2 More
Property from a Private Collection

Portrait of Justo Machado y Salcedo, Spanish Consul in Paris on Horseback

Portrait of Justo Machado y Salcedo, Spanish Consul in Paris on Horseback
signed and dated 'Horace Vernet/Paris 1821.' (lower right)
oil on canvas
39 3/8 x 32 1/8 in. (100 x 81.6 cm.)
Painted in April of 1821.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, New York, 29 January 1999, lot 184.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
É. Jouy and A. Jay, Salon d'Horace Vernet, analyse historique et pittoresque des quarante-cinq tableaux exposés chez lui en 1822, Paris, 1822, pp. 164-165, no. XLIX, as Portrait de M. Machado, Consul-Général d'Espagne, Représenté à cheval.
A. Dayot, Les Vernet, Joseph-Carle-Horace, Paris, 1898, p. 201, as Le portrait de M. Machado.
Paris, Salon d'Horace Vernet, 8 May-11 June,1822.

Brought to you by

Jonquil O’Reilly
Jonquil O’Reilly Vice President, Specialist, Head of Sale

Lot Essay

Representing the third generation of a family of renowned French artists, the young Horace Vernet seemed pre-destined for a successful career in the arts from a young age. If his grandfather Joseph Vernet is remembered as a painter of marines and his father Carle an equestrian painter, Horace is best remembered as a nostalgic chronicler of military power, an artist whose exactitude in the rendering of every detail, combined with a simplicity and elegance of style, won him commissions from the most prestigious of patrons of the era - from Napoleon Bonaparte to Louis-Philippe to Prince Nicolas I, Tsar of Russia. The present painting is an early work by the young Vernet who, by the time of its execution in 1821 had already achieved considerable fame in the last years of the Empire. It represents the young artist’s attempt to regain his success under the new political order which he was glad to champion as well.

The present painting portrays Justo Machado y Salcedo, a Spanish diplomat who was posted in Rome in 1802, until 1809, when he was removed from his position and imprisoned for refusing to swear allegiance to the French when Napoleon annexed Rome and the Papal States. Although injured, Machado escaped from prison, traveling overland through Italy to Vienna, then south to Turkey, before returning by sea to Spain. The Spanish government sent him back to Vienna under orders to organize a secret plot with the Austrian Emperor to overthrow Napoleon, traveling again through Turkey. Following the Bourbon restoration and the exile of Napoleon, Machado was posted to Paris in 1815, when he was named the Consul General of Spain to France. Possessed of a ‘ruinous passion of money’, in 1823 Machado stole a significant amount of money from the consulate in Paris and fled to London. Aside from a brief stint in prison in England, Machado lived the remainder of his life in luxury, claiming he could not return the money he had stolen to the Spanish government, as it actually belonged to the people.

Painted in 1821, not long before the sitter's abrupt departure from Paris, the present work is certainly a reflection of Machado’s expensive taste, as a full-length equestrian portrait by Vernet on this scale would have cost a considerable sum. Wearing a luxurious fur and velvet coat over a full-dress uniform, and astride a dapple gray horse adorned with an ornate, Orientalized silver harness, bridle and headband embellished with the Turkish crescent, both rider and horse cut strikingly Romantic figures. The crescent on the harness and the distant coast, with its buildings generically Orientalist in style, are probably intended to allude to his famous 1809 flight from Rome via Turkey. This connection is further emphasized by the stormy weather over the coast at right contrasted against the dramatic warm lighting coming from the west, homeward toward Spain, where Machado directs his gaze with hope.

Vernet included the present picture in the exhibition he organized in 1822 in his studio at 5 rue de la Tour des Dames in Paris, conceived as a protest against the rejection of his works from the official Salon. Government officials had ordered the Salon jury to refuse Vernet's works given his early hostility to the Bourbon government out of concern that he might ‘réveiller le sentiment napoléonien parmi le public.’ Though the artist was far more politically malleable and savvy than the officials credited him with – indeed it is ironic that he painted the present portrait of a young diplomat whose reputation was earned by attempting to overthrow Napoleon while the artist was being accused of reviving public sentiment toward the Emperor – his studio was placed under police surveillance and he was regarded with suspicion by those in power. Even without the official endorsement of the Salon, Vernet’s 1822 exhibition was an enormous success. Alongside the Portrait of General Machado, Vernet exhibited some 45 paintings, including L'atelier de M. Horace Vernet (private collection) as well as La Defense de la Barrière de Clichy (Louvre) and La Bataille de Jemmapes (National Gallery, London). The popularity of the exhibition was integral of Vernet’s own restoration to his position as one of France’s most sought-after official painters by the middle years of the 1820s.

More from Old Masters

View All
View All