Paul and Virginia
(Henri-Pierre-Léon Pharamond Blanchard)


Bernardin de St. Pierre’s Paul et Virginie (first published in 1788) became an immediate bestseller and continued inspiring songs, poems, plays, ballets, operas, and pictures well into the nineteenth century. It is the sentimental story of two children of French parentage growing up on a tropical island, the Île de France (Mauritius), their love, separation, and untimely deaths. It appealed to the same readership that enjoyed historical romances and troubadour themes.[1] This painting is unusual in the context of literary paintings for the large proportion of canvas given over to landscape rather than figures. Blanchard clearly demonstrates his first hand experience of exotic tropical flora, and includes minutely observed species from palms to cacti to Spanish moss. The scale relationship between the figures and their lush setting very effectively communicates the themes of naturalism and primitivism that appealed to the early Romantics. The episode represented here takes place when Paul and Virginia become lost on their mission to save a runaway slave. In a modern interpretation of a classic chivalric theme, Paul helps Virginia, who can no longer walk, fashion boots out of leaves for her bleeding feet. Although a large pictorial legacy developed with the numerous illustrations to the novel’s various editions, surprisingly few paintings of the subject are still known[2] and this is certainly the most Romantic.

[1] Prince Joseph Bonaparte was listed as a subscriber to a lavishly engraved 1806 edition of Paul et Virginie.

[2]They include Joseph Vernet’s La Mort de Virginie and Marguerite Gérard’s L’Enfance de Paul et Virginie. On the visual imagery of Paul et Virginie see Paul Toinet, Paul et Virginie: Répertoire Bibliographique et Iconographique, Paris, 1963.

15 15/16 by 23 5/8 inches (40.5 by 60 cm.)
Oil on canvas

EXHIBITED: New Orleans, New York and Cincinnati, Romance and Chivalry: History and Literature Reflected in Early Nineteenth Century Painting, 1996-97, no. 3.

Where is It?
Private Collection
Historical Period
Romanticism - 1810-1870
1996-Romance and Chivalry: History and Literature reflected in Early Nineteenth Century French Painting.
Hardback book. 300 pages, fully illustrated with 90 colour plates and 100 black and white illustrations. Introduction (40 pages) by Guy Stair Sainty, twelve essays, catalogue, appendix of salons 1801-24 and bibliography. £50 or $80 inc. p.& p.

(Click on image above)
Price band
Sold or not available