Scene from Walter Scott's Quentin Durward
(Ferdinand Wachsmuth)


Wachsmuth entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts as a student of Jean-Antoine Gros in 1825. Although he exhibited frequently at the Salon and became the director of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts of Versailles, only a few of his works are to be seen in public collections, notably contemporary history and battle pictures preserved at Versailles. Wachsmuth traveled to North Africa in 1832 (the same year that Delacroix visited Morocco) and this had an impact on the subject matter of his paintings for many years.

This picture is a very early work, predating Wachsmuth’s first Salon exhibition of 1833 by several years. It is one of the earliest paintings inspired by Sir Walter Scott’s extraordinarily popular Quentin Durward, which was published in 1823 and translated into French in the same year. The French historical setting of Quentin Durward, the first foreign one that Scott used, of course made the novel popular in France as did its exploration of French/Scottish sympathies, an ancient alliance which had new importance when the Bourbons went to Scotland in exile in 1795.

Scott’s French contemporary Amédée Pichot wrote in 1821 that Scott “est par excellence le poète de la chevalerie … Le talent de Walter Scott est éminement pittoresque.” [1] Scott’s novels combined dramatic adventure with great descriptive detail, and artists found both aspects of his literature inspirational. While Delacroix, another early painter of subjects from Quentin Durward, chose one of the most dramatic episodes of the novel for his masterpiece, the Murder of the Bishop of Liège, Wachsmuth turned to Scott’s evocation of “local color” for his “troubadour style” of painting. He scrupulously followed Scott’s description of Durward’s dress, a “blue bonnet with a single sprig of holly and an eagle’s feather,” and turned to a well-known portrait of Louis XI as his model for the seated monarch. [2] The episode depicted here, which takes place in a tavern, occurs early in the book but includes two crucial figures in Quentin Durward’s future. The seated gentleman whom Quentin understands to be a Maître Pierre, is actually Louis XI, whom he has come to France to protect as a member of the Scottish Company of Archers, and the serving woman, called Jacqueline, whom he meets for the first time in this scene, is actually the Countess Isabelle de Croye. The unscrupulous Louis XI was planning to use Isabelle de Croye in his scheme to defeat the Duke of Burgundy. Entrusted with escorting Isabelle to Liege, Quentin manages to save her from an awful marriage Louis has plotted, while still carrying out his mission to assist the King in his struggle for power. He also wins Isabelle’s hand for himself. For readers who know the later events of the novel and the great and chivalrous assistance Quentin will give Isabelle, the small assistance he shows her here with the platter is suggestive.

[1]”Scott is the poet of chivalry par excellence … Scott’s talent is eminently picturesque.” Quoted from Amédée Pichot, Notice sur Sir Walter Scott et ses écrits, Paris 1821, in Beth Segal Wright, The Influence of the Historical Novels of Sir Walter Scott on the Changing Nature of French History Painting, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1978, p. 49.

[2]The portrait, which he might have known from an engraving after it in Montfaucon’s Monuments de la Monarchie française, was also the one used by Delacroix and Bonington in their pictures from the novel.

[3]Les Salons retrouvés. Eclat de la vie artistique dans la France du Nord 1815-1848, exhibition catalogue, Association des Conservateurs des Musées du Nord-Pas-de-Calais, 1993, II, p.179.

26 by 32 inches (66 by 81 cm.)
Oil on canvas

Exhibited: Cambrai, 1828 [3]
Matthiesen Gallery & Stair Sainty matthiesen. ‘Romance & Chivalry’, 1996-7

Where is It?
Matthiesen Gallery
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
$50,000 - $100,000