Medium: Oil On Canvas
Size: 46.5 x 55.5 cm
France, Private Collection, 1992; New York, Private Collection.
Paris, Salon of 1837, no. 362; New Orleans Museum of Art, New York Stair Sainty Matthiesen, Cincinnati Taft Museum of Art, Romance and Chivalry: Literature and History reflected in early nineteenth century painting, June 1996 – February 1997
Byron’s epic satire Don Juan was published between 1819 and 1824 and, like his other works, soon became an inspiration to French Romantic artists. Gillot Saint-Evre was the first to exhibit a picture of Don Juan and Haydée at the Salon, in 1827. It remained a popular subject into the second half of the century. The idyllic love affair between the hero and Haydée was the subject of the poem’s second canto. After being exiled from Spain for his affair with Julia, Don Juan was the sole survivor of a shipwreck which landed him on a Grecian island, the stronghold of the pirate Lambro. He was found there by Lambro’s beautiful daughter, Haydée who, with her servant, took him to a cave to nurse him back to health in secret. After dressing and feeding him, she tried to teach him her language:
And then fair Haydée tried her tongue at
But not a word could Juan comprehend,
Although he listen’d so that the young
Her earnestness would ne’er have made
(Canto II, clxi)
Colin was attentive to Byron’s rich descriptive detail; he included among the details of the composition Don Juan’s “clean shirt, and very spacious breeches,” the Turkish garb that Haydée supplied, oysters, the “amatory food” for Don Juan’s nourishment, and Haydée’s bare foot. The face of Colin’s Don Juan was based on the well-known likeness of the poet.
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.