Two Fragments of a Danloux Painting Reunited at the Louvre

1. Philipp Audinet (1766-1837)
after Henri-Pierre Danloux (1753-1809)
London, British Museum
Photo : British Museum

24/6/12 - Acquisition- Paris, Musée du Louvre - During his exile in London due to the French Revolution, between 1791 and 1801, Henri-Pierre Danloux painted a large composition entitled Pity, inspired by a poem written by abbot Delille Malheur et Pitié, which describes a scene where a father is seized by guilt after having killed someone while stealing in order to feed his children :

"On his mother’s breast their brother calls out in vain for
A few drops of milk consumed by hunger.
Around them, bare walls ; yesterday, a gloomy public auction,
Of vile furnishings dispersed the rest ;
And, making things worse, the price
Brought in by their last debris, devoured by greedy creditors.
Throughout the end, mourning and silence.
With mute despair, controlling the violence,
Their father, next to them, sad, pale and defeated.
Tormented by hunger, more so than by his act,
Turning away his eyes, overcome by the scene,
Throws them, refusing it for himself, a guilty repast,
Which they fight for with avid hands
Then, with an air, a look, a painful accent,
In which his torn heart expresses all at once
Both the excess of his ailments and the horror of his crime :
"Oh, you ! who violate the asylum of misfortune,
Stranger, have you come to spy on my pain ?
Then, come, look at these children, this mother :
Am I unfortunate enough as a man, husband and father :
Alas ! Until now my fate was less cruel ;
I was unfortunate, but not a criminal.
Go ahead, reveal everything ! I bless my punishment ;
Your laws will spare me in bringing me to justice.
Perhaps another time this somber fate
Would turn a bandit into an assassin.
Go, deliver me from this life and from myself !"
And having said these words, he succumbed to his extreme pain.

The composition of this edifying scene is known thanks to an engraving reproducing a sketch by Danloux, engraved by Philippe Audinet (ill. 1). We see that the artist repeats the description in the poem exactly : in the background we see a stranger who has come "to spy on [his] pain" ; on the right, the mother and two of her children, including a babe "on his mother’s breast [...] consumed by hunger ; on the left, two children are fighting for food "which they fight for with avid hands". The only pictorial licence the artist took is the figure of the woman lying on the ground from whom the father has stolen (and no doubt killed), added to the scene when there is no reason to show her presence.

2. Henri-Pierre Danloux (1573-1809)
Scene of Pity
Fragment of Pity
Oil on Canvas - 107 x 39 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo : RMNGP/G. Blot

3. Henri-Pierre Danloux (1573-1809)
Two Children Fighting for a Piece of Bread
Fragment of Pity
OIl on Canvas - 112.5ᅠ xᅠ 94ᅠ cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo : Sotheby’s

The fate of this painting was as dramatic as the scene it illustrates since, having remained in the hands of the artist’s son, it was sold at auction after his death to an art dealer who cut it up. The Louvre already owned, since 1976, one of the fragments corresponding to the mother seen on the floor with two of her children, donated by the Marcus gallery (ill. 2).
At the Sotheby’s auction in Paris on 21 June 2012, the museum pre-empted a second (ill. 3) representing the two children fighting for a piece of bread, for 48,750€ (including charges). There are probably three other fragments, corresponding respectively to the assassinated woman, the guilt-ridden father and the impromptu visitor.
We hope that the Louvre will soon feature this purchase in a "painting of the month" presentation, allowing visitors to see not only this recent acquisition but also the other piece which is rarely shown in its galleries.

Version française

Didier Rykner, lundi 25 juin 2012

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