Lot Content

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
Alfred de Dreux (French, 1810-1860)
Alfred de Dreux (French, 1810-1860)

Africain tenant un cheval au bord d'une mer

Alfred de Dreux (French, 1810-1860)
Africain tenant un cheval au bord d'une mer
signed 'alfred De dreux' (lower right)
oil on canvas
16 x 12 7/8 in. (40.6 x 32.7 cm.)

Lot Essay

With Géricault and Carl Vernet, Alfred de Dreux is the most famous equestrian artist of the 19th century. His tremendous facility as a painter in rendering the horse even more beautiful, glossier, larger, more refined and more alive is comparable to Boldini transforming his well-heeled sitters into his own idealised and highly stylized version of la femme.

Alfred de Dreux's earliest and most important influence came from Théodore Géricault who shared an atelier with de Dreux's uncle, the painter Dedreux-Dorcy (It was Dedreux-Dorcy, at the time of Géricault's death, who purchased the 'Raft of the Medusa', unpaid for as it was by the Beaux-Arts, and in turn sold it to the Louvre). There are three portraits of the young Alfred de Dreux by Géricault, the most famous of which is in the collection of New York's Metropolitan Museum. This early influence destined de Dreux for a career as a painter of horses - the leitmotif of an illustrous career. After a sojourn in England, de Dreux remained at the service of both an England enamoured of horses and a France under the influence of anglomania. Commissions from both Louis-Philippe and Queen Victoria brought de Dreux other clients of the aristocracy on both sides of the channel.

It is, however, insufficient to speak of de Dreux as purely a painter of horses, for both in subject matter and manner of painting he is above all a Romantic painter. He is tied to the romantic movement in his bold use of colour and by the tremendous energy of his horses whether at a full gallop or momentarily as a halt - always poised but restless as if ready to leap away. His landscapes are similarly lush, expansive and at times exotic. The sum of these painterly qualities is what has enabled the best of de Dreux's oeuvre to endure.

A number of Arab subjects mark de Dreux's career beginning with the Louvre's 1838 Radjiit Sing Baadour, Roi de la Hore and culminating in a series of paintings of Nubian riders and grooms. These were ideal subjects to exploit the contrast of red and black, allowing de Dreux to drape his subjects in the most extravagant of trappings.

'Ces Chevaux du désert, portraits éclatants de force et de fougue, aux selles enrichies de broderies précieuses, montés par de fiers cavaliers africian vêtues aussi richements que leurs montures, ou tenus en main dans de belles attitudes au repos, sont une des gloires de l'expression orientaliste' (M.C. Renauld-Beaupère, Alfred de Dreux, le peintre du cheval, p. 15).

A vicarious orientalist who never visited the East, de Dreux had no difficulty in finding props for his more exotic works. Orientalism was so in vogue in Paris that most ateliers were filled up with tapestries, tack, metal and leather goods - the bric-a-brac of the voyage à l'orient that was de rigueur for most Salon painters. 19th Century photographers of North Africa and Turkey were readily available and the Arab horses themselves, such as those belonging to the captives Abu El Kadar, were easily viewed by de Dreux at his frequent visits to the Royal stables of Napoleon III.

In the present picture, de Dreux is restrained, focusing his attention on the contrast of sinous strength and the curving lines of the stallion and the delicacy with which he drops his head to drink. His African groom, a pretext for the same play of strength at rest, leans against the horse in easy camaraderie. The languid air and delicate glazes give greater force to the bold colours and barren landscape in this sensually elegant double portrait.

To be included in the forthcoming De Dreux catalogue raisonné currently being prepared by Marie-Christine Renauld-Beaupère.

More from Nineteenth Century European Art

View All
View All