(Montargis 1767 - Paris 1824)
The Genius of Greece (The Artist Meditating on the Ruins of Athens)
Signed and dated (in mirror writing) 1820 in pencil at the lower left and G.T. in pencil at the lower right.
135 x 99 mm. (5 1/4 x 3 7/8 in.) [image]
215 x 164 mm. (8 1/2 x 6 1/2 in.) [sheet]
Arguably Girodet’s most important literary work was his late poem Le Peintre, written over a period of several years right up until his death, and only posthumously published in 1829 by his pupil Pierre Alexandre Coupin. Written in six cantos, this long didactic poem about art was written between 1820 and 1824. Partly autobiographical, Le Peintre takes the form of an account of the training, travels and career of a French artist. The first three cantos describe the young painter’s education and his winning of the Prix de Rome, his voyage over the Alps to Italy and the great works of art he sees in Rome and Naples. The fourth canto finds the painter travelling to Greece, Egypt and Palestine, as well as Scotland and America, before returning to France. The final two cantos are devoted to the artist’s career, his challenges and successes, culminating with his eventual apotheosis to posthumous fame and glory.
The published poem was accompanied by six engravings after illustrations by Girodet, of which the present sheet is one. The drawing depicts a self-portrait of the artist, with his stylus and portfolio, dreaming amidst the ruins of Ancient Greece. As Marc Fumaroli has described the composition, ‘The painter, sitting on the ruins at the foot of the Acropolis…symbolize[s] the deep independence of the artist who, like a new Petrarch, draws his moral and creative strength, not from his times, from which his melancholy alienates him, but from the ruins, the tombs and the venerable dead of antiquity.’ The related engraving by Henri Charles Müller which appears in Coupin’s Oeuvres posthumes de Girodet-Trioson reverses the composition of this preparatory drawing.
The provenance of this drawing can be traced back to the Parisian book dealer and editor Jules Renouard (1798-1854), who is recorded as the owner of the six original drawings by Girodet for the poem Le Peintre that were first published in Coupin’s Oeuvres posthumes de Girodet-Trioson in 1829. The present sheet then entered the collection of the scientist Antoine César Becquerel (1788-1878), Girodet’s cousin and the executor of his will. Becquerel acquired a large portion of the contents of Girodet’s studio, thereby assembling one of the finest collections of drawings and paintings by the artist. He saw to the publication of several suites of drawings by Girodet after his death, and also laid the foundations of the collection of his work in the museum in the painter’s native Montargis. Many of the drawings by Girodet amassed by Becquerel, including the present sheet, remained with the collector’s descendants until they were dispersed at auction in Paris in 2008.
Jules Renouard, Paris, in 1829
Antoine César Becquerel, Paris
By descent to his grandson, Antoine Henri Becquerel, Paris
By descent to his widow, Louise Desirée Lorieux, Paris
The Becquerel family collection
Their sale (‘Fonds Girodet (provenance Becquerel) et à divers amateurs’), Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 14 April 2008, lot 85 (as Le poète dans les ruines de la Grèce)
Private collection, New York.