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.