Alsace and the early years
Jean-Jacques Henner was born from a peasant family on 5 March 1829 in Bernwiller in the south of Alsace. After Alsace was annexed by Germany in 1871, he opted for French nationality but retained strong ties with his region of origin, returning to it every year. Even though Alsace is very much present in his work, he cannot be considered as the leader of an Alsatian school or as a regionalist artist. In addition to L’Alsace. Elle attend, a symbolic work, he painted many landscapes of his native region, sometimes in an idealistic form, such as Dream or Sleeping Nymph.
His early paintings, mainly portraits or genre scenes, like The Artist’s Mother Praying Before the Body of her Daughter Madeleine, are characterised by a realism that became a constant factor in his work.
Henner’s talent was first noticed by Charles Goutzwiller, his drawing teacher at the Altkirch College. He then became a pupil of Gabriel Guérin in Strasbourg. Thanks to a grant from the Departmental Council of the Haut-Rhin, he was able to continue his studies in Paris, at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, in the studios of Drolling and Picot. Henner received a traditional training, which he completed by frequenting museums regularly. He was, above all, influenced by the paintings of the Italian Renaissance, particularly Titian, Raphael and Correggio. He also admired Holbein, particularly his The Dead Christ in the Museum of Basel, and the French painters of the first half of the 19th century, including Ingres, Prud’hon and Corot.