Colin, Alexandre-Marie

Paris 1798 - Paris 1873
Biography & List of works

La Belle Orientale

Medium: Oil On joined Panel

Size: 43 x 38 cm

Signed: lower right: A. Colin

Five year’s the junior of Eugène Delacroix, Colin entered the École des Beaux Arts in 1814, first as a pupil of Girodet, but then joining Guérin’s studio in 1816, in which the young Eugène Delacrois had also enrolled. He and Delacroix both attracted the attention of their teachers, winning drawing and composition prizes and were in the vanguard of the new wave of artists who decisively rejected the rigid conventions established by David. Throughout the 1820s they remained close friends, sharing a studio and even lithographing each other’s works. In 1825 Colin and Bonnington went on an extended trip together, Bonnington taking up Colin’s love of modern historical and literary subjects while Colin embraced Bonnington’s fluid landscape technique. Although he had several early successes and his Massacre at Chios, exhibited at the same time as Delacroix’s larger work, was a considerable achievement, and in the 1830s, perhaps influenced by Delacroix he painted some Orientalist subjects, including a Bedouin, shown at the Salon of 1835 and the Guards of the Imam of Musqat, exhibited in 1841. A frequent exhibitor at the Salon from 1819 until 1868, he concentrated primarily on subjects from historical or literary sources, while painting a few landscapes and enjoying a reputation as an accomplished portraitist. Over the course of his long career he gradually modified his style, making it more acceptable to Salon juries which had rejected several of his early works from the 1820s for the very painterly qualities that we admire today . An outstanding example of such works is the Giaour and Hassan, from Byron’s poem, first exhibited at the 1826 Exposition pour les grecs (along with Delacroix’s and Horace Vernet’s paintings of the same title) but then rejected (with Delacroix’s painting) by the 1827 jury. The recent inclusion of this latter work in the monumental Constable to Delacroix exhibition at the Tate, London, has exposed him to a much wider audience. The Polynesian scene exhibited here was not the only exotic work of this nature; he also painted scenes of life in the West Indies, and in 1841 showed a View in Calcutta. Colin’s later works are sometimes less robust and more constrained by academic convention than his earlier ones, but nonetheless display his talents as a draftsman and his vivid palette. Colin never ultimately attained the fame of either Bonnington or Delacroix and, by 1850, seems to have lost momentum, taking up a teaching assignment at the Academy of Nîmes.

Colin’s refined brushwork was particularly suited to the smaller scale historical and literary subjects to which he introduced his close friend Bonnington. Here Colin painted an intimate, but reserved, orientalist scene. The veiled and bejewelled woman leans covered, coyly away from her intrigued admirer; she glances away from him, clearly in control of the situation. Luxurious silks and furs swathe a sofa on which the couple sit, pillows at their feet. Rich rugs and furs decorate the floor. Plumes of incense in the foreground echo clouds that drift among towers of a hilltop fort in the background.