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Emile Jean Horace Vernet (1789-1863)
Emile Jean Horace Vernet (1789-1863)

Le Giaour, vainqueur d'Hassan

Emile Jean Horace Vernet (1789-1863)
Le Giaour, vainqueur d'Hassan
signed 'Horace Vernet' (slightly indistinct, lower right)
oil on canvas
25.5/8 x 21 in. (65 x 54 cm.)
G. Hamilton, 'Delacroix, Byron and the English Illustrators', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, CCVI, 1949, p. 261.
P. Joannides, "Colin, Delacroix, Byron and the Greek War of Independence", in Burlington Magazine, vol. CXXV, Aug. 1983, London, no. 965, p. 499.
N. Tscherny and G. Stair Sainty (ed.), Romance and Chivalry: History and Literature Reflected in Nineteenth Century French Painting, New York, 1996, pp. 144-45.
Sale room notice
Following further research, it seems likely that the present work is indeed Vernet's version of Le Giaour exhibited at the Salon of 1827 and referred to in the Salon Register for that year. This view is based on the fact that the framed dimensions of our work closely correspond with those given for a work matching its description in the Register of 1827 and that the present work is the largest and most finished known version of the subject.
Please also note the following additional provenance:
Anon. sale, Helbing, Munich, April 1932 (illustrated in catalogue).

Lot Essay

Le Giaour is a subject borrowed by Vernet from Lord Byron's poem - the first of his Turkish Tales - published in 1813. Vernet would have known the work through Amede Pichot's translation. The vivid colour and drama of the Turkish Tales provided a rich sourcebook for a generation of artists, Romantic and Classicist alike, eager to support the Greek cause in the War of Independence from their Turkish overlords. The Salons of 1824, 1827 and 1831, as well as many independent Paris exhibitions, including two at the Galerie Lebrun organised as charitable functions specifically Au profit des grecs saw numerous portrayals of Greek motifs. The Salon of 1827, for instance, included some 14 other Phillhelene-inspired works alongside Vernet's rendering of La Giaour.

The lithograph of Le corsair, published in 1819, established Vernet as the first French artist to illustrate a scene from the Turkish Tales. Gricault, however, was the first artist specifically to treat the subject of Le Giaour with a watercolour of the hero riding through the night (formerly in the Hans E. Bhler Collection and sold in these Rooms, 13 Nov. 1985, lot 58 and now in the Getty Museum). In the particular episode from Le Giaour portrayed in the present work, also chosen by Colin and Delacroix (fig. 2), the eponymous hero is seen having avenged the murder of his mistress by killing Hassan, her cruel Turkish master. It is based on the following lines from the poem:

His breast with wounds unnumber'd driven,
His back to earth, his face to heaven,
Fall'n Hassan lies - his unclosed eye
Yet lowering on his enemy,
As if the hour that sealed his fate
Surviving left his quenchless hate;
And oer him bends that foe with brow
As dark as his that bled below.

The pose Vernet adopts for the triumphant Giaour is strongly reminiscent of the Roman statuary on the Quirinal Hill in Rome (see fig. 1). Understood in the years around 1800 to represent Alexander and Bucephalus, although more recently it is given as Castor and Pollux, the former reading would doubtless have appealed to Vernet who was therefore able to cast Le Giaour in the mould of the greatest of Greek heroes while catering to his own fondness for great equestrian themes.

The Salon painting of La Giaour was engraved by Jazet in 1828. Another, smaller treatment by Vernet of this theme appeared recently at auction in New York (Sotheby's, 23 Oct. 1997, lot 49), while a further version was sold in Monaco in June 1994. Both follow Jazet's variations with a rockier landscape background.

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