Adam and Eve and Paradise Lost by Claude-Marie Dubufe acquired by Nantes

22/10/08 — Acquisitions — Nantes, Musee des Beaux-Arts — Last fall during the Talabardon & Gautier Gallery’s latest exhibition in Paris two paintings had created quite a sensation among 19th century French art enthusiasts. These were pendants by Claude-Marie Dubufe representing scenes from Milton’s Paradise Lost [1]. Both canvases were finally acquired by Nantes (ill. 1 and 2).

1. Claude-Marie Dubufe (1790-1864)
Adam and Eve, 1827
Oil on canvas - 307 x 250 cm
Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Talabardon & Gautier Gallery

2. Claude-Marie Dubufe (1790-1864)
Paradise Lost, 1827
Oil on canvas - 307 x 250 cm
Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Talabardon & Gautier Gallery

Presented at the Salon of 1827 and at the Royal Academy in 1829, apparently the works had not find a buyer and still belonged to the artist in 1832 when he sold them in London. The new owners, two brothers by the name of Brette, in association with James Creighton, who organized artistic tours, had the paintings shown in six different cities in United States between May 1832 and April 1835 [2] by charging an entrance fee. This practice was not unusual in the 19th century : it is well known that Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa, to name only one example, was exhibited in London and then Dublin in 1820 and 1821.

After being considered lost, these two works by Dubufe had resurfaced in Stockholm, at Bukowskis’, at an auction in the fall of 1991. The canvases are spectacular, not only in size but by their powerful compositions. A student of David, known mainly for his portraits, Claude-Marie Dubufe painted here in a very original manner : the spirit is Romantic but the form is still entirely Neoclassical. Adam and Eve (ill. 1) illustrates the moment of temptation. Under the serpent’s eye, Adam is convinced by his partner to bite into the apple she is handing to him. Eve’s extreme sensuality was noticed by both French and American critics. A journalist wrote in the Mirror : “Now that Dubufe’s paintings have left New York, we can discuss them more freely. These paintings are splendid in their licentious character but are an offense to public morals [3]”. Adam seems to be stepping out of antiquity, a reference which is underlined by the slightly ridiculous leaf conveniently hiding his masculine attributes.
The second painting (ill. 2) with its surprising colours and the reddish figure of the devil delighting in his success, reveals some parallels with the works of another of David’s students, Joseph Franque, as seen in a painting which was recently acquired by the Musee de Valence, Hercules Tearing Alceste away from Hell (see news item of 5/5/07, in French on La Tribune de l’Art).

Claude-Marie Dubufe’s son and grandson, Edouard and Guillaume, were also painters. Emmanuel Bréon devoted an exhibition and a catalogue to the three artists in 1988 [4]. At that time, these two canvases were not known and were only quoted. Two engravings done in 1860 by the American artist Henry Thomas Ryall [5], were documented however. Another large historical painting by Claude-Marie Dubufe has since also re-appeared : Jesus Christ Calming the Storm, presented at the Salon in 1819 which was found in the church of Saint-Amable in Riom [6]. Finally, let us point out that the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen acquired a painting by Claude-Marie Dubufe in 2004 (see news item of 18/4/04, in French on La Tribune de l’Art).

Version française

Didier Rykner, mercredi 22 octobre 2008


[1] The reference to Milton is made explicitly in the exhibition leaflet.

[2] The paintings were exhibited successively in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans (twice) and Charleston.

[3] Quoted in the catalogue entry published by the gallery for the exhibition (cat. 14 and 15). Much of the information for this article is drawn from this catalogue.

[4] Emmanuel Bréon, Claude-Marie, Edouard et Guillaume Dubufe. Portraits d’un siècle d’élégance parisienne, 1988, Paris. The exhibition took place in the city halls of the 9th and 16th arrondissements in Paris.

[5] These reveal some variations with the original compositions. There is a possibility that they were engraved from painted copies by James Beale Borley in 1833 which also toured around the United States. However, it seems more likely that they were based on replicas which Dubufe executed for another exhibition in New York in 1849, thus explaining the differences.

[6] Cf. the exhibition catalogue Le Retour de l’Enfant prodigue. Redécouverte de la peinture religieuse du XIXe siècle en Puy-de-Dôme, under the supervision of Thierry Zimmer, Association pour l’Etude et la Sauvegarde du Patrimoine mobilier du Puy-de-Dôme, 1996, Aurillac, p. 28-29.

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