Rome 1770 - Paris 1837
Biography & List of works
Medium: Oil On Canvas
Size: 61 x 134 cm
Given by the King to the Duchesse de Berry (her sale, Drouot, 19 April 1865, lot 288); Comtesse de la Châtre Collection, Paris; Private Collection, Paris.
Manuscript letters of the artist, Archives Nationales, O 1399 (see below); Ruth Kaufmann, “François Gérard’s Entry of Henry IV into Paris: The Iconography of Constitutional Monarchy”, Burlington Magazine, 117 (1975), p. 794, no. 7; Claire Constans, Versailles, la Galerie des Batailles, Paris, 1984, p.28.
New Orleans Museum of Art, New York Stair Sainty Matthiesen Inc, Cincinnati Taft Museum, 1996-97, Romance and Chivalry, History and Literature Reflected in Early Nineteenth Century French Painting, catalogue no. 32, pp. 41, 69, 85, 100-101, 173-174, 259, fig. 72.
Related Works: Paris Salon of 1817, full-sized painting, now in the Galerie des Batailles in Versailles; autograph replica of the Salon picture in the Musée Municipal des Beaux Arts in Chartres.
This bold and freely painted oil sketch for the full-sized painting exhibited at the Salon of 1817 (now in the Galerie des Batailles, Versailles), marks Gérard’s move towards the Romantic style. He has adopted a more flamboyant manner than in his earlier, neo-classical compositions, closer in some ways to his contemporary Gros, while the subject follows the new fashion for modern history. It is discussed in a letter from Gérard in which he stated that, though he did not usually avail himself of preliminary oil sketches, he had felt it necessary in this instance because of the importance of the subject. Pradel had viewed our painting and proposed that it should be shown to the King, whereupon Gérard requested that he be present at the viewing, given that “il s’agit d’une composition très importante dont les idées sont à peine indiquées, je souhaiterai ardemment pour l’interêt même de l’ouvrage de pouvoir expliquer mes intentions, et recueillir les observations que sa Majesté daigneroit faire.”
Henry IV’s entry into Paris marked the triumph of compromise (he converted to Catholicism in 1593), the end of the wars of religion and the return to political stability with the establishment of the Bourbon dynasty. In the context of the post-Napoleonic Restoration, this painting became a potent symbol of the moderation and reconciliation promised by the new constitutional monarchy. Accordingly, in November 1815, King Louis XVIII commissioned Gérard to depict this scene as a replacement for the Battle of Austerlitz painted by Gérard for Napoleon. Its significance was lost to no one and, in reviewing the finished painting, the official government newspaper went so far as to state that “nous ne savons si le peintre a represent le passé ou le present” (Moniteur Universel, 9 July 1817).
In armour and upon his white horse, the King is welcomed by the Provost of the Merchants, L’Hullier, who presents him with the keys to the city. He is accompanied on his right by his comrade in arms, the Maréchal de Cossé-Brissac, Governor of Paris, saluting him with his hat, Crillon holding the flag with the fleur de lys and the Maréchal de Sully, Duc de Bethune, the Cardinal de Retz, the Maréchal de Biron, (in shadow, as he was later to betray the king) and the Maréchal Duc de Montmorency, leader of the Catholic League (ancestor of Mathieu de Montmorency, a leader of the Ultras, emphasising the reconciliation of both left and right). In the foreground, on the left of the composition, appears the loyal Néret with his two sons, who had fought for Henry and opened the gates of the city; immediately behind him a standard-bearer embraces a citizen, expressing the joyous reconciliation of a divided nation – a reference to Bonaparte’s soldiers returning to a life of peace. Further to the left a war widow, dressed in black, gives thanks – a parallel reference to the loss of so many lives in Napoleon’s wars. On the right of the composition, the Maréchal de Matignon on horseback brandishes his sword; next to him, Saint-Luc d’Epinay urges a Leaguer to face the King. In the distance, one can see the Porte Neuve where the King had entered the city and the unfinished Petite Galerie (now Galerie d’Apollon) of the Louvre, whose reconstruction had been interrupted by the civil war. To demonstrate that Henri was a monarch with the feelings and desires of more ordinary men, the King’s mistress Gabrielle d’Estrées, who was certainly not present, is depicted on the balcony on the right side
The anecdotal character does not obscure the symbol of national reconciliation that this painting represented for Louis XVIII as much as for Louis-Philippe, who was keen to emphasise his connection with Henry IV to legitimise his usurpation of the crown and who exhibited it at the Galerie des Batailles in Versailles. The painting was an immediate and lasting success, exuberantly praised by artists, critics and the King himself. It was engraved by Toschi, and inspired numerous treatments of the subject by other artists. Gérard himself executed a reduced version, now in the Musée Municipal in Chartres. This sketch was acquired from Gérard by the Duchess of Berry, daughter-in-law of the future King Charles X and one of the principal patrons of artists painting modern history subjects. The reverse of the canvas bears a stamp in red: Galerie de SAR Madame/Duchesse de Berry, surmounted by a royal crown. On the stretcher is the label of the same collection.
April 2nd, 1816, to the Comte de Pradel, Director General of the Maison du Roi,
Kaufmann, op. cit.