A Painting by Guillon-Lethière Acquired by the Dallas Museum of Art

1. Guillaume Guillon-Lethière (1760-1832)
Erminia at the Shepherds’ Home, 1795
Oil on Canvas - 79.5 x 107 cm
Dallas, Museum of Art
Photo : Dallas Museum of Art

6/4/13 - Acquisition - Dallas, Museum of Art - How does one explain the fact that a masterpiece can remain on the art market for several years without finding a buyer ? We kept asking ourselves this question every time we admired Erminia and the Shepherds (ill. 1) by Guillaume Guillon-Lethière at the Galerie Talabardon & Gautier who published it in 2000 in one of their catalogues. The canvas, in excellent condition, is of exceptional quality for its composition, execution and colors and should have interested major museums.

Finally, the Dallas Museum of Art has come forward to acquire the work, exhibited at the Salon of 1795, which will join its collections as a very different example of the Neo-Classical school from Oedipus in Colonus, in a strong David style, by Jean-Antoine-Théodore Giroust, already in its galleries (see our article, in French).
Though the seated shepherd in a way recalls David’s Belisarius, the style however, is not that of traditional Neo-Classicism, presenting both a realistic manner in the representation of the vine arbor and the shepherds’ rustic home as well as a refined treatment of Erminia. The acidic colors used for her figure reveal the probable influence of Mannerist painting, a movement which we know marked some of the art of the second half of the 18th century. The beautiful landscape scene shown in the background on the right, reminds us that Guillon-Lethière was also very active in this genre.

2. Guillaume Guillon-Lethière (1760-1832)
The Oath of our Ancestors, 1822
Before the earthquake in 2010
Oil on Canvas - 400 x 300 cm
Port-au-Prince, Banque de la République d’Haïti
Photo : RMN

The son of a magistrate and a freed slave, Guillon-Lethière was one of the first Afro-European artists in Western art. This acquisition allows us to point out another recent development concerning this artist. His famous painting, The Oath of our Ancestors (ill. 2), which was restored in France already after it was found in the cathedral of Port-au-Prince, was treated this time by the C2RMF, after the earthquake which devastated Haiti in 2010 (see the news item of 12/2/10). At the time, it hung in the presidential palace which was largely destroyed by the quake (as was the cathedral in fact). The work returned to France on 14 December 2012 and is on display temporarily at the Banque de la République of Haiti while it awaits a permanent home.

Version française

Didier Rykner, lundi 8 avril 2013

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