The mural paintings of Théodore Chassériau
Doyon, Gerard Maurice
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This study is limited to the murals of Théodore Chassériau (1819-1856). In the brief working period of less than fifteen years (1841-1855), Chassériau painted four important murals in Paris for: the church of Saint-Merri (1841-1843); the Cour des Comptes (1844-1848); the church of Saint-Roch (1851-1853); and the church of Saint-Philippe-du-Roule (1853-1855). Much of the reputation of Chassériau during his career rested on his murals, yet in less than fifty years after his death in 1856 he became virtually forgotten as a muralist. His portraits in the style of his master Ingres and his easel paintings more in the manner of Delacroix are well known but his murals have never been stuied separately. Moreover, the preparations for the murals recently willed to the Cabinet des Dessins du Louvre have not been published. The research was done almost entirely in Paris from the remaining murals, the drawings and studies, documents in archives, church records, old graphic works, architectural plans and records, articles in periodicals contemporary with the murals, and the artist's studio notes. Although Chassériau retained the decorative style of Ingres and borrowed the color of Delacroix, the artist's notes reveal a decided interest in realism. The evolution of his mural style was in this direction. The trip to Italy in 1840 and the one to Algeria in 1846 were the turning points in Chassériau's mural style. This is supported by his notes. His first two murals depended upon the classical souvenirs of Italy and is last two reflect the sun of Africa. Most of all, starting with a cool classicism close to Ingres's in his first mural, Chassériau achieved a decorative realism in his last mural. This realism has been overlooked until now but did not go unnoticed by the artist's contemporary critics in rare and forgotten articles. The same age as Courbet, the champion of realism, Chassériau was indeed an artist of his time. Yet it was the eclectic style and the exotic nature of Chassériau that influenced Puvis de Chavannes, Gustave Moreau, and the early Degas. His mural style formed a watershed of currents that found their channels only after him. The first volume contains the text. Each mural is studied separately from the first sketch to the finished work in position. Each mural is considered in its: a. architectural position; b. iconography; c. drawings and studies; d. formal elements; e. nineteenth-century criticism; f. summary. The second volume contains 210 black and white photographs. These cover the murals with several details but the greater number are of the drawings and studies along with architectural plans, diagrams, and reproductions of lost works taken from old prints. In addition, there are eight compositional studies by the author, two for each major mural . There are also two drawings by the author reconstructing for the first time the position and the iconography of the fifteen panels for the grand staircase of the Cour des Comptes burned in 1871.
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