Georges Antoine Rochegrosse (Versailles 1859 - El-Biar, Algiers 1938)

A Woman Reclining in a Field of Flowers: Study for Le Chevalier aux Fleurs Sold

Watercolour.
Signed G Rochegrosse at the lower right.
237 x 241 mm. (9 3/8 x 9 1/2 in.) [sheet]

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This radiant watercolour is a preparatory study for the nymph at the lower left of Rochegrosse’s monumental canvas Le Chevalier aux Fleurs (The Knight of the Flowers), painted in 1892. Nearly four metres long, the painting was first exhibited at the Internationale Kunstaustellung in Munich in 1892 and, two years later, at the Salon des Artistes Français in Paris, where it was acquired by the State; it is today in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay. The subject of the painting is taken from Wagner’s Parsifal, an opera first produced in Bayreuth in 1882. Here the chaste hero Parsifal, having just defeated the guardians of the castle of the magician Klingsor, walks through the castle’s enchanted garden, deaf to the entreaties of the beautiful and seductive flower maidens, bodies barely covered with flowers, who call to him (‘Komm, komm, holder Knabe!’). The large painting was much praised by critics, one of whom described it as a ‘bouquet of fireworks.’

Wagner’s operas were popular subjects among French Symbolist painters, and Rochegrosse also painted subjects from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Tannhäuser. In his painting of Le Chevalier aux Fleurs, however, the artist chose not to precisely follow the libretto of the opera. As Rochegrosse explained in an article published in 1894, ‘je n’ai voulu en aucune façon représenter exactement la scène de l’opéra de Wagner. J’ai négligé volontairement le décor avec le château magique, le costume de Parsifal et tous autres détails se rapportant d’une façon trop absolue au livret de l’Opéra. J’ai voulu généraliser et comme symboliser l’idée même de la scène. L’être épris de l’idéal, les yeux fixés vers son but, marche à travers la vie, presque sans s’apercevoir des tentations, sans entendre les voix qui l’appellent au dehors de sa route. C’est seulement à l’approche du héros et par rapport à lui que les fleurs se personnifient et deviennent des formes tentatrices. Après son passage, elles retombent à l’état impersonnel et reprennent leur forme primitive.’

Many of Rochegrosse’s paintings of the period between 1890 and 1920 feature his favourite model; his wife Marie Leblond, who is likely to have posed for the present sheet. Another watercolour study of the same figure is illustrated in colour in a deluxe edition of Octave Charpentier’s poem Le chevalier aux fleurs, inspired by Rochegrosse’s large painting, published in Paris in 1941. The book reproduces several preparatory studies by Rochegrosse for the painting.

Literature:
Louise Bourgoin and Edwart Vignot, Orsay mis à nu, Paris, 2012, illustrated p.14.

Georges Antoine ROCHEGROSSE

A Woman Reclining in a Field of Flowers: Study for Le Chevalier aux Fleurs

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