond continued to reside until his death in 1896. A bronze plaque on the proper left side of the cabinet states: "MEUBLE à DESSINS des GONCOURT, auteuil avril 1897." It was in this cabinet that the brothers kept their drawings and prints (fig. 1). The brothers displayed small objects on the very top, portfolios containing prints and drawings on the shelf just below, more portfolios and framed pieces at the partitioned bottom, and what was stored in the large drawer remains a mystery. This cabinet was sold at Edmond's estate sale the year after his death.