With its pronounced three-dimensional power and particularly detailed realization, our drawing goes beyond a simple anatomic study to transform this nude figure into a historical or mythological image: a Romulus, Theseus, or David as imagined by Neoclassicists. In place of a neutral background, at best hatched, our sitter’s surroundings are constituted of steep rocks and a broken oak tree whose foliage protects his modesty. His face, at the limit between an antique and a realistic figure, expresses determination mixed with pain. The sculptural torso and curly hair in the style of fashions appreciated by young men during the Restoration, are rendered with much verity through short stiff lines which often overlap. The figure stands out in a strong light which creates soft shadows with admirably distributed chiaroscuro.
The undeniable quality of our drawing, the palpable influence of the art of Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson, the confidence of an educated hand, the lesson of Torsos drawn and painted by the great masters during their apprenticeship at the School of Fine Arts (in particular, one thinks of Ingres’ Torso or Half-Figure, Paris, ENSB-A, inv. Torso 15), the audacity inherent in youth lead us to seek the artist among Girodet’s students. It thus seems judicious to suggest relating this work to the yet-to-be-reconstituted corpus of Eugene Larivière, a promising artist who passed away too early.
Born in Paris on 13 Firmaire in the year IX (December 4th, 1800), Louis-Eugene Larivière was the second son of the painter André Philippe Larivière, and grandson of Charles Lepeintre, Painter to the Duc of Orleans. Three years separated Eugene from his elder brother, Charles-Philippe, born in 1798. As the two boys demonstrated leanings for painting, their father placed them with Girodet who presented them to the Special School for Fine Arts: Charles-Philippe in 1813 and Eugène in February 1816.
The two brothers belonged to Girodet’s second generation of students who entered the School between 1813 and 1824, and included Alexandre-Marie Colin, Elzidor Naigeon, Eloi Firmin Féron, Louis Lacaze, Charles-Auguste Van den Berghe, and Achille Devéria. These young artists’ faces are known from a lithography by Colin, Portrait of a Group of Thirty-two Students of Girodet. On the example conserved in Amiens, a handwritten inscription indicates the faces of the two Larivière brothers depicted next to each other in the upper left. The portraits of Eugène by Charles-Philippe dated 1811 and 1823 are also conserved.
Following in his older brother’s footsteps, Eugène participated in the historic composition competition as Girodet’s student designated in the minutes as “Lariviere the Younger.” Ranked thirteenth, he did not enter the second round, but was noticed and, as a painter, was exempted from military service. Unfortunately, illness prevented him from competing again in 1823 and finished by carrying him off prematurely at the age of twenty-two years old. His brother, devastated, withdrew from the competition. He returned in 1824 and won first prize.
A few family portraits by Eugène survive: one full of candor of his sister Pamela-Eugenie conserved at the Louvre, another of his brother Edmond Larivière, and a Self-Portrait, both at the Museum of Picardy in Amiens (inv. 1869-245 and 247). The works come from the collection of the painter Albert Maignan, the artist’s nephew by marriage who donated them to the Amiens Museum from the contents of the Lariviere brothers’ studio. A few Male Academies by Eugene can be found there which have some affinities with our drawing. One of them is inscribed on the verso, Eugène Larivière. 18 août 1817, and countersigned by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin who corrected the student exercises of the Fine Arts students that day. Another Academy, dated 1818, reappeared about twenty years ago on the art market. Later and even closer to our drawing, a few anatomic studies remain in private hands.
General Literature (Unpublished Work)
Isabelle Lodde, Charles Philippe Larivière, peintre. Sa vie, son œuvre. 1798-1876, Doctoral Thesis, University of Paris IV-Sorbonne, 2005.