Ambroise Louis GARNERAY (Paris, 1783 - 1857)

The Triumph of Tourville (Naval Battle of Agosta in Sicily, April 21st, 1676)

55 x 77 cm. (21 1116 x 30 516 in.)
1837. Oil on canvas Signed and dated lower right: droite L. Garneray 1837

• With its pendant, The Vessel the Venger, private collection, Neuilly-sur-Seine.
• Anonymous sale, Saint-Cloud, auctioneer Le Floch, October 2nd, 2016, lot 25.

1838, Paris, Salon, no 773 (dimensions 80 x 100 cm. (31 ½ x 39 3/8 in.) with frame) : "Triumph of Tourville: at the Battle of Agosta, the French admiral first sent two vessels from the center to rescue our front ranks which were beginning to give, and then Tourville came alonside and attacked the vessel the Concord, where Ruyter was, demasted it, and soon forced it to abandon the field.” The pendant, The Vessel, the Venger, was exhibited under number 772.

Related Works
• Autograph version exhibited at the 1827 Salon (no 787), 142 x 227 cm. (4 ft. 7 15/16 in. x 7 ft. 5 3/8 in.), Versailles, inv. MV1394 (on loan to the Senate, Luxembourg Palace). Engraved by Edward Chavane.
• Sketch signed and dated 1836, oil on canvas, 65 x 81 cm. (25 5/8 x 31 7/8 in.) Dieppe, Château-Musée, inv. 960.2.21.

In 1837, Louis Garneray exhibited four paintings and two watercolors in the Salon. They included a large history painting with the subject of a naval battle which took place on April 22nd, 1676 off the Sicilian coast between the French fleet under the orders of Abraham Duquesne and the Spanish and Dutch fleets under the command of Don Francisco de la Cerda and Michiel de Ruyter. This was an episode in the war with Holland, or more precisely, the Sicilian campaign when the city of Messina, blocaded because it had revolted against the Spanish, called for Louis XIV’s help.

The Salon Livret describes the scene: "For the subject of his picture, the artist chose the moment when Admiral Ruyter, in despair because of the collapse of his vessel’s topmast, is forced to allow the Knight of Tourville’s ship to enter the Port of Agosta. At the same time, his ship having been knocked out of combat, and in order to take command of the avant-garde, the Marquesse of Valbelle, now on another vessel, sinks one of two enemy gunboats which contest his passage.”

The Battle of Agosta or Mont Gibel was, in fact, the last one in which the redoubtable Admiral Ruyter, one of the greatest strategists of the 17th century navy, was engaged. The beginning of the battle was to his advantage – the captain of the French front ranks, the Marquess of Alméras, was killed and his ship sunk by Admiral de Ruyter’s vessel the Eendracht (Concord). However, the Spanish retreat and the arrival of Duquesne’s Saint Esprit (Holy Spirit) and the Sceptre commanded by his “mate”, Anne Hilarion de Costentin, Count of Tourville, tipped the victory in favor of the French.

The enemy fleet was now handicapped by Ruyter’s withdrawal after severe injury from a cannon ball. Reinvigorated, the French front ranks, now headed by Jean-Baptiste de Valbelle, Duquesne’s second “mate,” pushed against the enemy fleet. Night interrupted the combat. The next day, the Dutch allies left to take shelter in Syracuse, where de Ruyter died on April 29th. His body was taken to Amsterdam on board the Eendracht. Louis XIV gave orders to let his former enemy’s ship pass and saluted his passage near the French coast with cannon fire.

While the Battle of Agosta was marked by Ruyter’s disappearance, it was, despite its violence and losses, one of the greatest strategic victories for France and a great feat of arms worthy of being represented in the Versailles Historic Museum initiated by Louis Philippe; This subject from the past was thus imposed on Garneray, who, strengthened by his own naval experience, delivered a truthful, realistic, intense, and grandiose composition without being excessively narrative or scrupulously exact.

The oldest son of the painter François-Jean Garnerey (Garneray), Ambroise Louis entered the navy at the age of 13. Eventful and adventurous, full of shipwrecks, battles, boardings and illnesses, his career as a sailor which later nourished his writings came to an end when his corvette La Belle Poule was taken by the English in 1806. Liberated at the end of the war in 1814, and not having succeeded in entering the Merchant Marine, Garneray devoted himself entirely to painting. He exhibited in the Salon for the first time in 1815. When he received the commission for The Battle of Agosta, Garneray was at the height of his glory: his views of ports, seascapes, and whale fishing scenes were unanimously hailed both for the technical mastery and their truthfulness. He was appointed Director of the Museum of Rouen in 1833.

Dated 1837, the year which the large canvas commissioned by Louis-Philippe was exhibited in the Salon, our picture was exhibited the following year under a very different title, Triomphe de Tourville / (Tourville’s Triumph), and was accompanied by a pendant (no 772), Le Vaisseau le Vengeur (Troisième bataille d’Ouessant, 28 mai-1er juin 1794) / (The Vessel, the Venger, Third Battle of Ouessant, May 28th – June 1st, 1794.) With identical dimensions and a very similar composition, even though treating a revolutionary subject, this painting is dated 1838 (Museum of Fine Arts, Brest.) The existence of a third version of the Combat of Agosta conserved in Dieppe and bearing the date 1836 not only confirms the importance of this theme for the artist, but also makes much better understanding possible of the place occupied by our canvas in his thoughts.

Very close to the Versailles composition with Etna fuming in the center background and dominating the scene, the Dieppe painting seems to be a sketch which seeks to establish the relationship between volumes, ship positions, and light effects. In our version, although the general layout is the same – Valbelle’s backlit demasted Pompeux (Pompous) and the life boats with the knight and his sailors fighting one on one, the Eendracht with its mast flying into pieces, Tourville’s Sceptre waving a white flag, and two ships struggling, one of which is under a Spanish flag – no detail is repeated identically. Here, everything is more luminous, contrasted, and dramatic, right up to the vibrant energetic brushstroke. The sea is unleashed, the wind blows, explosions multiply, black smoke darkens the sky. A ghostly Etna is placed all the way to the left, so as to accentuate the center of the picture and the Sceptre’s poop: Tourville’s personal exploit which Garneray admires eclipses the collective action.

Infrared images reveal six longitudinal lines to facilitate construction by planes, as well as fiery, rapid, schematic under drawing which in the end is not followed very closely. Similarly, several pentimenti and modifications confirm that our canvas is neither a reduced replica of the picture commissioned for Versailles, nor a highly developed modello, but in fact, a new highly personal creation realized shortly before or soon after the large painting. Furthermore, the clothes worn by the protagonists more closely resemble late 18th century uniforms than the elegant ones at the time of Louis XIV, as if the artist wished to make his own memories resonate of having been a wartime sailor. Probably for this reason, Garneray resolved, before exhibiting the Triumph of Tourville at the Salon of 1838, to give it a pendant celebrating the heroism and sacrifice of sailors for the Republic, rightful heirs of the grand captains from the past.


General Bibliography (Unpublished Work)
Laurent MANŒUVRE, Louis Garneray (1783-1857). Peintre, Écrivain, Aventurier, exh. cat. Honfleur and Dunkerque, 1997, pp. 104, 105, 183.

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