23 x 36.2 cm. (9 1⁄16 x 14 ¼ in.)
Verso: "Studies of Heads" after Girodet, "Apotheosis of French Heros who Died for their Country during the War for Freedom," conserved at Rueil-Malmaison, Malmaison and Bois-Préau Palaces.
Black chalk and stump on beige paper
General Bibliography (Unpublished Work):
• Sidonie Lemeux-Fraitot, Stephen Bann, À l’épreuve du noir:
Girodet et la lithographie, exh. cat. Girodet Museum, Montargis:
Oct. 1st – Jan. 30th, 2011.
• Auguste Galimard, Les grands artistes contemporains:
Aubry-Lecomte, Hyacinthe-Louis-Victor-Jean-Baptiste, 1797-
1858, [3rd edition enlarged with a catalogue of drawings]
Paris, Dentu/Lévy, 1860.
“Aubry-Lecomte’s success was considerable: he was called the Prince of Lithographs, and his contemporaries said that the appearance of one of his lithographs created an event like that of a painting by a master (...)”1
Recognized as a draughtsman and lithographer, Jean-Baptiste Aubry-Lecomte was encouraged and backed by Anne-Louis Girodet (Montargis, 1767 – Paris, 1824). On his advice, he became a student at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (ENSBA) in 1818. There he received two gold medals during the National Exhibitions of 1824 and 1831. In addition to the admiration he devoted to Girodet’s work, Aubry-Lecomte also did engravings after Pierre-Paul Prud’hon’s works (Cluny, 1758 – Paris, 1823), especially mythological subjects and portraits.
The subject of our drawing is evidence of Aubry-Lecomte’s attentive observation of Girodet’s work. In a horizontal composition, soft flowing lines define Ariadne’s sleeping figure whose rounded forms imbue the image with voluptuousness and sensitivity. As if placed delicately in a landscape, her body seems void of a bone structure. Her lascivious pose is a sure echo of Girodet’s work, of which Erigone Asleep (Montargis, Girodet Museum) of 1791 is a striking example.
In a Neoclassical mode, the subtle play of light conveys a theatrical effect accentuated by the skillful use of stump. Probably realized under the master’s direction, our drawing, engraved by Aubry-Lecomte in 1822 (Paris, Carnavalet Museum), is equally marked by a sensitivity characteristic of emerging Romanticism in France whose beginnings were marked by a fascination for the depiction of sleep and dreaming. The human body in an uncontrollable state, repressed feelings, the subconscious, are what Aubry-Lecomte explores and attempts to materialize through drawing. Soft light, material effects, and limp flesh contribute to plunging the spectator into a peaceful atmosphere propitious for introspection.
Even more intriguing, the verso of our drawing presents a second sketch which is none other than a copy of a detail from Girodet’s Apotheosis of French Heros who Died for the Nation during the War for Freedom of 1801 (Rueil-Malmaison, National Museum of Malmaison and Bois-Préau), for which many sketches by Girodet are known through sixteen plates engraved by Aubry-Lecomte which were collected under the title, Collection of Head Studies. Through an eery fog, shades of the faces of French Heros received in Ossian’s aerial Palaces 2 seem to have escaped from a dream. Their striking hallucinatory gaze turned to their right again reminds us of the fascination with dream states of mind.
Considered as Girodet’s entitled lithographer, Aubry-Lecomte was such an attentive student than his works still get confounded with those of his master. Indeed, the elegance and purity of his drawings were highly successful with his contemporaries. His ease in the use of black chalk to convey the expression of feelings undeniably places him as a key Romantic artist.
1 Beraldi Henri, Les graveurs du XIXe siècle, guide de l’amateur d’estampes modernes, Nogent-le-Roi, Jacques Laget, 1981, vol. 1/2, p. 67
2The poems said to have been by Ossian dating to the 3rd century were translated at the end of the 18th century and widely disseminated throughout France. Anne-Louis Girodet devoted long study and many drawings to them.