Previously considered (according to a label on the reverse) to be by Pierre Subleyras, this dramatic painting, most of which remains intact under the discoloured varnish, is a notable addition to the known oeuvre of the 17th century French painter, Sebastien Bourdon.
That the picture was confused with the work of another artist is not surprising, as Bourdon was himself open to the inspiration of other great painters, and his stylistic language evolved throughout his career. The Bamboccianti, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, Anthony van Dyck and Nicolas Poussin were all important influences in Bourdon's oeuvre, and this canvas represents something of a synthesis of aspects of the work of these artists. Towards the end of his career, in a lecture to the French Royal Academy, he recommended that young artists reject uniformity of inspiration. Nevertheless, his work has a distinctly personal flavour whatever style or genre he was working in.
Acts 9:1-9 relates how while on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus, Saul was hit by a flash of light from the sky and fell to the ground. He heard a voice, saying 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?' 'Who are you, Lord?' Saul asked. 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,' he replied. 'Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.' Bourdon treated the subject of Saint Paul's conversion on at least one other occasion. A much larger canvas (102 x 135 cm) (offered Drouot-Montaigne, Paris, 29 June 1989, lot 3; see Sébastien Bourdon, exhibition catalogue, Montpellier and Strasbourg, 2000-2001, p. 155, no. 6, illustrated, also noting an old ascription to Subleyras on its reverse) includes Christ appearing in the sky and is lit by a bright shaft of light. The present panel focuses on a much smaller part of the scene, the more muted palette belying the spontaneity of the brushwork and uniting the picture surface in a swirling sense of movement. Pahin de La Blancherie mentions 'Une Conversion de Saint Paul, à M. de Joubert' although it is yet not possible to know to which, if any, of the above Conversions this might refer (ibid.).