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Portrait of Eugene Isabey (1803-1886), full-length, with a sword

Portrait of Eugene Isabey (1803-1886), full-length, with a sword
oil on canvas
55 x 38 1⁄4 in. (149.7 x 97.2 cm.)
Anonymous sale; Courtier, de Nicolay, and Oger-Dumont, Paris, 17 June 1994, lot 71, where acquired by the present owner.
Paris, Salon, 1810, no. 107.

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Lot Essay

Louis-André-Gabriel Bouchet was an aspiring history painter in the 1780s and ‘90s and one of Jacques Louis David’s many pupils. In 1797, he was awarded the prestigious Premier Grand Prix de Rome with his Death of Cato the Younger (École des Beaux-Arts, Paris). It launched him on a successful career as a history painter who regularly exhibited at the Paris Salons until 1819. While his contributions to the Salons included Homer Reciting his Poetry (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Angers), Innocence Yielding to Seduction (Compiègne) and Mentor and Telemachus (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Grenoble), his most accomplished works and prestigious commissions were increasingly portraits. In 1807, Bouchet was commissioned to paint Napoleon in Imperial Dress (Versailles) as a pendant to Robert Lefevre’s portrait of the Empress Josephine, and later Louis XVIII in Coronation Robes (Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence).
Bouchet met Jean-Baptiste Isabey (1767-1855) in the 1780s during their apprenticeship in David’s studio, where they were fellow pupils, and the two remained lifelong friends. Although trained as a history painter, scarcely any paintings by Isabey are known and he never exhibited any in the Salons, instead building a successful career as a miniaturist, draftsman and lithographer. Tall, handsome, charming and socially connected, Isabey was part of an exclusive intellectual and social milieu and included among his friends Chateaubriand, Madame de Staël and Madame Recamier. Married in 1791, Isabey fathered four children; surviving letters from his fellow artists Jean-Antoine Gros and François Gérard suggest that the activities of Isabey and his young family were a source of lively interest among his tight-knit circle of friends.
Bouchet exhibited individual, full-length portraits of all four of Isabey’s children at the Paris Salon of 1810, which remained with Isabey’s descendants until they were dispersed at auction in France in 1994. The portraits depict Isabey’s eldest daughter, Alexandrine (1791-1871), who as a four-year-old was famously included in a magnificent full-length double portrait of 1795 (today in the Louvre) by François Gérard, in which she is depicted tenderly holding her father’s hand; his eldest son, Hector (1797-1814); and the present portraits of his younger children Lucie (b. 1795) and Eugène (1803-1886).
Lucie, whose portrait is signed by the artist, ‘Bouchet f[ecit]’, on the lower left, was the future Madame Collon. Bouchet presents her as a playful (and perhaps naughty) teenager, running through a garden while carrying off a bird’s nest that she protects inside her upturned bonnet, its tiny inhabitants chirping eagerly. Bouchet’s vivid depiction of her lively, bright expression and billowing white muslin dress endow the image with both a youthful energy and graceful monumentality.
As befitting a well-bred young boy of the Napoleonic era, seven-year-old Eugène Isabey displays a self-possessed dignity beyond his years. Stylishly dressed, in emulation of Mamluk warriors who came to Paris with Napoleon after the Egyptian Campaign of 1798, Eugène wears a gold-brocaded red vest and red leather slippers and holds an elegantly tooled, red-enameled sword in his right hand; his left hand rests nonchalantly on the arm of a magnificent, Empire-style armchair supported by elaborately carved griffons with lion’s heads. Bouchet’s handling of the various textures of fabrics, wood, and metalwork displays a masterly command of his medium.
Eugène Louis-Gabriel Isabey (1803-1886) would grow up to achieve a degree of fame and artistic success that exceeded even that of his celebrated father. After training with his father and copying the Old Masters in the Louvre, he set up a studio with the landscapist Xavier Leprince at Honfleur. Striking out on his own the following year, he began exhibiting landscapes at the Salon in 1824. In 1830, Eugène travelled to Algiers at the invitation of the Royal Navy to paint scenes of its naval campaign. Soon thereafter he was appointed a court painter to Louis-Philippe and was awarded the Légion d’Honneur in 1832. Highly revered throughout Europe during a long career, Isabey painted landscapes, genre scenes and historical subjects, but was best-known as a master of seascapes, marine paintings and dramatic shipwrecks, in both oils and watercolor, and in his later years numbered Johan Barthold Jongkind and Eugène Boudin among his distinguished students.

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