A pupil at Gurin's studio along with his friends Delacroix and Gricault, and one the leading voices of the Romantic movement in the 1820s, Champmartin travelled to the Holy Land in 1826-27, and returned with over 500 drawings of the Orient. His sketches, of which the present lot includes a varied selection covering his travels, clearly anticipate the sketchbooks of Delacroix's later Moroccan journey. The massacre of the Janissaries by Sultan Mahmud II at Constantinople in June 1826 (witnessed by Champmartin), would inspire the artist's large Salon exhibit of 1827 (Massacre of the Janissaries, 1828, Muse d'art et d'histoire, Rochefort), which hung alongside Delacroix's Sardanapalus in the grand salon. Knowing that Champmartin had shown Delacroix his oriental sketches in 1826, the influence on Delacroix's own closely aligned subject matter in Sardanapalus, and on the future direction of French Romanticism, owes much to the work of Champmartin, whose role in the movement was neglected until Dr John Lambertson's recent research.
Champmartin travelled to the east, departing Marseille on the Echo with the chaplain of the French Embassy to Constantinople, l'abb Desmazure (the chaplain in his distinctive hat shown measuring ruins behind the artist, sat in oriental garb, in one of the present watercolours). The present portfolio of sketches, which include scenery at Jerusalem, Jaffa, Sidon, Beirut, Syria, Cyprus and Constantinople, includes a sketch of the chaplain, artist and retinue halted under a tree at Jaffa ('... une vue de la fort enchante ...') which was later worked up into a picture (Sotheby's, 20 Nov. 1996, lot 226), and amongst the sketches at Constantinople, dogs devouring the corpse of a Janissarie on the banks of the Hellespont, the slaughter which would inspire the provocative Romantic imagery of Champmartin's Salon exhibit of 1827.
This significant collection of drawings and watercolors depicts Charles-Emile Champmartin's trip to Turkey the Near-East, and north Africa in 1826-27 and clearly illustrates his method of working. The group includes a wide variety of his landscape and architectural drawings completed on site, including quick studies, sheets with color notations, and detailed topographical images. The group also presents figure studies, which the artist completed during his trip, providing notes on color in pencil and brushing in color over his drawing in some images. Champmartin employed this technique in the sheet from his trip illustrating Middle-Eastern types in the Muse des Beaux-Arts, Rouen, and his friend Delacroix later applied this same approach to his sketches of Moroccan figures now in the Louvre.
The group also comprises an important number of developed watercolor compositions that may have been completed during his trip or once back in France from his studies of architecture, animals, and figures. This collection also reveals multiple ways in which Champmartin's compositions engaged the art market in the early nineteenth-century. Sidon, Lebanon-Camels duplicates the composition of a sheet at the Muse des Beaux-Arts, Tours, and underscores that subjects from his trip found patrons and had wide resonances with the public for many years. Black and white as well as color lithographs also reproduced his compositions. The right half of the lithograph by C. Motte in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris reproduces the composition of A Fish Seller in an Alley, Constantinople in the current lot of images and the left of the print reproduces Street in Constantinople in the Muse des Beaux-Arts, Rouen. Leon de Laborde illustrated his Voyage en Syrie (Paris, 1837) with five color lithographs after Champmartin's watercolors.
Champmartin's images from his trip also engaged audiences at the Salon of 1827, where his Massacre of the Janissaries agitated the public. According to archival documents, he submitted studies of Greek and Turkish costumes, but the jury accepted only two large frames filled with costumes from Smyrna. Perhaps some of the images in this lot appeared in front of the jury. The art critic Auguste Jal reported that Champmartin also exhibited two other works that did not appear in the Salon catalogue: Une halte d'arabes and Une porte du Saint-Spulcre. The Ministry of the Royal Household purchased Une halte d'arabes after the Salon; the painting ended up at Saint-Cloud and disappeared or was destroyed during the Franco-Prussian War. Jal noted that Champmartin painted a self-portrait in Une halte d'arabes, which suggests a striking resemblance to Jaffa, the Artist and his Retinue Halted by a Tree. Perhaps this watercolor was a study for the lost painting.
John P. Lambertson, Ph.D., Professor and Edith M. Kelso Chair of Art History, USA, 1 March 2012