Jean Louis Hamon (1821 - 1874)

Lot 113: Jean-Louis Hamon , French 1821-1874 La Nuit oil on canvas


October 23, 2008
New York, NY, US

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Description: signed J. L. HAMON inscriped CAPRI and dated 1866 (lower right) oil on canvas
Dimensions: measurements 16 1/4 by 12 3/8 in. alternate measurements 41.2 by 31.4 cm
Exhibited: Dahesh Museum, Cupids, Flights of Fancy, Love and Mischief, February 15-June 8, 1996, no. 14 (discussed and illustrated in the exhibition guide)
Notes: Although originally destined for the priesthood, Hamon traveled to Paris and, with Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres' encouragement, embraced the arts. He entered the studio of Paul Delaroche in 1839, managed by artist Charles Gleyre after Delaroche's death. In 1848 Gleyre urged Hamon to become a designer for the Sèvres porcelain factory, where he developed his precise, delicate and ethereal style, as exemplified in the present work. Further inspiration came from Hamon's commission to illustrate the French writer, poet, and journalist Joseph Mery's poem Vierges de Lesbos (The Virgins of Lesbos) and the present composition was the third theme of the preparatory drawings (Eugène Hoffman, Jean Louis Hamon, Peintre (1821-1874), Paris, 1882, vol. I, p. 740). In 1868 a composition closely related to the present work entered the collection of Philadelphian Henry Gibson (who later bequeathed the work to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1896 and was sold in these rooms on October 29, 2002). After viewing Gibson's Hamon, Edward Strahan devoted a lengthy discussion in his Art Treasures of America to this mysterious scene, in which "the lights of Capri gleam from the distance of this pretty little fancy" where "two girls are flying, fathoms above the sea their drapery stretched out horizontally by the stress of their motion... Who is their Mab, the captain of their dreams? It is none other than Dan Cupid, who has leaped right upon their shoulders... The girls drive wildly forward... still moist with wine spilt in the orgies of Tiberius" (facsimile edition, New York, 1977, pp. 67-68). Strahan notes the classical influences of the work; indeed, Hamon, along with Gérôme and Picou, was associated with the Neo-Grèc or Pompeian movement in France, which sought to revive ancient Greek motifs in painting. Often such motifs were combined with post-classic visual metaphors and ideas that, though visually spectacular, often obscured a decipherable meaning. Strahan terms the work an "epigram," revealing that its classical form belies a more unusual context (p. 68). Though inscribed with the title La Nuit (Night), the visual iconography is atypical. While the goddess Night is usually personified by a flying figure holding two children, a fair-haired Sleep and dark Death, here the goddess is represented by the two maidens--or perhaps the children have become the flying figures driven by Cupid's whip. The lack of explicable narrative is precisely what gives the works such evocative appeal (Cupids, Flights of Fancy, Love and Mischief, n.p).
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