“The voice of the singer vibrating in the air” (Metropolitan Museum Favorites, 2)

LeRolle Organ Rehearsal CR=MMA DP160223

Henry Lerolle, The Organ Rehearsal, 1885. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of George I. Seney, 1887. Photo: MetMuseum.org (NOTE: The MMA’s page includes a link to an interactive map, so you see which gallery this is currently in.)

When the Organ Rehearsal was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1885, a dealer offered to purchase it on condition that Lerolle cut it in half, discarding the part “where there is nothing.” Lerolle replied, “I would rather cut the other half away, where there is something; because my painting is precisely about where there is nothing.!.!.!. The fact is that the whole empty side of the church is where I attempted to depict the voice of a singer vibrating in the air.” (Quoted in Isabelle Duvernois, “A Technical Study of Henry Lerolle’s Organ Rehearsal,Metropolitan Museum Journal, v. 45, 2010.)

This painting was given to the MMA in 1887, but was in storage for decades until 2006. I remember coming around a corner around that time and being stunned by it. Although it’s an enormous 7.5 x 12 feet, the limited number of colors and all that empty, silently vibrating space make for a wonderful image.


  • The MMA Journal article on this painting includes infrared images showing later additions and the grid lines used by Lerolle to transfer from a small-scale drawing to canvas. The article also identifies the figures – including Lerolle, the bearded man second from left.
  • Next time I see it, I want to look at the upper right, where (according to the MMA Journal) Lerolle drew the architecture in pencil and then used a thin layer of paint, allowing the drawing to show through. Interesting way to de-emphasize a part of the painting.
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About Dianne L. Durante

I constantly seek out art that's inspiring, thought-provoking, skillfully executed, and/or beautiful so I can share it (in jargon-free language) with others who need and enjoy such art, but don't have time to search for it themselves. As an independent scholar, writer, and lecturer, I focus on art history and history, with forays into food, history, politics, and publishing. My most recent projects are three volumes on Alexander Hamilton, From Portraits to Puddles, Central Park: The Early Years, Innovators in Sculpture (a survey of 5,000 years of art in 2 hours), and videoguide apps by Guides Who Know. Click on the Books & Essays tab for a list of all books. For upcoming projects, see my Patreon page.

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