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Piat-Joseph Sauvage (Tournai 1744-1818)
Piat-Joseph Sauvage (Tournai 1744-1818)

Allegory of the entry into Brussels of the Governors General of the Austrian Netherlands

Piat-Joseph Sauvage (Tournai 1744-1818)
Allegory of the entry into Brussels of the Governors General of the Austrian Netherlands
signed and dated 'Sauvage 1781' (lower right)
oil on canvas
17 3/8 x 51 ¼ in. (44.2 x 130.3 cm.)
Private collection.
Anonymous sale; Neumeister Kunstauktionen, Munich, 2 December 1998, lot 534.
with Galerie Eric Coatalem, Paris where acquired in 2004 by the following.
Private collection.
Panard au Sallon, The Hague and Paris, 1781, p. 26.
Réflexions joyeuses d’un garçon de bonne humeur, sur ¡es tableaux exposés au Salon en 1781, Paris, 1781, pp. 27-28.
“Exposition des ouvrages de Peinture, Sculpture et Gravure au Sallon du Louvre,” Journal de Paris [1781] (Collection Deloynes, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris, XII, pièce 269, msp. 435).
Mercure de France [1781] (Collection Deloynes [cited above], L, pièce 1330, msp. 150).
J. Seznec, ed., Diderot, Salons, IV (1769, 1771, 1775, 1781), Oxford, 1967, p. 377.
M. and F. Faré, La Vie silencieuse en France: la nature morte au XVIIP siècle, Fribourg, 1976, p. 278.
E.M. Bukdahl, A. Lorenceau and G. May, eds., Diderot - Salons (IV), Héros et martyrs, Salons de 1769, 1771, 1775, 1781, Paris, 1995, p. 349 and ns. 183-184.
P. Sanchez, Dictionnaire des artistes éxposant dans les Salons des XVII et XVIII’ siècles à Paris et en province, 1673-1800, Dijon, 2004, III, p. 1525.
Paris, Salon, 1781, no. 224.
New York, Wildenstein, The Arts of France from Français Ier to Napoléon Ier: A Centennial Celebration of Wildenstein’s Presence in New York, 26 October 2005-6 January 2006, p. 295, no. 125.
Vienna, Albertina, Die Gründung der Albertina: Herzog Albert und seine Zeit, 14 March-29 June 2014, pp. 254, 256, 257, 320(catalogue ed. by C. Benedik and K.A. Schröder).

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Lot Essay

This type of illusionistic tour-de-force was a specialty of the Flemish-born painter, Piat-Joseph Sauvage. Among his masterpieces in the genre, of which the present work is an outstanding example, the trompe l'oeil mural decorations of one of the pavilions of Marie Antoinette’s Laiterie at the Château de Rambouillet. A clever imitation of a bronze relief with its variegated green patina and golden highlights, the present picture is an original composition and not an imitation of any known sculpture, as is sometimes the case in Sauvage’s oeuvre. It can be identified as one of Sauvauge’s five entries (comprising his debut exhibition) at the Paris Salon of 1781. In the accompanying handbook (or livret) it is described as “224. Bas relief imitant le bronze, en forme de frise, dont le sujet allégorique est l’entrée de la Princesse de Saxe-Teschen, & du Prince son Epoux, à Bruxelles. De 3 pieds 9 pouces de long., sur 16 [pouces] de haut.” [“Low relief imitating bronze in the form of a frieze whose allegorical subject is the entry of the Princess of Saxe-Teschen, and of the Prince her husband, into Brussels…”].

In the role of Minerva is the Habsburg Archduchess Maria Christina (1742-1798), the eldest daughter of Empress Maria Theresa and her consort, Francis of Lorraine, rulers of the Holy Roman Empire. Austria is implicitly present here in the form of Jupiter, for the eagle with wings spread hovering above the scene at left was the symbol of Habsburg power. The Archduchess was the sister of Emperor Joseph II, and of France’s queen, Marie Antoinette. The medallion portrait is an effigy of her husband, Prince Albrecht Kasimir of Saxony, Duke of Teschen (1738-1822), the former Governor of Hungary, whom Maria Christina had married in 1766. The fine arts – Sculpture, Painting, Architecture, Literature and Music – are symbolized by several of the putti at left, and throughout the composition are signifiers of peace, prosperity and military triumph: the closed door of the Temple of Janus (indicative of peace), a cornucopia and a procession of cupids carrying an ornate vase (the spoils of war) on a pallet, and finally, the captured flag of a defeated enemy.

Sauvage’s painting of 1781 makes reference to the recent transfer of power in the Austrian Netherlands. Charles Alexander of Lorraine, brother-in-law of the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, had served as Governor General, or Regent, of the Austrian Netherlands between 1744 and his death in July 1780. His medallion portrait is suspended from a column at left. That August 20th, the Empress replaced him with Archduchess Maria Christina and Albrecht of Sachsen-Teschen, her favorite daughter and son-in-law. Soon thereafter, they made a triumphal entry into their capital city of Brussels, the event that Sauvage’s trompe l’oeil allegorizes. Although he resided in France, Sauvage was a Walloon and as such was actually their subject. By 1792, the French Revolution had placed Albrecht and Maria Christina in a very precarious position. While French troops were invading The Netherlands, they were forced to flee. Settling two years later in Vienna, they brought with them their vast collection of drawings and prints and later installed it in the palace near the city’s ramparts, the present-day Albertina.

The critic Denis Diderot was particularly impressed by Sauvage’s allegory in the 1781 Salon, remarking “L’illusion toujours est surprenante et prouve au moins la plus grande intelligence dans la disposition des ombres et des lumières.” [“Illusionism is always surprising and at the least it proves the great intelligence in the method by which shadows and light are distributed”] (see J. Seznec, loc. cit.).

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