(Paris 1686 - Beauvais 1755)
Belphegor, A Tale by Machiavelli: Roderic and Honnesta
Signed and dated JB. Oudry / 1734 at the lower left.
Inscribed 133. tom.2 on the verso.
239 x 188 mm. (9 3/8 x 7 3/8 in.) [image]
307 x 259 mm. (12 1/8 x 10 1/4 in.) [with fictive mount]
The present sheet is one of four illustrations by Oudry depicting the story of Belphegor, presented as the 27th fable of Book XII of La Fontaine’s Fables. (The tale is derived from the 16th century novella 'Belfagor arcidiavolo' by Niccolò Macchiavelli, written between 1518 and 1527 and published in 1549.) As Opperman has noted, ‘This is a rather complex tale, not easy to illustrate in all its twists and turns. While the first and fourth drawings conform to events in a conventional narrative way, the middle two are of necessity less straightforward. Oudry did the best he could…The first scene sets the stage. At his court in Hell, Satan conducts a sort of poll of the damned, asking what it was that brought about their doom. A great majority assign the blame to their spouses. Hoping to capitalize on this finding to steer an even greater number of future souls to Hell, Satan and his council designate one of their number, the fallen angel Belphegor, as an envoy to the world, where he is charged to find a spouse, gain direct experience of matrimony, and bring back an explanation of why it is such an effective channel to perdition. This is the moment depicted in the first drawing.’
The first drawing in the sequence of four Belphegor episodes, which shared the same provenance as the present group of three drawings until 2002, is today in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
The present sheet, the second in the sequence, continues the story. As Opperman writes, ‘The second scene characterizes the first phase of Belphegor’s embassy without directly depicting any particular event in La Fontaine’s poem. Belphegor, in the guise of a wealthy gentleman named Roderic, has settled in Florence where he is taken up in society and soon becomes a sought-after candidate for marriage. Above all the other eligible maidens he courts Honnesta, who plays hard to get and whose wily father exacts a munificent bride price. Roderic’s manipulative, quarrelsome, newly-won bride and her family reduce him quickly to abject misery. The second drawing shows the domineering Honnesta and the hapless, rueful Roderic.’
Oudry was a prodigious draughtsman, and drawings were an integral part of his artistic practice. Although the 18th century art historian Antoine-Joseph Dezallier d’Argenville wrote of him that ‘His finished drawings are all in black chalk, highlighted with white using the brush [and] his studies are also in black chalk, highlighted with white chalk’, and while it is certainly true that black and white chalks were his favoured medium as a draughtsman, Oudry worked also in pastel, red chalk, brown ink and sepia wash. While the Oudry scholar Hal Opperman catalogued around a thousand drawings by the artist, many of these were only known through descriptions in old auction catalogues. While Oudry parted with some drawings in his lifetime, the vast majority of his output as a draughtsman – mainly studies of animals and birds, highly finished landscapes and book illustrations, carefully organized into albums - remained in his studio until his death.
Included in one of two albums containing all of Oudry’s drawings for the Fables of La Fontaine, with the booksellers Jean-Jacques and Marie-Jacques de Bure (Frères de Bure), Paris, by 1828
Jean-Jacques de Bure, Paris
His sale, Paris, 1-18 December 1853, lot 344 (bt. Thibaudeau for 1,800 francs)
Comte Adolphe-Narcisse Thibaudeau, Paris
Possibly given by him to the actress Mme. Eugénie Doche, and then sold by her for 2,500 francs to the bookseller Auguste Fontaine, Paris
Acquired from them for 5,000 francs in 1856 by Solar Aaron Euryale, known as Félix Solar, Bordeaux
His sale, Paris, Charles Pillet, 19 November – 8 December 1860, lot 627 (sold for 6,100 francs to Cléder for Baron Taylor)
Baron Isidore Taylor, Paris
Émile Pereire, Paris
The booksellers Damascène Morgand and Charles Fatout (Morgand et Fatout), Paris, probably by 1876
Acquired from them for 30,000 francs by Louis Roederer, Reims, by 1877
By descent to his nephew, Léon Olry-Roederer, Reims and Paris
Sold through Thomas Agnew and Sons, London, to Dr. A. S. W. Rosenbach, Philadelphia, in 1922
The Rosenbach Company, Philadelphia
Acquired from them by Raphael Esmerian, New York, in c.1946
His sale, Paris, Palais Galliera [Ader Picard Tajan], 6 June 1973, part of lot 46 (two albums sold for 2,000,000 francs)
One album with Art Associates Partnership (Dr. Claus Virch), New York and Bermuda, by whom the album disbound and the drawings contained therein – including the present sheet – thence sold separately
Private collection, Geneva
Adrian Ward-Jackson, London
Kate de Rothschild, London, and Didier Aaron Inc., New York, in 1993