La Sonate à Kreutzer, René François Xavier Prinet
La Sonate à Kreutzer

The subject of the present work comes from Leo Tolstoy's novella of the same title published in 1889 (though quickly censored for its controversial content) and recounts the tale of Pozdnyshev, a man who has abandoned music while his wife continues to play the piano, often with the violinist, Trukachevsky. Pozdnyshev's jealousy becomes all-consuming after attending the duo's recital of Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata, a piece known for its musical range suggesting emotions from dark anger to deep meditation to exuberant joy.

(Soon after its debut in 1803 the "violin Sonata No. 9 in A Major for piano and violin, Opus 47" was dedicated to virtuoso violinist George Bridgetower, but when Beethoven felt Bridgetower insulted a female friend it was rededicated to the French violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer). Pozdnyshev confuses the impassioned playing with a physical affair and, unable to rid his mind of the haunting music and the images it inspires, he takes his wife's life in a murderous rage. As depicted by Prinet, the violinist pulls the pianist from her stool, his hand sinking into the golden fabric of her gown as her fingers brush the keys. The soft illumination and green cast from the small shaded candle leave the room with deep pools of shadow while the edges of the room dissolve into haze. In his narrative, Tolstoy does not make it clear if the embrace was anything more than Pozdnyshev's delusion, making Prinet's dream-like setting particularly effective and suggests an interest in the symbolist techniques of his friend and fellow artist Edmond Aman-Jean.

In 1941, decades after the Kreutzer Sonata's exhibition at the Paris Salon of 1901, it was chosen by the Dana perfume company for a marketing campaign designed to promote Tabu, a new scent created in 1931 (R.X. Prinet 1861/1946, exh. cat., n.p.). In a series of advertisements widely published over decades in fashion magazines and newspapers, an image of the Kreutzer Sonata hung on walls behind elegantly dressed models personifying the "forbidden" perfume, while others illustrated the painting alone with teasing tag-lines like "when you want what's going on to go on and on" Tabu's intoxicating floral, spicy, and musky notes became synonymous with Prinet's sensual image and the lasting popularity of the campaign earned Kreutzer Sonata's fame in depicting the "longest kiss in advertising history."

(via Sotheby's