Galatea (A Study for the Head of Galatea)
(Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson)


Montargis 1767-1824 Paris

A Study for Galatea

Oil on canvas
46 x 38.5 cm (18 1/8 x 15 1/8 in)

Collection Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson (inventory after death 11 April 1825);
Sold for 665 francs to Pannetier?
Collection Rosine Becquerel-Despreaux, niece and only heiress of the artist
(mentioned in the inventory made at the château de Bourgoin by M. Salouzes, Notary, the home of her husband, March 4th, 1835, no. 32);
Collection Edmond Filleul (mentioned in his own inventory, 1850);
By descent to the heirs of the Peyiague family:
Sale, Sotheby’s, Monaco, June 21, 1991, lot 28.

Girodet 1767-1824, Musée de Montargis, 1967, no. 45, reproduced fig. 45.
Stair Sainty Matthiesen Inc, New York & Matthiesen Fine Art Ltd., London, Eighty years of French painting: From Louis XVI to the Second republic 1755-1855, Autumn 1991, pp.43-45, no. 14 ill.

Perpignon, Catalogue des tableaux, ésquisses, dessins et croquis de M. Girodet-Trioson, peintre d’histoire, membre de l’Institut … de divers ouvrages faits dans son école, Paris, 1825, no. 53.
S.Bellenger, Girodet 1787-1824, Gallimard, Paris 2005, exhibition catalogue Paris Musée du Louvre; Chicago, The Art Institute; New York, The Metropolitan Museum; Montreal, Museum of Fine Arts, 2005-2007, p.471, cat.141.

In his last years Girodet was largely unmoved by the stylistic and technical revolutions of the Restoration era, paying scant regard to new artistic conventions. While he produced a handful of drawings of ‘troubadour’ subjects and wrote admiringly of the refined manner of the painters specializing in this genre, he never attempted to work in this style himself. Considering himself outside the Parisian artistic world, he long felt that he had been unfairly victimized by the Napoleonic artistic establishment. Since he had refused to comprom¬ise with the Napoleonic dictatorship, it is hardly surprising that he did not endear himself to Vivant Denon (director of the Napoleonic National Museum). Following the Restoration, Girodet sent almost all his major works to the Salon of 1814, hoping, perhaps, that at last he might attain the recognition he craved. His decision to virtually abandon his career as a history painter, however, seems to have led the Crown to prefer to advance his rivals, Gerard and Gros, who continued to present major works at successive Salons.

Commissioned by an Italian collector, Giovanni Battista Sommariva [3], Girodet’s Salon painting Pygmalion and Galatea took eight years to execute and is the last major work of the artist’s career which he intended to be the masterpiece of the French School (Fig.1.) . In both manner of execution and subject it seems to look back to a decade earlier. In effect a prototype for this composition might well have been Vincent’s 1789 Zeuxis Choosing His Models among the Most Beautiful maidens of Croton (Fig.2 detail) . Girodet’s late masterpiece was exhibited at the Salon of 1819 and then virtually disappeared from view for 128 years being known only from engravings until it finally resurfaced at the Montargis exhibition in 1967 and now since 2002 hangs in the Louvre. It represents the artist’s final attempt at reaffirming his reputation as a history painter. As told by Ovid, Pygmalion was a Cypriot king who, finding none worthy of his love and ‘revolted by the many faults that have been implanted in the female sex’ determined never to marry, a decision he shared with Girodet. He carved an ivory statue of his ideal woman with which he promptly fell in love. In answer to his prayers the image was brought to life by Aphrodite and Pygmalion subsequently married her; in later adaptations of this story the statue is given a name, Galatea. It is a strange tale of obsession and one can easily understand just why it satisfied Girodet’s own paranoia. Rousseau had given the myth new life by including a hundred lines dedicated to Pygmalion in his poem Le Peintre in the fifth canto.

Girodet represents the moment when the king reaches up to help the statue-woman step down from her plinth. Despite the slightly retardataire nature of the finished composition, the study for the head of Galatea exhibited here demonstrates a degree of refinement equal to the very best of his work. The delicately painted head is certainly a portrait, the sitter’s downcast eyes and modest expression capture most effectively the moment when the beautiful statue is suffused with life; according to Levitine this particularly appealed to the King when the artist presented him with the finished work. The thinly painted, scumbled background, in providing a contrast to the more highly-worked face, gives a sense of volume which contributes to the concept of the animation of a statue. The artist made some minor changes in the finished painting, notably to the hair of the model. There are several preparatory drawings for the Salon painting and many recorded in the literature which are now untraced. An unpublished black chalk drawing of a head, clearly related to the exhibited study, passed through the Paris sale rooms on December 11th 2009 (Fig.3).

Fig.1. Fig.2 (detail)

18 1/8 x 15 1/8 inches (46 x 38.5 cm)
Oil on canvas

Matthiesen Gallery & Stair Sainty Matthiesen, ’50 paintings’, 1993

Historical Period
Neoclassicism - 1780-1820
Price band
Sold or not available