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A MARBLE GROUP OF VENUS AND CUPID KISSING
A MARBLE GROUP OF VENUS AND CUPID KISSING
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A MARBLE GROUP OF VENUS AND CUPID KISSING

BY JOSEPH-CHARLES MARIN (1759-1834), EXECUTED IN ROME, CIRCA 1808-10

Details
A MARBLE GROUP OF VENUS AND CUPID KISSING
BY JOSEPH-CHARLES MARIN (1759-1834), EXECUTED IN ROME, CIRCA 1808-10
Depicting the figures embracing, a quiver of arrows at their feet, on a oval base
45 ¾ in. (116 cm.) high, 33 in. (84 cm.) wide
Provenance
Laurent, Maréchal, and in 1817, Marquis de Gouvion Saint-Cyr (1764-1830), probably the château de Villiers, Neuilly, by circa 1814
[Possibly] Prince Achille Murat (1801-1847), château de Villiers, Neuilly
[Possibly] Prince Lucien Murat (1803-1878), château de Villiers, Neuilly
Prince Joachim Murat, (1834-1901), château de Villiers, Neuilly, until circa 1900
Acquired by Wildenstein, New York, in 1905
Literature
A. Thiers, Salon de dix-huit cent vingt-deux, Paris, 1822, p. 148 [reprinted, in trans., in The Triumph of Art for the Public: The Emerging Role of Exhibitions and Critics [ed. By E.G. Holt], Garden City, New York, 1979, p. 234]
C.P. Landon, Annales du Musée, Salon de 1822, Paris, 1830, I, p. 97. Illustrated pl. 59 (line engraving by Achille Réveil)
"Lettres inédites d'artistes français: peintres, sculpteurs, architectes, graveurs du XIXe siècle...XXVII. Marin au comte de Bondy," Nouvelles Archives de l'Art Français, series 3, XVI, 1900, p. 35
S. Lami, Dictionnaire des sculpteurs de l'école française aux dix-huitième siècle II, Paris, 1911, p. 112
M. Quinquenet, Un Elève de Clodion, Joseph-Charles Marin, 1759-1834, Paris, 1948, p. 61
G. Hubert, La Sculpture dans l'Italie napoléonienne, Paris, 1964, p. 210 and note 3 Paris, Galerie Patrice Bellanger, Joseph-Charles Marin, 1759-1834, 1992, pp. 17-20 ("Eléments de biographie")
G. Hubert, "A propos d'un ‘ami' de Clodion: Marin en Italie," in Clodion et la sculpture française de la fin du XVIIIe siècle (Actes du colloque organisé au Musée du Louvre par le Service Culturel les 20 et 21 mars 1992), Paris, 1993, pp. 90, 92, 111; 117, note 21; 122. Illustrated p. 111, fig. 13
Exhibited
Paris Salon of 1819, no. 1356
Paris Salon of 1822, no. 1455
Wildenstein, New York, The Arts of France from François 1er to Napoléon 1er: A Centennial Celebration of Wildenstein’s Presence in New York [edited and entries by Joseph Baillio], October 26, 2005-January 6, 2006, no. 158, pp. 349-351

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Lot Essay

VENUS AND CUPID KISSING: AN EMPIRE MASTERPIECE

This marble group, at the same time both monumental and incredibly intimate, is an iconic Empire-period sculpture. It evokes a magnificent era of Napoleonic period collecting and patronage during the brief, but rich, first fourteen years of the 19th century. Marin’s career straddled the great divide of the French Revolution. Already successful before the Revolution, Marin, a pupil and friend of Clodion, was well-known for his small terracotta reliefs, busts and figural groups, closely following Clodion’s popular mythological and historical subjects. Marin has been described by as Clodion’s finest and most original disciple (Baillio, op. cit., p. 349). Venus and Cupid Kissing, however, along with Marin’s other Italian large works in marble, presents a major and mature break with Ancien Régime subjects and represents the cool and restrained, more international, taste being heralded by Canova and Thorvaldsen.

Marin returned to Italy for the second time in 1802, working in Rome for three years and then near Frascati, for the family of Lucien Bonaparte, Napoleon’s exiled brother. He was again in Rome by 1808 and probably started work on Venus and Cupid Kissing around then. A recent discovery of a small terracotta model for the marble by Marin, of circa 1808, is in the Wildenstein Collection, New York (Baillio, op. cit., pp. 350-351). Marin’s Venus and Cupid Kissing was still in his Roman studio as late as October 3, 1814, where it was described in a list of his most important achievements as: ‘…6. un groupe de Vénus et son fils, de grandeur naturelle. Il est dans l’attelier de l’auteur à Rome’ [‘…6. a group with Venus and her son, lifesize. It is in the artist’s studio in Rome’] (Ibid., note 7). However, as Baillio notes, Venus and Cupid Kissing was shortly thereafter shipped to Lyon, where Marin had been named professor of sculpture at the Ecole de Dessin upon Chinard’s death in 1813 (Ibid., p. 350). Gouvion Saint-Cyr would have purchased it shortly afterwards as Baillio, again, cites Marin’s own words: ‘Il y a de moi à Paris: Une baigneuse de grandeur naturelle que j’ai exposée à Paris, au Louvre, et que j’ai vendue au maréchal Gouvion Saint-Cyr avec un groupe de 6 pieds de proportion Vénus et l’Amour s’embrassant’ [‘Among my works in Paris is a life-size Bather that I exhibited in Paris at the Louvre and that I sold to the Maréchal Gouvion Saint-Cyr with a six foot-size group of Venus and Cupid Kissing’ (Ibid., note 9). Marin’s Bather was probably executed at the same time as Venus and Cupid Kissing, but it was sent to France in 1808, and then exhibited at the Salon of that same year; it remains in the Louvre.

