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ANNE-LOUIS GIRODET DE ROUCY-TRIOSON (MONTARGIS, LOIRET 1767-1824 PARIS)
ANNE-LOUIS GIRODET DE ROUCY-TRIOSON (MONTARGIS, LOIRET 1767-1824 PARIS)
ANNE-LOUIS GIRODET DE ROUCY-TRIOSON (MONTARGIS, LOIRET 1767-1824 PARIS)
ANNE-LOUIS GIRODET DE ROUCY-TRIOSON (MONTARGIS, LOIRET 1767-1824 PARIS)
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ANNE-LOUIS GIRODET DE ROUCY-TRIOSON (MONTARGIS, LOIRET 1767-1824 PARIS)

Galatea

Details
ANNE-LOUIS GIRODET DE ROUCY-TRIOSON (MONTARGIS, LOIRET 1767-1824 PARIS)
Galatea
oil on canvas
18 ¼ x 15 ¼ in. (46 x 39 cm.)
in its original French Empire frame
Provenance
(Probably) The artist; (†) his sale, Paris, 5 April 1825, lot 55, where presumably acquired for 665 FF by the following,
(Probably) Antoine-Calude Pannetier (1772-1859), Paris; his sale, Drouot, Paris, 28 April 1857, lot 33.

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Francois de Poortere
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Lot Essay

This highly-refined head study relates to Girodet’s late masterpiece Pygmalion and Galatea (Musée du Louvre, Paris; fig. 1), which he painted between 1813 and 1819. The patron was Giovanni Battista Sommariva, an Milanese politician who had settled in Paris in 1806. Starting in 1808, Sommariva began to assemble a vast collection of Neoclassical art, which would eventually include works by Prud’hon, Canova, Guérin, and Gérard. As Girodet was the most important and original Neoclassical history painter after his teacher, Jacques-Louis David (and indeed, Sommariva would own David’s 1817 Cupid and Psyche, today in the Cleveland Museum of Art), the Italian collector was naturally drawn to Girodet’s work. In fact, in 1809 Sommariva attempted to acquire The Sleep of Endymion, but the Girodet refused to sell it to him, hoping that the French government would buy it instead. After years of negotiation, the artist and patron eventually came to an agreement in late 1812: Girodet would produce a painting that would pay homage to the great Neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova. For subject matter, they settled upon the celebrated story from Ovid's Metamorphoses, which tells of the Cypriot sculptor Pygmalion, who carved from ivory a woman whose beauty was beyond that of any living being. The artist ultimately fell in love with his creation, and prayed to the goddess Aphrodite that she would have mercy on him and transform his inanimate creation into living flesh. Upon returning from Aphrodite's temple, Pygmalion kissed the statue (which by the 18th century had become known as Galatea), only to discover that her lips were flush red and that she was miraculously changing into a human being. The pair fell deeply in love and soon married, bearing a son named Paphos, after whom the Cypriot city is named.

Writing to his artist friend François Xavier Fabre on 20 June 1819, Girodet lamented, “I am extremely busy with a painting that has been taking up my time for ages and that I have restarted several times without success, not knowing if I would be happier with the previous version…. To be truthful I don’t know how I am going to finish it. But the fate of this painting is either to have a resounding success or to fall flat on its face; I don’t see any other way” (quoted in S. Bellenger, Girodet 1767-1824, exhibition catalogue, Paris, 2005, p. 464). Girodet finished his painting soon after, and presented it in the Salon of 1819 – famously in the same rooms as the defining painting of the Romantic movement, Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa. The result won him wide acclaim. As Sylvain Berenger writes, “Girodet produced a pure and luminous pictorial poem, the quintessence of the classicism he sought to regenerate….” (ibid).

Girodet was a meticulous artist who produced several preparatory drawings and studies for his paintings. His point of departure for Pygmalion and Galatea was Canova’s sculptures, the Venus Italica and Terpsichore, as well as the Hellenistic Medici Venus. While no sketches for the entire painting are known, several studies in paint for the principal figures exist. Three studies of Galatea are described in the catalogue for Girodet’s studio sale of 11 April 1825. Of these, the one sold as number 53 is particularly of interest here, as it is an apt description for the present lot: “Tête de jeune femme brune, les yeux baissés. Étude pour la Galatée / Head of a young brunette, with her eyes lowered. Study for the Galatea.” This painting has traditionally been identified as the work owned by Girodet’s heiress, Rosine Becquerel-Despéaux, which was shown in the 1967 Girodet exhibition in Montargis (no. 45) and then sold at Sotheby’s, Monaco, 21 June 1991, lot 28 before a private collector acquired it from Richard Feigen. A compelling argument can be made, however, that our picture, rather than the Becquerel-Despéaux work, is the painting that sold in 1825. Notably, the latter is unfinished at its lower right (see ibid, fig. III.306), a detail that would likely have been noted in the sale catalogue. Moreover, lot 53 was acquired by Girodet’s student and friend, Antoine Claude Pannetier (1772-1859) for 665 francs, and so it could only have wound up in the Becquerel collection is one assumes it was somehow acquired by the family in the 1857 Pannetier sale (see ibid, p. 466). Notably, an engraving by Joseph Dassy (1791-1865), entitled Première étude pour le tableau de Galatée, corresponds precisely to our painting, as does a drawing in the Musée de Montargis.

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