Ernest Cognacq (born October 2, 1839, in Saint-Martin-de-Ré, died February 21, 1928, in Paris), whose father died when he was 12, became a clerk in shops in the Charente region before leaving in 1855 for Paris, where he was hired in the first general stores. This was how he met Héloïse Marie-Louise Jay (born July 1, 1838, in Samoëns, died December 27, 1925, in Paris) at La Nouvelle, whom he married in 1872, two years after opening a small business, La Samaritaine. Their partnership flourished and this couple of entrepreneurs, hard workers and peerless negotiators, became one of the largest French fortunes in the 1900s. "Père Laborem" is the nickname given to Cognacq among the employees of La Samaritaine, a reference to the department store's motto, Per Laborem.
Sitting on an armchair, holding a cigarette, with a hand in his pocket, Ernest Cognacq adopts an elegantly relaxed posture. Dressed in 1900 fashion, he is wearing a dark suit enhanced by the white neckline with red bow and the camellia flower attached to the lapel of his jacket collar. This type of en fumeur (smoker’s) portrait was very popular at the time and had been popularized by the painter Henri Gervex. The painter Jeanne Favier reproduced the same ochre and blue background as in the portrait of Marie-Louise Cognacq as a pendant. The two are also shown facing each other in a sitting position. The detail of the statuette positioned on a pedestal table behind the illustrious donor, depicting a young ephebe, is a reminder of Mr. Cognacq's passion for works of art. More anecdotally, this setting could be a nod to the tradition of 18th century portraits of collectors, who often pictured themselves surrounded by their collection of antiques, a distant echo of the works of Zoffany or Batoni. Ernest would thus be portrayed as an erudite "antiquarian", the name given to antique lovers in the 18th century, who happily continued the ancient practice of collectors.Download