Ary Scheffer was born in Dordrecht in 1795, the son of portrait- and history painter Johan Bernard Scheffer (1765-1809) and Cornelia Lamme (1796-1839), a painter of minatures. After training by his father, Scheffer became court painter to Louis Napoleon in Amsterdam. He left for Paris in 1811, where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and with P.N. Gurin. He was later influenced by Delacroix and Gricault. Scheffer soon became a much sought after artist, with high prices being offered for his works at the Paris Salons. Apart from travelling to England and Holland, he remained in France, and died in Argentueil.
Most of Scheffer's work remained with his family until after the death of his daughter, who bequethed 341 drawings and a number of pictures to the Dordrechts Museum in 1900, and other pictures to the Louvre, Paris.
In 1877, at the age of twenty three, Vincent van Gogh worked with the bookdealers Bluss & van Braam in Dordrecht. Opposite the bookshop was Ary Scheffer's statue, a tribute to the city's famous son. Van Gogh was fascinated by the Scheffer's work and after seeing his picture Christ at Gethsemane in the Dordrechts Museum, he wrote to his brother Theo "that is something never to forget" (V. van Gogh, Verzamelde Brieven, Amsterdam, 1974, I, p. 92). The picture was Scheffer's first version of the composition, dated 1839, the year it was exhibited at the Paris Salon. While his other pictures exhibited at the 1839 Salon were well received, the critics were unimpressed by this particular work, judging Scheffer's Christ as too human, and lacking the spiritual impact. Scheffer withdrew the picture from the Salon before it closed, overpainted the Angel in the upper right, and gave it to his mother as a birthday present on 23 April 1839. It remained in his workshop until his death, when it was bequethed to the Dordrechts Museum (L.J.I. Ewals, De Christus in Getsemane van Ary Scheffer, Antiek, 10, May 1994, pp. 454-9, fig. 1).
Scheffer painted a second version of the same subject, including the Angel, carefully adjusting the composition according to the criticism given at the Salon. Ewals (Ary Scheffer 1795 * 1858 Gevierd Romanticus, Zwolle Dordrecht, 1995, pp. 236-9. no 57) dates it to circa 1839, and records it as having been last seen at the exhibition of Scheffer's work in Paris in 1859, only knowing it from an engraving by A. Caron dated 1855 (fig. 1). Apparently unknown to Ewals, the second version is known from an old photograph at the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, The Hague. According to information on the photograph it was dated 1845, and exhibited at the Scheffer exhibition in Paris in 1859 as no. 58. It is recorded as in the Collection of Lord Samuel Ashton of Hyde, Broadwell Hill, Moreton in Marsh, Gloucestershire.
The present lot is a finished study for the second version, closely comparable to the engraving and the picture from the Ashton Collection. Scheffer presented a sketch of the composition to Frdric-Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty in New York, or his brother Jean-Charles, who were both his pupils in the 1850s (now in the Muse Bartholdi, Colmar, Ewals, op.cit., 1994, fig. 6)