When he was 12, Jean Jacques Henner was presented by his father to the artist Gutzwiller, who became his first teacher. His family had sent him to Altkirch to board with a baker called Landwerlin, who treated him as his own son. Having worked with Gutzwiller, he joined Gabriel Guérin's studio in Paris, where he studied alongside several well-known Alsatian and German painters including Jundt, Schultenberger and Haffner. Henner spent his spare time reading translations of Homer, Virgil, Horace, Ovid and Lucretius. He was soon recognised as a talent and, thanks to a subsidy from the Upper Rhine departmental council, was able to move to Paris in 1847. He joined the École des Beaux-Arts on 7 April that same year, entering the studios of Drolling and Picot. Misfortune took him back to Alsace in 1855; his dying mother wanted her near him, and he painted her on her deathbed in 1857. During this two-year period, Henner painted numerous portraits of Alsatians.
Henner returned to Paris and in 1858 was awarded the Prix de Rome for Adam and Eve Discovering Abel's Body. From Rome he sent his painting entitled Susanna Bathing to the Musée de Luxembourg in Paris. The work contains qualities of style reminiscent of the great artists of the Renaissance, such as Correggio and the Venetians, yet also reflects its own, sharply defined personality. His small landscapes, which bring to mind the early works of Corot, date from this period.
Henner made his debut at the 1863 Paris Salon with Young Bather Asleep and two portraits, and received a third-class medal. He continued to take part in the Paris exhibitions, asserting further his vigourous personality. He was awarded further medals in 1865 and 1866 and a first-class medal in 1878 at the Exposition Universelle. He also received a special class medal in 1889, a medal of honour in 1898 and the grand prize in 1900 at the Exposition Universelle. He was made a Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur in 1873, officer in 1878, commander in 1898 and grand officer in 1903, as well as being made a member of the Institut de France in 1889.
Laden with honours and highly regarded by his fellow artists, Henner was able to make a considerable fortune by exercising his art. He painted precise portraits and religious compositions. His success was assured with his cream-skinned, auburn-haired nudes, nebulous against brown backgrounds and sometimes placed in rural or allegorical compositions. Henner bequeathed a part of his studio to the Musée de la Ville de Paris.
Museum and Gallery Holdings
Bagnols: Black Dog
Bayonne: Nymph; Young Bonnat
Carpentras: Women Bathing
Colmar: Young Bather Asleep; Magdalene the Sinner; Jesus in the Tomb; Young Roman Woman
Dijon: Child Awakening; Joliet; Little Fisherman; Byblis Turned into a Spring; Christ Dead
Grenoble: Woman Bathing; Truth; The Artist's Mother
La Rochelle: Head of a Young Woman
Le Puy-en-Velay: study
Lille: Christ in the Tomb
Lyons: Dead Christ; Creole Woman
Montpellier: Homer's Apotheosis; Jesus among the Teachers; Good Samaritan
Montreal: Nymph in Meditation
Moscow: Head of a Little Girl
Mulhouse: Reclining Woman
Nancy: Nun at Prayer; Melancholy
Paris (former Mus. du Luxembourg): Susanna Bathing
Paris (Louvre): Reader; St Sebastian; Chaste Susanna; Abbé Hugard; Naiad; Idyll; The Good Samaritan
Paris (Mus. du Petit Palais): Eclogue; Jean Hermann; St Mary of Egypt; Nymphs at their Toilette; Little Writer; Little Girl with Blue Ribbon; General Chanzy; Joseph Bara; Madame Herzog; Mary Magdalene; Reclining Nymph; Young Woman; Monsieur Ravaisson; Alsatian Landscape
Paris (Mus. Jean-Jacques Henner): over 400 paintings, numerous drawings and studies
Toulouse: Magdalene in the Desert
Valenciennes: St Jerome in the Desert