Marin’s composition was instantly and immensely popular. Venus and Cupid Kissing was exhibited at both the Paris Salons of 1819 and 1822. Charles-Paul Landon, in his critique of the 1822 exhibition, wrote the following, even proposing that Venus and Cupid Kissing be acquired by King Louis XVIII for one of the royal residences, obviously not realizing Marin’s marble was already owned by Gouvion Saint-Cyr:

M. Marin, qui depuis longtemps s’est fait connaître par des ouvrages de petite proportion, dont la plupart ne sont même que des modèles en terre cuite, vient, pour la première fois, d’exposer un morceau capital, dans le style qui paraît spécialement convenir à son ciseau facile et gracieux. Le groupe de Vénus recevant les caresses de l’Amour est d’une composition simple, qui n’exclut pas la pureté des contours et la finesse des détails. L’artiste a mis tous ses soins à la bien rendre et le succès a couronné ses efforts. Nous ignorons si le Gouvernement a fait l’acquisition de ce morceau, digne d’être avantageusement placé dans l’une des maisons royales. Ses proportions n’excèdent pas la grandeur ordinaire, celle qui produit le meilleur effet dans l’intérieur des appartements (Landon, op. cit., p. 97, pl. 59).

[M. Marin, who has long been reputed for small-scale works, most of which are only terracotta models, for the first time has just exhibited a major work, in a style that seems particularly adapted to his facile and graceful chisel. The group of Venus receiving the kisses of Cupid is of a simple composition, which does not exclude purity of contour and exquisite detail. The artist has taken great care with the execution and his efforts have been crowned with success. We do not know if the government has acquired this work, which is worthy of being placed advantageously in one of the royal houses. Its proportions do not exceed life-size, which produces the best effect in the interior of a private apartment.] Landon’s critique, when it was published in 1830, was accompanied by Etienne-Achille Réveil’s engraving of the same date.

THE GOUVION SAINT-CYR PROVENANCE: EMPIRE AMBITION AND ABILITY

In 1789, as just plain Laurent Gouvion, the future Maréchal enlisted in the National Guard. By 1794, he was already a major general in the Army of the Rhine and Moselle. He further distinguished himself in Napoleon’s campaigns all over the Continent, from Poland to Spain, culminating in the Grande Armée’s iconic battle at Polotsk in 1812, where he defeated the great Russian Field Marshall Wittgenstein. After this victory he was finally given the title of Maréchal. Gouvion had not been rewarded earlier, unlike his fellow generals Lannes, Ney and Soult, because even though he was described as brilliant tactician, he had also managed to alienate the Emperor by his cold demeanor and independent spirit and, most controversially, his refusal to support Napoleons’s imperial and dynastic ambitions. After the fall of Napoleon, Gouvion made the transition to the government of Louis XVIII and was eventually named Minister of War, created a Marquis in 1817 and remained in the service of the King until 1821 (Baillio, op. cit. p. 350).

After his travels and military campaigns, the Maréchal returned to France a sophisticated and famous man. Forming a collection would then have been have been a natural next step as his career became more administrative and as he neared retirement. As Baillio has noted, Gouvion had originally trained as a draftsman and painter in both Paris and Rome, so he would have clearly been an unusually appreciative patron. The Maréchal was a consistent supporter of Marin’s immediately after his return to France from Italy (see J. Baillio, op. cit., p. 350 and Quinquenet, op. cit., pp. 34-35). The severe Empire sculpture of Marin’s early 19th century works – along with their obvious references to Classical Antiquity – would have appealed to the Maréchal’s sensibilities, honed by seeing the best collections of late 18th and early 19th century sculpture across the Continent.

Venus and Cupid Kissing was installed either at the Maréchal’s Paris home or, more likely, in the château de Villiers at Neuilly and it remained there until at least 1900. The château de Villiers, before the Maréchal owned it, had belonged to Napoleon’s sister, Caroline Bonaparte, and her husband Joachim Murat, who was King of Naples from 1808-1815. And, somewhat confusingly, one hundred years later, at the turn of the twentieth century, the château was owned by Joachim Murat’s descendants. The only link between the two families was the 1879 marriage of the Maréchal’s grandson, Laurent Gouvion Saint-Cyr (1851-1902), to Joachim Murat’s grand-niece, Caroline Murat (1858-1895) (Baillio, op. cit., p. 351, note 12). However they were not the owners of the château de Villiers in the late 19th century, as, at that time, Venus and Cupid Kissing was in the collection of the 4th Prince Murat, Joachim, (1834-1901), owner of the château de Villiers.

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