12.8 x 15.8 cm. (5 x 6 ¼ in.)
Oil and gouache highlights over black chalk lines on laid paper
• France, private collection
• De David à Delacroix: La Peinture française de 1774 à 1830 (exh. cat.), Paris, Grand Palais, 1974.
• Jean-Pierre Cuzin, “François-Joseph Heim (1787-1865): peintre d’esquisses,” Bulletin de la Société d’Histoire de l’Art français, 1991.
François-Joseph Heim’s artistic education began in Belfort in 1789. His father, Joseph Heim, who was a drawing professor, gave him his first lessons before sending him to the central school in Strasburg where the young boy won first prize in drawing at the age of 11. His undeniable talent encouraged his father to send him to Paris five years later to enter François-André’s studio (1746-1816). Rapidly, François-Joseph was surrounded by the best artists of his time whom he frequented in Vincent’s studio, including Horace Vernet (1789-1863). Seeking the Prix de Rome, Heim produced a work entitled The Return of the Prodigal Son (current location unknown) for which he won second prize. He won First Prize the following year by presenting Theseus, Conqueror of the Minotaur, a canvas which, in addition to its academic character, already indicates his skillfulness in handling colors (Paris, ENSBA, inv. PRP 45).
After his stay at the French Academy in Rome between 1808 and 1811, the artist returned to Paris and regularly exhibited in the Salon, including in 1812 and 1817, and won the First Class medal twice. Heim received many honors in his lifetime, including Knight of the Legion of Honor in 1827, and Officer of the Legion of Honor in 1855. In 1829, he became a member of the Institute in the painting section, by assuming the chair of Jean-Baptiste Regnault who had died that same year. Furthermore, he became Vice President, and then President of the Institute in 1853.
From his apprenticeship under Vincent, Heim developed a major interest in grand historical, religious, and mythological subjects, as can be seen in his choice of subject for his 1807 shipment.
Praised for the quality of execution of his works, he rapidly met with success through many official commissions to which he responded enthusiastically. In Versailles, he produced works for the Gallery of Battles; in Paris, he realized more than ten pictures for Parisian churches. The artist stood out equally well in secular painting by producing some works for the National Assembly (decoration of the Lecture Room), as well as several ceiling paintings for the Louvre.
To produce these mostly large-scale works, Heim did multiple very small scale oil sketches on paper and on canvas. Our work seems to be an example of this production. Comparison with certain known sketches by the artist’s hand, such as The Death of a Hero from Antiquity (ill. 1), turns out to be completely coherent. Realized in oil on a sheet of paper no more than 13 cm. high, it displays the powerful use of color as an instrument in constructing composition. Our sketch depicts Perseus and Andromeda, a subject from Antiquity treated many times by peers such as Gustave Moreau (Andromeda, Gustave Moreau Museum, inv. 15499). Appreciated for its dramatic propensities, the subject perfectly illustrated the Romantic strain which gripped the early part of the century. According to mythology, Andromeda, an Ethiopian princess sent to be sacrificed, was attached to a rock so she could be devoured by a sea monster. On the way back from his glorious battle against Medusa – whose head can be seen on his shield – the Greek hero Perseus riding his winged horse Pegasus, saved the young woman.
As a result of the extreme precociousness of his artistic practices, the artist attracted much recognition for his gifts as a draughtsman. Heim is also considered an assiduous colorist, a passion which he applied to his drawings. He drew inspiration from older artists, especially Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863), whose works he seems to have appreciated for their rendering of feelings through color. Furthermore, the artist could have been inspired by works such as the Saint Georges Fighting the Dragon, also called Perseus Delivering Andromeda (Paris, Louvre Museum, inv. RF 1396) by this master of color.
His sketches reveal the ingenious process of creating the work in two phases. First he traces the contours of his figures, and then brings them to life through color. Our oil displays this technique by leaving the construction lines visible over which he constructs his work between an oily preparation and a skillful use of gouache.
With a systematically free touch, his sketches are impetuous. Heim did not seek detail, but ideas. He suggests more than he marks down, and he regularly only works his figures’ faces very briefly, and in some cases, even leaves them without any expression (ill. 2 and 3). His figures are often elongated: in our work, the horse’s mane is abnormally stretched out, as are the legs of the figure of Perseus. In addition, the horse, an animal broadly depicted in Romantic artists’ paintings, provides a very interesting figure of comparison in Heim’s work. In the sketch which he produced for his picture, The Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans (ill. 4), the steed’s vivacity is rendered through skillful rapid brushstrokes which are sometimes swirling and sometimes elongated, a technique of fiery energy which can also be found in our sketch.
François-Joseph Heim remains a little-studied figure in Art History who was nonetheless highly appreciated during the Second Empire. Between his production of sacred and secular works resulting from official commissions, his varied career brought him success in his lifetime and let him easily traverse the different French political regimes. Heim only occasionally responded to private commissions.
Most of his graphic work is conserved in the Louvre Museum in Paris; his final painted works are exhibited in a few eminent French museums, including the Museum of the Château of Versailles which conserves large-scale history paintings, such as The Defense of the Château of Burgos, October 1812 (inv. MV 1764), The Chamber of Deputies present the Duke of Orleans with the act Calling Him to the Throne, August 7th, 1830 (inv. MV 1814), and The Battle of Rocroy, May 19th, 1643 (inv. MV 2721).