Monday, August 17, 2009


"Self Portrait" (1847)
Alexandre Cabanel, Autorretrato
Source Originally from en.wikipedia
Original uploader was Alcinoe at en.wikipedia
Wikimedia Commons

Alexandre Cabanel in his studio painting, ca. 1885
By unidentified photographer
Archives of American Art

By the 1870s, many American collectors, such as William Astor, William T. Walters, William H. Vanderbilt, and Jay Gould, to name a few, had purchased Cabanel's historical paintings, and others like silver mine millionaire John W. Mackay, and the inventor of the reaper, Cyrus Hall McCormick, had commissioned portraits of themselves and of their spouses from Cabanel. Cabanel was well known as a portraitist and in the 1870s and 1880s he was the painter of choice for Gilded Age Americans, particularly women, who desired an aristocratic image to match their wealth. In 1879 an American critic estimated that, aside from Ernest Meissonier, Cabanel was the best-known French artist in the United States.
Cabanel's reputation in the United States was preceded by his success in Paris where, by the 1860s, he was already a favorite portraitist of European aristocracy, especially women. An established and decorated history painter, Cabanel did not need to paint portraits for money, but he seems to have enjoyed painting portraits and chose to exhibit them frequently in the Paris Salons. His portrait of the Countess Clermont-Tonnerre, exhibited in the Salon of 1863, and the portraits of the Viscountess of Ganay (an American) and Emperor Napoleon III, both exhibited in the Salon of 1865, attracted critical attention in France as well as in the United States for their distinctive contemporary style.
(© 2005–6 Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide and Leanne Zalewski)

Portrait of Alfred Bruyas
Oil on canvas
Courtesy of Musée Fabre, Montpellier, France

Alexandre Cabanel presents Bruyas at the beginning of his collecting career—young, polished, and self-assured. The earliest portrait of Bruyas in the exhibition, this work shows the twenty-four-year-old patron with the gardens of the Villa Borghese [vë'lä börgä'zä] in Rome in the background.
Bruyas traveled to Rome in 1846 and befriended several artists, including Cabanel, a fellow native of Montpellier, whom he already knew. The two remained close friends in the 1840s and 50s, and Bruyas dedicated his first catalog, published in 1851, in part to Cabanel, “painter of history.”
(Dallas Museum of Art)

Napoléon III
Image from

Cabanel's portrait of Napoleon III won the artist a Medal of Honor at the Salon of 1865 and was praised on both sides of the Atlantic for its simplicity and sophistication. Roger Riordan, writing for the Art Amateur, claimed that it was Cabanel's best portrait. French writer Henry de Chennevières praised Cabanel's modest representation of the emperor as a bold, modern, and original conception. Rather than portray the Emperor in his imperial finery, Cabanel depicted him wearing a simple black evening suit; the imperial robes lay on a chair behind him. The combination of modesty with an aristocratic air impressed the Americans as well as the French and may well have been an impetus for wealthy Americans to choose Cabanel for their likenesses. The artist's reputation, no doubt, was an even greater draw. Who would be a better choice for the American nouveaux-riches, those aspiring "aristocrats," than the man who had painted an emperor?
Cabanel's reputation was enhanced by the many portraits he painted of female European aristocrats. While his early portraits of French women tended to be heavily accessorized, in the manner of the portraits of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, with whom he was frequently identified, Cabanel's portrait of the Duchess of Vallombrosa, exhibited in the Salon of 1870, is more in line with his later portraits of American women, who preferred simple backdrops and few accessories. The portrait of the Duchess, one of the few of his female portraits to have been reproduced in contemporary publications, received positive reviews in periodicals such as L'Artiste and Le Temps. A critic for L'Artiste called the portrait a "masterpiece," in which the soul shone through the eyes. Herton, writing in Le Temps, admired the "aristocratic elegance" of the work and noted that the portrait had a "boneless" quality, a remark that calls to mind similar comments about Ingres' figures as well as Cabanel's own Birth of Venus. But unlike Ingres, Cabanel did not overtly manipulate the figure for aesthetic reasons, though he did subtly elongate limbs and necks to create more flowing lines.
Cabanel's earliest portrait of an American may be that of Mrs. John Jacob Ridgway of Philadelphia dated 1861 (location unknown). Portraits of sitters identified as American that he exhibited at the Paris Salon were those of the Viscountess of Ganay, John Jacob Ridgway's daughter, Salon of 1865; John W. Mackay, Salon of 1879; Eva (Eveline Julia) Mackay, John Mackay's step-daughter, Salon of 1881; Eveline Hungerford, John Mackay's mother-in-law, Salon of 1883; a Miss A. Ogden of Chicago, Salon of 1884; and Mary Victoria Leiter, Salon of 1888.
(© 2005–6 Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide and Leanne Zalewski)

