Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Premier Consul Bonaparte (1802)

Antoine-Jean Gros painted this portrait of Napoleon as First Consul.

The French Consulate was established by the Coup of 18 Brumaire in 1799. This allowed Napoleon to consolidate his power and begin to stabilize the government in France. More about the Consulate is on Wikipedia.

Antoine-Jean Gros (1771-1835) was a Neoclassic and history painter, another in the long line of French painters associated with Jacques-Louis David. His artistic career became significantly intertwined with the doings of Napoleon.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Portrait of the Empress Josephine (1801)

This is François Gérard's famous Portrait of the Empress Josephine.

This portrait of Josephine, wife of Napoleon, First Consul of France, represents a new type of more accessible portrait, lacking in official pomp. The First Lady is seen in relaxed pose, with thoughtful gaze, on the open terrace of the palace at Malmaison as she perhaps takes a rest after a walk. The park landscape and bunch of flowers on the divan create an atmosphere of sentimental poetry, emphasizing the inner state of the sitter, which was so typical of the Romantic period. Yet the idealisation of the sitter, the static composition built upon a balance of horizontal and vertical lines, and the classical style of the dress and hairstyle are very much within the traditions of Neoclassicism. This painting is held by the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia; the preceding description is from their web site.

The artist, François Gérard, was a prominent and prolific painter. Born of a middle-class family, his artistic exploits resulted in him being granted noble status in 1809 (after which he was often known as Baron Gérard). He was yet another student of Jacques-Louis David.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Ossian Receiving the Ghosts of French Heroes (1801)

The Neoclassic painter Anne-Louis Girodet painted this dense canvas entitled Ossian Receiving the Ghosts of French Heroes in 1801. The painting is also known as Apotheosis of French Heroes who died for their Country during the War of Freedom.

It's a bit puzzling why the "fallen French heroes" should be received by a blind Gaelic poet.  For some background, it's worth reading the Wikipedia article on Ossian. As it turns out, his very existence may be a hoax. But his purported works, published by one James MacPherson in 1760, received continent-wide acclaim in Europe. An opera based on the works was produced in Paris in 1804, enhancing the popularity of Ossian and his legend.

This painting has all the hallmarks of Neoclassic propaganda: heroic figures, adoring maidens, and tumult in the heavens.

Girodet has been featured here previously.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Portrait of a Young Woman Drawing (1801)

Marie-Denise Villers painted this Portrait of a young woman drawing.

Marie-Denise Villers was a female Neoclassic painter who studied with the famous Anne Louis Girodet-Trioson. This, her most famous painting, was once attributed to Jacques-Louis David - a tribute to it's skillful execution and effective construction. It has been suggested that this is a self-portrait of the artist. The painting is currently in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Allegory of the eighteenth Brumaire (1801)

Painted by Antoine-François Callet, this is Allegory of Eighteen Brumaire, or France is Saved.

The painting is an allegory of the coup of 18 Brumaire (9 November 1799), led by Napoleon Bonaparte and establishing the Consulate. [Explanation of 18 Brumaire here.]

Above, victorious France (after the Battle of Marengo) is crowned with laurel is an olive branch. She stands on a shield supported by the armies of the Republic. An Egyptian figure symbolizing Bonaparte's army is next to "France". Below is seen Hercules wearing the skin of the Nemean lion, which represents the government having crushed the enemies of Order and Peace.

Callet (1741-1823) was a painter of portraits and allegorical works such as this one. He was the official portraitist of Louis XVI. Most of his work predates 1800. Here are several examples:

 Ceres Begging for Jupiter’s Thunderbolt (1777)

Louis XVI, King of France and Navarre wearing his grand royal costume in 1779 (1789)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Death of Hyacinthos (1801)

Jean Broc (1771-1850) was a Neoclassic painter, yet another among the great multitude of painters trained by Jacques Louis David. The Death of Hyacinthos was his most famous work.

The subject of the painting is an episode from Greek myth about the romance of Hyacinth and the god Apollo. Hyacinth was killed by a discus thrown by Apollo himself, which was blown off course by Zephyr. The fact that this story was drawn from mythology made its homoerotic theme less disreputable than it would otherwise be.

This incident has been depicted in a number of paintings; a sampling is below.

 Giambattista Tiepolo (1752-53)

 Nicolas-Rene Jollain (1769)

Benjamin West (1771)

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Painter's Studio (1800)

From Louis-Léopold Boilly (1761-1845) comes this depiction of a painter's studio.

