Hugues Merle (French painter) 1823 – 1881
Maternal Affection, 1867
oil on canvas
39 3/4 x 32 in. (100.9 x 81.2 cm.)
signed Hugues Merle and dated 1867 (upper right)
After studying with Léon Cogniet, Hugues Merle became a regular contributor to the Salon between 1847 and 1880, up until the last year of his life, receiving medals for his entries in 1861 and 1863. His themes of maternal love found a ready audience with newly affluent art patrons in America. In fact, by 1878-9, in his Art Treasures of America, Edward Strahan could cite as many as 52 works by Merle in American collections. His reputation was equally great at home in France, where he enjoyed the patronage of the Duc de Morny and also enjoyed the support of Adolphe Goupil, the most prestigious art dealer in Paris whose other leading artists included William Bouguereau and Jean-Léon Gèrôme.
Merle was most often associated with his friend and rival, Bouguereau, not only because they depicted similar subjects but also employed a high finish and naturalistic technique. Merle was just two years older than Bouguereau, and their thematic and artistic similarities begged comparison from critics and collectors alike.