A Painting by Eugène Fromentin Acquired by La Rochelle

Eugène Fromentin (1820-1876)
An Arab on Horseback Carrying a Mad Man
Oil on Canvas - 63.5 x 52.1 cm
La Rochelle, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : J. L. Beuter

27/5/13 - Acquisition - La Rochelle, Musée des Beaux-Arts - The Musée des Beaux-Arts in La Rochelle has made a new addition to its collections, going as far as New York to purchase a painting by Eugène Fromentin representing An Arab on Horseback Carrying a Mad Man at Sotheby’s on 2 February 2013 for $28,125 (including fees). This work, part of the estate sale following the death of the artist, quickly joined collections in the United States and was already mentioned there in the early 20th century. It was acquired with the help of the Société des Amis des Arts.

Fromentin, who was born and died in La Rochelle, found his inspiration mainly in North Africa. A painter, but also a writer, he recounted [1] in his book "Un été dans le Sahara" how he was struck during a feast in his honor by the treatment accorded mad persons in Arab culture, much more respected than in the West. In this same book, he also describes the scene he depicted in his painting : "I remembered meeting the head of a tribe from Eastern Sahara one day, returning home, followed by a brilliant escort of horsemen and carrying a dervish behind him. This chief was an elegant young man, very handsome, and put together with that almost feminine touch particular to the Saharans of Constantine. The dervish, an emaciated old man disfigured by his mental condition, was nude under a simple gandoura of blood red color, without a hat, and swung his hideous head, topped with a long tuft of graying hair, to and fro with the rhythm of the horse’s movement. He held on tightly to the young man and appeared to be the one driving the horse, heavily laden with the two men, using his skinny heels. I greeted the young man in passing ; he wished me a good evening and heavenly blessings. The old man did not answer and spurred the horse into a trot." The text was published in 1854 but, according to Barbara Wright, the painting seems to date from the 1860’s.

This painting, like most of his works, is strongly influenced by Eugène Delacroix, and also evokes Chassériau’s Orientalist canvases. It reminds us that Eugène Fromentin is a painter who is still greatly underestimated, resulting in very reasonable sale prices, thus fortunately allowing a French provincial museum to make a purchase in the United States.

Version française

Didier Rykner, mardi 28 mai 2013


[1] The information on the painting provided in this article is taken directly from the entry written by Barbara Wright at the time of the purchase. We would like to thank the director of the museums in La Rochelle, Annick Notter, for forwarding it to us. Annick Notter also wishes to thank Barbara Wright "for the support she generously gives always to the museum in the city where Fromentin was born."

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