The Sacrifice of Abraham
(Jean Restout)


Since the pioneering exhibition organised in 1970 by Pierre Rosenberg and Antonie Schnapper, several works, either lost or previously unmentioned in the literature, have happily surfaced to broaden our knowledge of one of ?the leading French religious painters of the eighteenth century. In contrast to the pictures recently purchased by the National Gallery of Canada (Venus presenting Arms to Aeneas, 1717) and the Berlin Gemaldegalerie (The Continence of Scipio, 1728), both characterised by incisive drawing and effective gracefulness in their compositions, this hitherto unrecorded picture displays a more mature aspect of Restout’s style. In this Sacrifice of Abraham, the artist strives for a greater simplicity of composition and does so by a powerful contrast of ‘masses, forms and colours’, elements which some of his contemporaries had already noticed as the artist’s trademark. His ‘broad’ later style is thus an answer to some of the criticism levelled against his insistence on geometric, angular drawing, which for instance caused Gault de Saint Germain to exclaim: ‘Qu’on lui ote une execution et un dessin trop anguleux qui rappellent plus le marbre d’egrossi sous le maillet du sculpteur que les formes de la nature, et lion aura de lui de belles?masses et de beaux details’ (op. cit., p. 31). This shift towards a greater clarity in the presentation of his subject can be seen as early as 1730, notably in two large works, The Ecstasy of St. Benoit and The Death of St. Scholastica, now in Tours. It remainedra characteristic of his religious compositions, culminating in such examples as this Sacrifice of Abraham. or in The Ecstasy of St. Benoit, also painted in 1746 (Church of Bourg?la?Reine), while his secular works, somewhat more contrived, often retained the chiselled appearance of his earlier work (for example, Two scenes from the Life of Alexander, 1746 (Stockholm, Royal Castle) or even the late Orpheus and Eurydice, 1763 (Rennes).

Although no drawing or painted sketch can thus far be connected with this composition, it is revealing to compare this Sacrifice with Restout’s earlier St. Peter delivered from Prison (1738, Orleans, Church of St. Pierre?de?Martroi). Beyond the analogies of iconography, the similarities are striking between the main figures of the angels and that of St. Peter in the one case, and Abraham in the other. Even the soft modelling of the arm of the sleeping soldier in the foreground of the Orleans picture is echoed in that of the bound Isaac.

106.5 x 139.8 cm.
Oil on canvas
Where is It?
Private Collection
Historical Period
Rococo - 1720-1780
Religious: Old Testament
1989-A Selection of French Paintings 1700 - 1840.
An exhibition on behalf of Médecins Sans Frontières. 154 pages, 42 colour plates, 77 black and white illustrations. £10 inc. p. & p.

(Click on image above)
Price band
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