Jean-Baptiste MALLET (Grasse 1759 – Paris 1835)

Innocence and Fidélity Bringing Love Home

31.7 x 40.5 cm. (12 ½ x 15 1516 in.)
c. 1805. Oil on prepared mahogany panel. Signed lower right on armchair: Mallet.

Inscribed on the headband: "toujours à meme" (Always to the same).
Wax stamp on verso with initials AS (?) encircled by laurel leaves.

Provenance :
• France, Private collection.

Bibliography :
• Andrea Zanella, Trois peintres grassois : Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Marguerite Gérard, Jean-Baptiste Mallet : Musée Fragonard, collection Hélène et Jean-François Costa, Villa-Musée Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Grasse, 2011.
• Alain Pougetoux, La collection de peintures de l’impératrice Joséphine, Paris : Réunion des musées nationaux, 2003.

Trained under Pierre Paul Prud’hon (Cluny, 1758 – Paris, 1823) and Leonor Mérimée (Chambrais, 1757 – Paris, 1836), Jean-Baptiste Mallet participated regularly in the Salons between 1791 and 1824, and won many medals. Known as a history painter, a chronicler of the Directorate and the Empire, he became known in early 19th century Neoclassicism, as well as in the troubadour trend of which he was one of the originators.

In our picture, life in Roman Antiquity is revealed through the classical architecture of a private house. In the foreground of a room decorated with an ivy-covered pergola, figures evoke Love, whose allegories were highly valued in the second half of the 18th century. The subjects selected by Mallet can be compared to those chosen by his fellow student Pierre Paul Prud’hon, whose work, Love Seduces Innocence, Pleasure Sweeps Her Along, Repentance Follows (1809, oil on canvas, 97.5 x 81.5 cm./3 ft. 2 38 in. x 2 ft. 8 116 in. private collection) is a conclusive example. In our work, Innocence, illustrated by a young girl crowned with flowers, together with Fidelity symbolized by the dog, bring Love home. Love is a delicate being depicted with the features of a winged child who timidly approaches a seated figure opening her arms to him. The headband around the forehead of the young woman clothed in antique style bears the inscription, “Always to the same,” which leaves on to suppose that she embodies the Allegory of Constancy in Love.

The clearly Neoclassical construction is conceived as a stage set. The thus framed figures play their roles in order to illustrate the triumph of love, a typical subject of a graceful Neoclassicism which Jean-Baptiste Mallet proudly represented. In this antiquating room characteristic of the Empire period, the rigor of the movement is also expressed through attention paid to details. In the background, the furniture is made of mahogany, a statue features a seated cupid lighting his torch, and a Pompeian frieze runs along the wall. The marble tiled floor and pergola are two elements dear to the artist’s decorative repertory, and can also be found in the Hymen (Marriage) conserved in the Fabre Museum in Montpellier.

Mallet’s beginnings were marked by a preference for the technique of gouache which already expressed a hand of great finesse. In turning to oil painting by the early 19th century, the artist endowed his works with an even smoother and more delicate touch. The figures with their porcelain skin evoke antique sculpture. Here they echo the one in the background. The light is finely handled: soft and delicate while filtering through the ivy foliage of the pergola, it illuminates the figures who stand out against the dark mahogany background.

Jean-Baptiste Mallet also painted Innocence and Fidelity Bringing Love Home on canvas (31 x 39 cm. / 12 316 x 15 38 in. private collection.)In choosing mahogany for the support on which he proudly fixed his signature, the artist confers additional preciousness to his work. Often associated with Marguerite Gerard for the elegance and finesse in the execution of his works, Jean-Baptiste Mallet achieved lively success with his contemporaries. Composed of artists and collectors, the Imperial court of Empress Josephine was seduced by Mallet’s work who bought Inside a Home at the Salon of 1812 (current location unknown.)

M.O.
trans. chr

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