Boilly was an accomplished painter of portraits and genre scenes. His work shows clear Neoclassic influences, but his subject matter was drawn more from middle-class daily life. His long career spanned the period from monarchy to Revolution to Napoleonic era and into the restored monarchy. He nearly lost his life in the Reign of Terror when his work was accused of being overly "erotic". The discovery in his home of a patriotic painting (Triumph of Marat, 1794, below) resulted in a reprieve - fortunately for us, as he went on to produce many wonderful paintings in subsequent years.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Melancholy (1801)

Constance Marie Charpentier's painting, Melancholy, is perhaps one of the finest depictions of that mind state ever done.

This painting appears in so many places online that is has acquired near-meme status - a tribute to its effectiveness. As with all such paintings, the viewer is invited to imagine the story behind the painting. Is the young woman suffering from an unhappy love affair? Was her lover killed in battle? Or is she just experiencing existential sadness? The mystery is a big part of the allure, I think.

The painter was another of the talented and accomplished female painters who graced the French art scene of the early 19th century. Not much is known about her but a few details are available. Her dates are 1767-1849. She exhibited at least thirty works at Paris Salons during her career and received awards for some of them. Melancholy is certainly her best known work today, though obviously she had an extensive body of work. She stopped exhibiting in 1821 and seems to have limited her artistic activity to teaching after that.  (These info from here)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Entry of Bonaparte into Alexandria (1800)

By Guillaume-François Colson, this is Entry of Bonaparte into Alexandria on 3 July 1798.

Napoleon's adventure in Egypt started as a way to attack British interests while his forces were as yet too weak to fight the British directly in Europe. Although his army conquered Egypt without too much trouble, he was unable to capitalize much - Nelson destroyed most of his fleet in the Battle of the Nile in August 1798. With his supply lines cut, and plots against him proliferating back home, Bonaparte found a return to France to be in his better interests.

About Colson, little is known. His dates were 1785-1860, and  he was a pupil of Jacques-Louis David.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Madame Récamier (1800)

This is Portrait of Madame Récamier by the great Jacques-Louis David, one of the greatest of the French Neoclassic artists.

David (1748-1825) was one of the pre-eminent painters of his era and produced some of the still-most-recognized canvases of all time (for example). There is a good article about David and his artistic legacy at the Met's web site.

Juliette Récamier was a prominent society lady in the early 1800s. By all accounts a charming and accomplished lady, her personal life was rather mysterious. We'll see her again later...

Friday, April 12, 2013

Hortense Haudebourt-Lescot (1800)

Here's a self-portrait by another female painter, Hortense Haudebourt-Lescot.

The painter lived and worked in Italy for some years before returning to France.  She was a prolific artist, exhibiting around 110 paintings at the Paris Salon between 1811 and 1840.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Nude drawings (1800)

From Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, here are two drawings of nude figures.

These would appear to be figure studies rather than actual portraits. Prud'hon did a number of these.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Vigée Le Brun Self-portrait (1800)

Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842) was a prominent portrait painter in the 18th century, and was probably the most famous female artist of that century.  She did so many portraits of Marie Antoinette that she was considered the official portrait painter of that unfortunate queen. She also painted numerous self-portraits; this one was done in 1800.

It's obvious from this painting that Vigée Le Brun's use of light was exquisite. I like the way that in her portraits of women the hair is often not neatly combed and arranged but rather natural and somewhat wild, as in the self-portrait above. Here are a couple of her 18th century works that I like:

 Marie Antoinette and her children (1787)

 Portrait of Irina Vorontsova (ca. 1797)

Self-portrait in a straw hat (1782)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Benoît-Agnes Trioson (1800)

By Anne-Louis Girodet, this is Portrait of Benoît-Agnes Trioson. The portrait is of the son of Girodet's main patron; more can be read about the painting here (en Français).

Girodet was firmly rooted in the Neoclassic tradition. He was a student of Jacques-Louis David, generally considered the most prominent of the Neoclassicists. But his work clearly moved in the direction of Romanticism. Here is Girodet's self-portrait from 1790.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Marie-Joseph Chenier (1800)

By Marie-Gabrielle Capet, this is Portrait of Marie-Joseph Chenier.

Marie-Gabrielle Capet (1761-1818) was another female Neoclassic painter. She was primarily a portrait painter. Here's her self-portrait from 1783:

The subject of the above portrait, Marie-Joseph Blaise de Chénier, was a poet, dramatist and politician. His works were said to have a role in sparking the French Revolution.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Portrait of a Black Woman (1800)

This is Portrait d'une négresse by Marie-Guillemine Benoist.

Marie-Guillemine Benoist was a female Neoclassic painter. She trained under Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun and Jacques-Louis David, whose atelier she joined.

This painting, exhibited at the Salon of 1800, is noteworthy for a number of reasons. First, it's a skillfully done figure study. More importantly, for its time it was a very progressive painting that became a symbol of the rights of black people (slavery in France had been abolished six years prior to this painting) and women in general. It's hard to imagine a painting like this being done in America any time in the 19th century and receiving any acclamation - beyond the nudity, the painting conveys a profound sense of dignity in the subject.

