• Eudoxe Marcille (1814-1890) Collection, Paris.
• Mr. Faivre Duffer Sale, Paris, January 27th, 1870, lot 55 or 56.
• Purchased in 1990 by Jan Krugier (1928-2008) and Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski (born in 1931).
• Jan et Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski Collection, Geneva, inv. JK 4669, until 2015.
• Sale Sotheby’s New York, December 10th, 2014, lot 8.
• Belgium, Private Collection.
• New York, Jan Krugier Gallery, Geneva, Galerie Jan Krugier, Victor Hugo and the Romantic Vision. Drawings and Watercolors, 1990-1991, cat. 56.
Gericault and Roman Horse Races
After failing to win the Prix de Rome, Gericault decided to undertake the voyage to the Eternal City at his own expense: he left in 1816 and returned the following year. A painter of horses, but also a modern artist who absorbed to his advantage street scenes as much as antique ruins, Gericault could not help but be enthralled by the race of loose horses which closed the Roman Carnival every year. In 1817, the festivities took place between February 9th and 16th. The race, which had the Barbary Horses mount the length of the Corso, from the Piazza del Popolo to the Piazza di Venezia, was particularly frenetic that year: fifteen horses competed for the different prizes. The event gave Gericault the desire to create a monumental painting, probably in view of the Parisian Salon. This project, which was thoroughly thought out, never was completed, but is documented by many drawings and by five painted studies conserved in Lille, Baltimore, Rouen, Los Angeles, and Paris. The first two studies handle the race as a contemporary subject; the following three, as an antique theme, an indication of Gericault’s desire to situate this painting in the tradition of grand history painting.
Our folio dates from this period. On it, five studies in vignette can be seen sketched in a rapid but sure hand in pen and brown ink. Above, a battle between soldiers from Antiquity armed with shields. Two studies follow for the Race of Barbary Horses, then a horse held by two men and pulling a cart with slatted sides, and finally an anatomic study of the forequarters of the same horse.
It is interesting to linger on the vignettes related to the Race of Barbary Horses which document Gericault’s complex creative process. Each offers a synthetic view of the whole project. In his catalogue raisonné, Bazin identifies these drawings as memorandi, a postiori variations on the theme of the mossa – the start of the race. For Whitney, they are more likely to precede the Louvre painting and proceed from the work of elaborating the composition. The vignette on the left is very close to the Getty Museum sketch: Gericault did not enclose it in a single line, but in a full frame with sketched decorative motifs in the angles. This feature reinforces the idea that the painter thought out everything concerning this his oeuvre, including its exhibition – necessarily framed – and its reception by the public.
Our drawing should be observed in relation to three other folios which also comport several variations in vignettes for the Race of the Barbary Horses. Like ours, the first comes from the collection of Eudoxe Marcille, Director of the Museum of Fine Arts of Orleans from 1870 to 1890, and was discovered by Bazin (no 1418). The two others, conserved in private hands, were recently identified (17.6 x 14 cm. and 14,6 x 12 cm.): in addition to the Race, they also develop the Romans in Combat of our drawing. The four folios can only be understood together. Gericault appears to have synthesized several ideas for the Race so as to arrive the final organization of this painting through their juxtaposition.
These studies taken together are precious documentary evidence of Gericault’s way of working. Our folio, in which the dexterity of a passionate draughtsman is revealed, also reflects a keen sense of dramatic sense which guided the artist’s brush as a result of ceaseless work.
Bibliography of the Work
Germain BAZIN, Théodore Géricault, Étude critique, documents et catalogue raisonné, Paris, 1990, vol. IV, pp. 75-76, detail repr., p. 225, cat. 1419, repr.
Wheelock WHITNEY, Gericault in Italy, London, 1997, pp. 147-149, repr. p. 148, fig. 186.
Victor Hugo and the Romantic Vision. Drawings and Watercolors, exh. cat. New York, Jan Krugier Gallery, Geneva, Jan Krugier Gallery, 1990-1991, cat. 56, repr.
Alexander DOCKERS (dir.), Linie, Licht und Schatten. Meisterzeichnungen und Skulpturen der Sammlung Jan und Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, exh. cat, Kupferstichkabinett, State Museums, Berlin, 1999, p. 402, repr.
Alexander DOCKERS (dir.), The Timeless Eye. Master Drawings from the Jan and Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski Collection, exh. cat. Berlin, 1999, p. 401, repr.