The Death of Virginia by Gabriel-François Doyen Joins the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rennes

1. Gabriel-François Doyen (1726-1806)
The Death of Virginia, 1756/1758
Oil on Canvas - 77 x 129 cm
Rennes, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes

6/12/11 - Acquisition - Rennes, Musée des Beaux-Arts - The Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rennes acquired a large sketch for the Gabriel-François Doyen painting, The Death of Virginia (ill. 1) from a private collection for 170,000€ [1], thus pursuing its aim to consolidate its holdings of French painting for the second half of the 18th century.

The artist had begun this immense composition (385 x 660 cm) after returning from Rome in 1756. He finished it in 1758 and displayed it in his studio, before presenting it the following year at the Salon.
There, it was immensely popular and earned Doyen instant celebrity. Despite some criticism, always inevitable under his severe scrutiny, Diderot appreciated the canvas : "The Death of Virginia by Doyen is an immense composition where there are some very beautiful things. The flaw is that the main figures are small and the accessories are big. Virginia is a failure ; neither Appius nor Claudius the father nor the daughter move me ; rather the ordinary people, the soldiers and other characters who also are beautifully done ; and the draped fabrics so soft, rich and of a surprising color. There are other pieces by him which are very inferior to this one." The painting was finally bought by the Infante Don Felipe de Borbón, the new Duke of Parma, for the recent Galleria Nazionale di Parma [2] where it resides today.

2. Gabriel-François Doyen (1726-1806)
The Death of Virginia, 1756/1758
Pen and brown ink, gray and brown wash - 18.4 x 30.8 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo : RMN

The Département des Arts Graphiques at the Louvre owns a preparatory study for this canvas (ill. 2) which established a school of sorts, inspiring many painters to treat the same subject. Among them, there is notably Guillaume-Guillon Lethière : though the final work, held at the Louvre, may at first glace seem very different from Doyen’s, the preparatory studies, twelve of which were acquired by the museum a few years ago (see news item of 18/12/03 in French), show just how much he was influenced by the master. We should also point out another example of an artist marked by Doyen, the little-known Charles Moreau whose own version of The Death of Virginia was recently sold at Christie’s Paris (see news item of 17/6/11 in French).

Version française

Didier Rykner, mardi 6 décembre 2011


[1] The funds were donated by the newspaper Ouest-France.

[2] See Marc Sandoz, Gabriel François Doyen 1726-1806, Paris, 1975, pp. 31-32.

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