An article about this painting is here (en français).

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Portrait of Josephine (1800)

Here is Pierre-Paul Prud'hon's Portrait of Josephine de Beauharnais

Prud'hon (1758-1823) is variously described as a Romantic and Neoclassic painter; he was much taken with figure drawing, and some of these will later be featured. 

This was not Prud'hon's only painting of Josephine. At the time of this painting, she was not yet Empress Josephine. A later painting by Prud'hon of Empress Josephine is much better known than this one.

About the tumultuous life of Josephine much has been written. Some good synopses are here and here; those desiring a more leisurely treatment may want to read Sandra Gulland's trilogy about her, beginning with The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. (I can attest that these books are all good, if you like historical fiction.)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Three Graces (1800)

Continuing the Neoclassic theme, here is The Three Graces by Nicolas-Rene Jollain.

Jollain was very much an 18th century painter; he died in 1804 so this was among his last works.

The Three Graces were figures from Greek mythology who were the subject of paintings for centuries. I suppose they were just another excuse for artists to paint three naked ladies! 
Here are some other artistic depictions of the Graces.

 Here's one of the most famous, by Botticelli (detail of his painting La Primavera)

 This one's by Raphael

 One of several depictions of the Graces by Peter Paul Rubens

 One by English painter William Edward Frost

 And a cubist treatment by French artist Robert Delaunay

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Erato, Muse of Lyric Poetry (1800)

Today's painting is Erato, Muse of Lyric Poetry (1800), by Charles Meynier.

Meynier was a Neoclassic painter with roots deep in the 18th century tradition (much of his work was done then).  This was one of a series of paintings he did of the ancient Greek muses. A biography of him (in French) is here.

Erato, muse of lyric (and erotic) poetry, has obvious connections to Eros. This painting seems to depict her receiving inspiration from Cupid himself.

Monday, April 1, 2013


Welcome to my blog of 19th century French painting! (Sorry, despite the blog title I don't speak French.)

Why another blog of French painting, when there are so many already? First, I feel I have a pretty good collection that I would love to share. Second, my presentation will be different than usual: rather than fairly random postings, or posting organized by artist (as many other blogs, and indeed my other painting blogs do), this will be a chronological blog: postings will begin with paintings from the year 1800 (one painting per day) and continue through 1910. Though the last bunch of postings will not strictly be 19th century, stylistically they are very much rooted in that century.

My blog principles:
  1. I post paintings that I personally like. If a painting you know of isn't posted here, either I haven't encountered it (quite likely possibility) or it doesn't strike my fancy. Life's too short to post paintings I don't like.
  2. Many if not most of the images have undergone mild editing from me.  This usually takes the form of color correction and brightness/contrast adjustment. In anticipation of criticism from historical purists, I say this: I'm interested in the paintings as images, not as historical artifacts. Plus, color correction often removes the yellowing of varnish that tends to afflict older paintings, so many of my color corrected images may be closer to the original than uncorrected ones. However, I make no claims that my posted images are in any way exact analogues of the existing physical paintings. 
  3. Paintings are dated to the best of my ability. When a range of dates is given for a painting, I will place it chronologically at the recent end of the range rather than the older (because date ranges for paintings often indicate start and completion times). 
  4. Obviously, many paintings are undated. Periodically I will interrupt the chronological stream to insert some of the undated paintings (so I'm not left with a huge pile of them at the end).
  5. I post only relatively high-resolution images (preferably 1024 or higher in one dimension). This, of course, means that many worthy paintings will be left out of this blog because high-resolution scans of them don't exist. I make no apologies - a 500-pixel-wide image doesn't do much for me.
  6. As far as I know all images posted here are public domain. If anyone has information to the contrary, please inform me and I will remove the image(s) in question.
So here we go with the first painting, and it's a famous one: Jacques-Louis David's Napoleon Crossing the Saint Bernard.

The dramatic scene here is from Napoleon's crossing of the Alps to attack the Austrians. In fact, there are no fewer than five separate versions of this painting in existence, so David got a lot of mileage (and no doubt income) out of it. There is much written about this painting, and I'll post links below for those wanting further information about it, but let me just point out this (which I didn't notice for a long time): at bottom left three names are shown inscribed into the rocks: Annibal (Hannibal), Karolus Magnus (Charlemagne) and Bonaparte. Clearly this is placing Napoleon in august historical company, and his name being more prominent and positioned above the others is doubtless intended to convey the message that Napoleon is the natural successor to those great historical figures.

More information about this can be found at these sites:
There are a lot more paintings of Napoleon to come. Although he was defeated fairly early in the 19th century, he cast a long shadow over France for many decades.

So, again, welcome, and I hope you enjoy the journey.