Portrait of John William Mackay
Image from

In the United States, his portraits could be seen in exhibitions at the National Academy of Design (1876, 1898) and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1875, 1876, 1887).
Praised as a portraitist of women, Cabanel expressed that he was particularly adept at painting portraits of American women. In an interview translated in an American journal, he said, "I have painted the portraits of a great many Americans, the delicacy and grace and refined type of American beauty being peculiarly congenial to my pencil." C. Stuart Johnson, writing in New York's Munsey's Magazine, stated that Cabanel was the best portrait painter of his time. In Edith Wharton's famous novel set in the Gilded Age, The Age of Innocence, Cabanel's name was mentioned three times; twice in the context of his famous portraits. A French critic also noted Cabanel's popularity with Americans: "The effect produced among the American colony in Paris may be readily imagined, and at the present time every American of any pretensions rushes to Cabanel's studio." Pretensions, in this context, probably refer to aristocratic pretensions, or American social and cultural aspirations to rival the Europeans.
(© 2005–6 Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide and Leanne Zalewski)

Portrait of Prince K. A. Gorchakov
Oil on canvas, 1864
Private collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Today, Cabanel's portraits are rarely seen, and the locations of many of them are unknown. The ones that are owned by museums are for the most part in storage, reflecting the lack of interest in early Gilded Age portraits, especially those painted by French rather than American painters. Cabanel's portraits have not been included in studies of American portraiture and their neglect has prevented a full understanding of the development of this genre during the early Gilded Age. It also has deprived historians of a group of "documents" that provide important insights into the culture of this colorful period in U.S. history.
(© 2005–6 Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide and Leanne Zalewski)

Miss Fanny Clapp
Yale University Art Gallery
New Haven, CT
Image from

Outstanding Works:
- 1851, The Death of Moses, Dahesh Museum, New York City. New York, USA
- 1860, Nymph and Satyr, (Nymphe et Satyr), Private collection
- 1863, The Birth of Venus, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
- 1870, The Death of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta, Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Mort de Francesca da Rimini et de Paolo Malatesta
The Death of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta
Oil on canvas, 1870
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

This tragic scene was inspired by an incident that occurred in Rimini in Italy in the mid-thirteenth century and was put into verse by Dante in Canto V of The Divine Comedy. Francesca da Rimini, whose father had forcibly married her to Lanciotto Malatesta, fell in love with her handsome brother-in-law, Paolo. Her husband caught them when they were exchanging their first kiss and killed them with a single swipe of his sword.
This painting exhibits all the typical elements of the classical tradition which Alexandre Cabanel stayed true to. The composition is scholarly, the painting smooth and the drawing precise; care has been taken over the iconographic details. The book that has dropped from Francesca's hands is a reminder that the lovers were reading Lancelot, a story of courtly love, at the time of the murder, while the murderer hidden behind a thick hanging is still clutching his bloody sword.
(© Musée d'Orsay 2006)

La Comtesse de Keller
Image from Greasles famous painting Walpapers

- 1873, La Comtesse de Keller, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
- 1880, Phèdre, Musée Fabre, Montpellier
- 1883, Ophelia, Private collection

Oil on canvas, 1883
30 1/4 x 46 1/4 inches
Private collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Cabanel's composition appears to have been strongly influenced by the version of Ophelia, painted by Eugène Delacroix, in 1848 that features the protagonist in a similar reclining position with an outstretched arm for the branch. It is no surprise that Delacroix embraced the potency of Ophelia as a symbol of the Romantic Period and although he made numerous versions of the subject, it is more likely that Cabanel knew the work from the lithograph of the painting that was subsequently widely distributed. In contrast to later, more traditional depictions of this scene where Ophelia is either contemplating her suicide or already immersed in the stream as in Millais', Cabanel also chose to dramatise the moment when the tree branch snaps, no longer able to support her. Although highly stylised, Ophelia's melodramatic pose and outstretched left arm lends an air of theatricality to the scene, which no doubt catered to the contemporary European audiences of the day. Imbuing the scene with an inherent sense of sympathy, the weeping willow tree, from which she falls, is a familiar symbol of mourning. Particularly impressive is Cabanel's almost photographic treatment of Ophelia's shimmering gold-trimmed silk dress and the flowers, both in the garland around her head and those trailing in the water. As she floats weightlessly upon the surface of the water, Ophelia is at once wistful, yet beguiling and seductive as Cabanel suspends her between life and death, capturing the moment that is yet to conclude this Shakespearean tragedy.
(© Christie's 2009)

- 1887, Cleopatra Testing Poisons on Condemned Prisoners, Private collection
- (Undated), Eve After the Fall, Private Collection
- (Undated), The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Paradise, Private Collection
(From Wikipedia)

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