A painting by Félix Thomas representing the site of Khorsabad acquired by the Département of Antiquités Orientales at the Louvre

Félix Thomas (1815-1875)
The Visit of the
Pacha of Mossoul to
the Excavations at Khorsabad,
formerly Niniveh

Oil on canvas - 100 x 160 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo : Musée du Louvre

1/2/10 – Acquisition – Paris, Musée du Louvre – Thanks to the Département des peintures which purchased it, the Département des Antiquités Orientales at the Louvre will be able to exhibit, in the Khorsabad room, a large painting by Félix Thomas representing the winged bulls still partly buried on this archeological site (ill.).

Elisabeth Fontan, head curator of the Département des Antiquités Orientales, had been following this painting since 1989 when it had been exhibited at the Didier Chéreau Gallery and purchased by a German collector before the Louvre could do anything. The museum finally acquired it from this same individual after the work had been published in 1994 in the special study exhibition De Khorsabad à Paris : la découverte des Assyriens [1]. Elisabeth Fontan already at that time had put forward the thesis that this was the painting exhibited at the Salon of 1863 with the title The Visit of the Pacha of Mossoul to the Excavations at Khorsabad, formerly Niniveh (n°1791). The date on it, which can definitely be seen as 1863 (the last digit is partly erased), as well as the subject confirm that this is without a doubt the same canvas.

Félix Thomas, a native of Nantes, was a student of Hippolyte Lebas and first obtained an architecture degree (he won the Prix de Rome in this subject in 1845) and was also an archeologist. He traveled in Italy, Turkey, Greece and was sent to Mesopotamia by the government with the Fresnel mission in 1851 in order to draw and carry out surveys. He stayed there for two years and visited notably Khorsabad from March to May 1853 before returning to France.
From 1855 on, Félix Thomas devoted himself mostly to painting after attending Charles Gleyre’s workshop. He specialized in oriental works inspired by his trips, especially several scenes in Assyria. Thomas also illustrated plates of Niniveh and Assyria by Victor Place, General Consul , with Restoration Attempts by Félix Thomas which served as a reference in establishing knowledge on Assyrian palatial architecture. In 1863, it had been ten years since Thomas had left Khorsabad ; the bulls themselves had been taken out in 1855. The canvas acquired by the Louvre nevertheless represents valuable visual testimony of the site. The bull on the right is at the Louvre today whereas the one on the left, alas, was lost in the Tigris after many of the crates fell into the river when attacked by a convoy.

Didier Rykner, lundi 1er février 2010


[1] Most of the information provided in this news item is taken from an excellent article by Elisabeth Fontan published in the catalogue : “Félix Thomas (1815-1875), l’architecte providentiel”, p. 102-115.

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