Noël-Nicolas Coypel (Paris 1690-1734)
Noël-Nicolas Coypel (Paris 1690-1734)

The Triumph of Galatea

Noël-Nicolas Coypel (Paris 1690-1734)
The Triumph of Galatea
oil on canvas
38 1/8 x 48 7/8 in. (96.9 x 124.2 cm.)
Marquis de Boulainvilliers, Château de Passy.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, Monaco, 13 June 1982, lot 69.
Private collection; Christie's, New York, 31 January 1997, lot 83 ($79,500).
D. d'Argenville, Abrégé de la vie des plus fameux peintres, IV, 1762, pp. 442-443, as the Triumph of Amphytrite.
C. Blanc, Histoire des Peintres de toutes les écoles, 1862, p. 2.
J.J. Foster, ed., French Art from Watteau to Prud'hon, 1906, II, p. 48.
M. Cary et. al., The Oxford Classical Dictionary, Oxford, 1953, p. 376.
J. Delaplanche, Noël-Nicolas Coypel 1690-1734, Paris, 2004, pp. 29, 31, 84-85, 139, cat. no. p.11.
Paris, Palais du Louvre, Gallerie d'Apollon, May-June 1727.

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Lot Essay

Galatea was a Nereide and goddess of Calm Seas. The tragic consequences of her rejection of the romantic advances of the Cyclops Polyphemos for the love of the handsome Sicilian boy Acis was often recounted in ancient literature, notably in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (XIII, 783-784). When Polyphemos flew into a jealous rage and crushed the youth beneath a rock, Galatea was grief-stricken and transformed Acis into an ever-flowing stream.

In Coypel’s brightly colored and airy rendering of the subject, sorrow is side-stepped altogether, as the beautiful Nereide navigates the calm waters on a seashell chariot pulled by a pair of determined dolphins, accompanied by a triton and neriede, and guided by a torch-bearing cupid. Only the distant figure of the enraged Cyclops and a slight touch of melancholy crossing the face of Galatea foreshadow the tragedy to come. Coypel’s sparkling interpretation of this seaborne mythology presages the dazzling aquatic effects the artist would introduce into his masterpiece of four years later, the celebrated Rape of Europa (Philadelphia Museum of Art), made as his competition piece for the Concours de 1727.

Nothing is known of the earliest history of this surprisingly buoyant depiction of the tale of Galatea, but it had a pendant depicting Pan and Syrinx with which it was paired until the two were separated in 1997; the Pan and Syrinx is fully signed and dated ‘1723’. Jérôme Delaplanche believes the two mythologies were painted as overdoor decorations for an as-yet unidentified private commission, and he notes that the paintings’ seductive and elegant manner approaches that of the painter’s exact contemporary, François Lemoyne (1688-1737). No drawings have been identified for the Galatea, but the painting was reproduced by Coypel himself in an etching that was later strengthened with engraving in a second state finished by Antoine Trochon. (For the etching, see Delaplanche, no. G.2).

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