Medium: Oil on unlined canvas
Size: 23 x 30.5 cm
Signed: Signed and dedicated bottom-left: Ary Scheffer á Pauline Viardot
Pauline Viardot (1821-1910); vente Viardot, Paris, 27 June 1910, no.15.
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, no. 51, pp. 132-133, 265; ills., fig. 92.
Ary Scheffer (Dordrecht 1795 – Argenteuil near Paris 1858) received his first lessons in art from his parents Cornelia Lamme and Johann-Bernhard Scheffer, both of whom were painters. From 1806 to 1809 he studied at the Academy of Drawing in Amsterdam. In 1808, still only thirteen, he had his first success, exhibiting a picture whose theme was taken from Roman history, painted in a fairly monochrome, Rembrandtesque palette. After his father’s death in 1809 his mother took the boy to Paris, where he became a pupil of the neoclassical painter Guérin in 1811.
During the Bourbon restoration monarchy (I814/15-1830) Scheffer took an increasingly active part in politics. A supporter of liberal reform, he was a fierce opponent of the conservative Bourbon regime. He was on friendly terms with General La Fayette, a leading opposition figure, and was involved in the Carbonari plots to overthrow the government. The Greek independence movement excited his imagination and he produced six works inspired by their struggle against the Turks. Of these the Souliot Women (Salon of 1827, where it was purchased by the Nation) and the Greek Women Imploring the Virgin for Assistance are two of the most notable.
Having established as a reputation as both a genre and history painter and as a successful portraitist, he became one of the leaders of the Romantic movement. Scheffer had been drawing master to the Duke of Orléans’ children since 1822 and was on friendly terms with the family (painting numerous portraits of them). Orléans had acquired several of Scheffer’s early paintings including our Greek Women and proved a loyal patron. Following the July revolution of 1830 the Duke of Orléans became King of the French as Louis-Philippe I, further securing the artist’s position. Scheffer is best remembered for his Dante and Virgil Encountering the Shades of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta, an icon of nineteenth century painting, of which the finest example may be seen in the exhibition Romance and Chivalry.
Dante’s damned lovers Paolo and Francesca, a subject with which Scheffer painted several times over some thirty-three years, remains this artist’s most famous image. Described by Scheffer’s contemporary biographer Mrs. Grote as “the greatest of the products of Scheffer’s poetic pencil which burst upon the world of art”, the first version of the painting, now in the Wallace collection, was once recognized as one of the masterpieces of the century. Mention of a painting titled Les ombres de Françoise de Rimini et son amant apparaissant au Dante et Virgile first appears listed under Scheffer’s name in the Salon livrets as early as 1822 and 1824, but apparently no such subject was exhibited either year and it is likely that it remained only a project. The painting appeared at last in the Salon of 1835, described in the livret as belonging to the Duc d’Orléans (now in the Wallace Collection). Receiving high acclaim for the painting, Scheffer was awarded the Legion d’Honneur following the close of the Salon. The enormous popularity of this work encouraged the artist to paint a number of replicas in various sizes, at times with subtle changes. Those replicas which are dated generally come from the 1850s, following the return of the original work to the artist’s studio for some restoration work and his production of the largest of all the versions, painted for Coutn Krasiniski (ex Stair Sainty Gallery). Though Scheffer continued throughout his career to have a remarkable facility for a wide range of styles (viewed by his critics as stylistic hesitancy), his monumental scale works produced during the 1840s, tended to be in his cool, refined Ingresque manner. His later production of major replicas of his triumphant Francesca suggests a reinvestigation of his earlier, more “Rembrandt-esque” style. Scheffer’s financial situation following the 1848 Revolution was far from secure and the replication of the famous Francesca may have been a happy means of increasing his income.
The Francesca‘s fame and popularity were spread through numerous engravings,reaching a broad international audience, despite Scheffer’s withdrawal from public exhibition after the Salon of 1846.
This intimately sized version of the Francesca is dedicated to Pauline Viardot (1821 -1900), a celebrated opera singer of the period and friend and protegé of George Sand. Mme. Viardot was the wife of Scheffer’s old friend Louis Viardot (a writer, art critic and political figure), and became a close personal friend of the artist herself. The Viardots were part of the circle of musical and literary friends who gathered at Scheffer’s studio before he withdrew from public life, and they continued to be close to him until his death.Related works: Les Ombres de Francesca da Rimini et de Paolo Malatesta Apparaissent a Dante et Virgil, 166 x 234cm, The Wallace Collection, London; Les Ombres de Francesca da Rimini et de Paolo Malatesta Apparaissent a Dante at Virgil, 171 x 239 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris.