Alexandre Denis ABEL DE PUJOL
(Valenciennes 1787 - Paris 1861)
Study of a Mourning Woman, for The Death of Britannicus
388 x 536 mm. (15 1/4 x 21 1/8 in.) at greatest dimensions.
The subject is taken from the tragic play Britannicus by the 17th century playwright Jean Racine, based on the history of ancient Rome. The son of the Roman emperor Claudius, and presumptive heir to the imperial throne, Britannicus was poisoned by his older stepbrother Nero, adoptive son of Claudius’s fourth wife Agrippina, and died at the age of fourteen. The present sheet is a study for the weeping figure of Junia, Britannicus’s fiancée, who in Racine’s play is the object of Nero’s lust and jealousy. In Abel de Pujol’s painting she appears at the left of the composition, at the knees of her dying lover. As one scholar has noted of this figure, ‘the pose of the grieving young woman at the feet of the hero is certainly conventional, but very beautiful.’
A variant of this drawing, of similar technique and dimensions and studying mainly the drapery of the figure, was on the art market in Paris in 2004. That drawing differs from the present sheet, however, in the arrangement of the drapery. A study by Abel de Pujol for the drapery of the figure of Agrippina, standing in the centre of the painted composition, is known, while a preparatory study for the left half of the canvas - depicting Britannicus lying down with his head to the right, but with the figure of Junia largely unchanged from the final composition – is in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Valenciennes, which holds a large number of paintings and drawings by the artist. A more finished compositional drawing of The Death of Britannicus, in which the mourning figure of Junia is very different, is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, while another compositional study for the painting, squared for transfer, was with the Galerie Didier Aaron in 1998.
By descent to his great-grandson, Jean-Claude Delauney, Caen.