A painting by Ary Scheffer discovered in Minnesota and donated to the Minneapolis museum

1. Ary Scheffer (1795-1848)
Christ Consoler, 1851
Oil on canvas - 60 x 80 cm
Minneapolis, Institute of Arts
Photo : MIA

8/4/09 – Discovery and acquisition – Minneapolis, Institute of Arts Christ Consoler is one of Ary Scheffer’s most important works, exhibited at the Salon de 1837 (ill. 2). This image became very popular, notably thanks to the engraving edited by Goupil. The painting today is at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, put there on deposit by the city’s historical museum. There is at least one other known version, smaller, held at the Central Museum in Utrecht [1].

A signed replica of Christ Consoler (ill. 1) was recently discovered by Reverend Steven Olson, pastor of the Lutheran church of Gethsemanie in Dassel, a town in Minnesota. The work was in a storage facility, in a deteriorated condition. After examination by Patrick Noon, paintings curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, it was finally donated to this museum which then had the canvas restored.

2. Ary Scheffer (1795-1848)
Consoler Christ, 1837
Oil on canvas - 184 x 248 cm
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum
Photo : All Rights Reserved

The painting shows no variation compared to the first version, except for the smaller size, similar to the one in Utrecht. Unlike the latter however, the artist uses the same unusual format, almost curved. The iconographic theme is complex and depicts Humanity suffering. Christ, with a weeping Mary Magadalene on his left, is breaking the chains of a dying Poland, under Russian domination at the time. In the foreground left, a woman is bending over her dead son. On the left, there are three figures representing suicide, shipwreck and exile, as well as “three suave and delicate creatures representing the heart’s anguish, the soul’s suffering during woman’s three stages of life [2]”. On the right there is a slave from Antiquity, a serf from the Middle Ages and a Greek from the modern world. The figure kneeling on the left with a crown of laurels is none other than Tasso, who turned away from Christ [3].

Such a finding would seem more likely in a French church rather than in a rural parish in Minnesota. It is however less surprising than might first appear. Nineteenth century European painters often ventured to the United States to exhibit their works, at times making veritable tours through various cities as we recounted recently in an article on the two paintings by Claude-Marie Dubufe (see news item of 20/10/08) [4]. This Scheffer canvas is probably the same one that was exhibited in 1852 at the Boston Athenaeum. There is no exact information as to how it ended up in this small town in the northern United States.

Version française

Didier Rykner, mercredi 8 avril 2009


[1] Cf. Leo Exals, Ary Scheffer, catalogue for the exhibition at the Musée de la Vie Romantique, Paris, 1996, p. 48, n°42.

[2] Piel, “Salon de 1837”, L’Européen, pp. 183-184, quoted by Bruno Foucart, Le renouveau de la peinture réligieuse en France (1800-1860), Paris, 1987, p. 133.

[3] Leo Ewals, op. cit., note 1.

[4] There is also the case of Luc-Olivier Merson, well represented in the United States, even during his lifetime (see the review of the exhibition in Rennes).

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