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Lot 94: JEAN-LÉON GÉRÔME
19th Century Paintings
October 26, 2004
New York, NY, USA
signed JL Gerome (lower right)
oil on canvas
We would like to thank Gerald M. Ackerman for his assistance in the cataloguing of this work.
It was fitting that Gérôme's most opulent and grandiose composition, The Reception of the Grand Condé at Versailles, would have had as its first owner, William Henry Vanderbilt of New York. In 1876, Vanderbilt inherited $90 million and the New York Central Railroad, and in 1883, his art collection was thought to be the largest in America, with 169 oil paintings and 27 watercolors. His favorite painters were Gérôme and Meissonier, and their works hung in a picture gallery specially designed for the collection. Vanderbilt debuted his Fifth Avenue mansion and collection at a receptions in 1882 for 2000 guests. Installed in the library was Gérôme's Reception of the Grand Condé at Versailles (fig. 1). Using Samuel P. Avery as his agent, Vanderbilt had purchased the painting directly from Gérôme in 1878. Realizing the importance of a collector such as Vanderbilt, Gérôme wrote a personal letter to accompany the painting:
In the year 1674 Condé had returned to court, where he was received in triumph. The King came forward to meet him on the grand staircase, which was not his usual habit. The Prince was going up slowly, on account of the gout, which made him almost helpless. As soon as he saw the monarch, 'Sire,' said he, 'I beg your Majesty's pardon, to make you wait so long.; 'My cousin,' answered the King, 'do not hurry. When one is so loaded with laurels as you are, it is difficult to walk quickly.' Louis XIV pressed him in his arms, and embraced him repeatedly. By the side of Louis XIV stands his son, the Duke of Burgundy, whom they called the Great Dauphin, at that time thirteen years old. He died while young without having reigned, and was the father of Louis XV. Behind him is the preceptor Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux. On the right and left are members of the court. Gérôme continued: I have worked upon it without intermission to reach the desired end, and I hope that I have succeeded. I hope also that you will be satisfied for I have done my best to arrive at this result. (Catalogue of the W. H. Vanderbilt Collection of Paintings, New York, 1886, p. 112)
Gérôme had considered The Reception of the Grande Condé as a subject long before he painted it. In notes published after his death, he explained the delay:
I thought for a long time about Louis XIV receiving the Grand Condé, especially during a period where I had several paintings depicting scenes of the time underway and for which I had put out considerable money for costumes [most likely he was thinking of l'Eminence grise]. I was really all set up to do such work...I dreamed about it, I got glimpses of it; but what I lacked was ---as they say -the setting, until, rummaging about, I discovered an engraving of the period which depicted the great Staircase of the Ambassadors, with its flight of stairs and double turn....I' m sorry that the work isn't in the Museum of Chantilly, which would be its natural place. The Duc d'Aumale has often reproached me for not having told him about it [before it was sold] but I had to make him understand that I couldn't, and he was understanding about it [the Duc d'Aumale was a friend of Gérôme but probably could not have competed with the price Vanderbilt paid for the painting (100,000 francs)]. The Duke gave the estate, chapel, château, collections and grounds of Chantilly to the French state as the Musée Condé].
Gérôme's conception of the incident is marvelously balanced between a subtle handling of the anecdote and a straightforward glorification of Condé. True to academic practice, Gérôme has not depicted the moment of the King's reply, but the moment before, as Condé, exhausted, pauses on the steps. The King's elegant response is foreshadowed by the festive scattering of laurel wreaths on the stairs.
As stated in his notes, the 17th century costumes in Gérôme's closet had been props for several of his baroque subjects painted around 1875, the most famous being L'Eminence grise (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). These paintings were more or less specific in their telling of anecdotes. They differ from Louis XIV and the Grand Condé in that they are more humorous than patriotic. This painting-the apotheosis of one of the greatest of French generals from France's greatest period-was designed to exult the hearts of Frenchmen still smarting from the defeat of Napoleon III at Sedan eight years earlier.
Gérôme's Condé project could not take form until he had found the appropriate setting for the background. The Staircase of the Ambassadors had been the reception area of the original Versailles built by Louis LeVau. It was destroyed during later remodeling by Mansart under Louis XV. An engraving by Surgue, which Gérome luckily discovered, provided him a view of its original appearance. The staircase, seen straight on and complete in its symmetry in the print, has been cropped and placed at an angle. As usual, Gérôme has given the spectator a place to stand alongside the path of the Duke as he approaches the steps. The Duke, his companions on the staircase and the King and his retinue are painted so finely and delicately that they seem to even surpass Gérôme's usual high standards. Particularly exquisite is the figure of the young prince, the Grand Dauphin. Behind the Dauphin stands Bossuet, the Bishop of Meaux, whose funeral eulogy of the Grand Condé would become one of his most famous orations. The rest of the entourage is in softer focus as one moves away from the main figures. The painting is planned to be seen from a distance, and when approached, to be scrutinized from the center.
PROPERTY FROM HSBC'S CORPORATE ART COLLECTION
William H. Vanderbilt, New York, 1878 (purchased directly from Goupil, using Samuel P. Avery as agent, for 100,000 francs ($23,000)
Brigadier General Cornelieus Vanderbilt (sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, April 18-19, 1945, lot 138, as Reception of the Prince de Condé by Louis XIV)
Mr. Hulitt C. Merritt, Pasadena, purchased at the above sale
Mr. George L. Castera, Bel Air, by 1956
Armand du Vanne Gallery, Los Angeles, by 1969
Sale, Sotheby's New York, May 26, 1993, lot 70 (purchased by Edmond Safra for Republic National Bank)
38 by 55 in.
96.5 by 139.7 cm.
Paris, Salon, 1885
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1902-1920, on extended loan
Edward Strahan, The Art Treasures of America, Philadelphia, 1879, vol. II, p. 102-103, 106 (illustrated), and in the 1977 facsimile edition, vol. III, pp. 96, 97, 108, (illustrated opposite p. 100)
Edward Strahan, ed., Gérome: A Collection of the Works of J.L. Gérome in One Hundred Photogravures, Philadelphia, 1880, vol. III, pp. 96-7, 101, 102, illustrated Catalogue of the Wm. H. Vanderbilt Collection, New York, 1886, p. 112
Fanny Field Hering, The Life and Work of Jean Léon Gérôme, New York, 1892, p. 239
Frédéric Masson, 'J.L. Gérôme, Notes et fragments des souvenirs inédits du maîtré.' Les Arts, 1904, p. 30
Gerald M. Ackerman and Richard Ettinghausen, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, Ohio, 1972, no. 28
Gerald M. Ackerman, The Life and Work of Jean-Léon Gérôme with a Catalogue Raisonné, London, 1986, pp. 108, 242, no. 265 (illustrated) and 2000 edition, no.265, pp. 111, 112, 135, 292, 293 (illustrated)
Eric Zafran, Cavaliers and Cardinals, exh. cat., Cincinnati, 1992, p. 12 (illustrated)
DeCourcy E. McIntosh, et al., Gérôme & Goupil: Art and Enterprise, exh. cat., (French and English editions), Paris, 2000, pp. 38, 40 (illustrated installed in the W. H. Vanderbilt mansion)