Jean Alfred Marioton, Ulysses et Nausicaa, 1888
Jean Alfred Marioton, Ulysses and Nausicaa, 1888
Historical background :
– collection Jonathan Ackerman Coles, Newark, New Jersey (USA)
– 1920, Newark Museum, New Jersey (USA)
– 2016, goes on sale to the public at Sotheby’s, New York
– 2016, Collection of Antonacci Laccipirella Fine Arts Gallery
– 2016, donation from the Société des Amis du Musée d’Orsay (SAMO) to the Etablissement public du Musée d’Orsay (EPA Scientific Council M’O of 03/10/2016, EPA Acquisitions Commission M’O of 10/10/2016, decision of the President of the EPA M’O of 23/11/2016)
Oil on canvas; Size: 146 x 116 cm.
Photo credit: © Musée d’Orsay / Patrice Schmidt
Of modest origins (his father was a cook and his mother a burnisher), Jean Alfred Marioton grew up in a family of artists since his two brothers, Claudius (born in 1844) and Eugène (born in 1857), both became sculptors. It was with his elder brother Claudius that, after having worked for an architect at a very young age, he trained as an engraver. His talents were such that he turned to painting, receiving instruction from Diogène Maillart and then entered the School of Fine Arts and the workshop of Jean Léon Gérôme. At the same time he continued his training at the Julian Academy with William Bouguereau and Tony Robert-Fleury. Their influence was undoubtedly more striking than that of Gérôme and the School of Fine Arts, since throughout the rest of his career he presented himself only as a pupil of the latter two artists. Regularly awarded a medal at the School of Fine Arts, he won the second Grand Prix de Rome in 1887 with La mort de Thémistocle (Montpellier prefecture) and began exhibiting at the Salon. He tried the competition again the previous year without obtaining any award. This failure undoubtedly encouraged him to go into professional life. The portraits he presented at the Salon were a real success and he also received important commissions for decorations. He excelled in adapting the fantasy and gracefulness of the 18th century in both of these areas. Unfortunately, his death in 1903 put an end to this family and professional success by taking Marioton away at the age of 39. That year, the State acquired a decoration that he had exhibited at the Salon entitled Au matin de la vie (Roubaix museum) at the request of his brothers Claudius and Eugène to help his widow financially.
The Antonacci Lapiccirella Gallery wonders about the circumstances of the realization of this monumental painting. Ulysses and Nausicaa was the subject proposed to the competitors of the Prix de Rome in 1888. Several magazines of the time testify that Marioton participated and was among the ten finalists whose works were exhibited at the end of the summer at the School of Fine Arts. The monumental size of the work as well as some unfinished parts confirm the hypothesis that this is the painting submitted for this competition. The episode, taken from Homer’s Odyssey, is well known: shipwrecked on the island of the Pheacians and barely clothed, Odysseus bursts into the women’s assembly that accompanied the king’s daughter, Nausicaa, to the water’s edge to wash her clothes for her wedding that Athena has just predicted. The subject had already inspired many painters, for example, in France, Louis Gauffier (1798, Musée des beaux-arts de Poitiers) and Pierre Antoine Augustin Vafflard (1821, auctioned in Brest, 1993). It had already been the theme given for the competition for the Prix de Rome for Historic Landscapes in 1833 and 1845 (see in our collections the sketch by Achille Bénouville, RF MO P 2015 7). The critics also stressed the lack of novelty of the subject.
Marioton’s composition, like that of the other competitor whose essay has come down to us, that of Jean Veber preserved at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, breaks completely with the way the subject had been treated in the first nineteenth century. The landscape has lost its importance; the framing has tightened up on the characters, particularly around the two main protagonists. This process puts the mythological narrative in the background, in favour of the human relationship between Odysseus and Nausicaa, thus accentuating the intimate side of the scene. Marioton’s bias is, however, more classical than Veber’s: his composition revolves around the female figure of Nausicaa, whose monumental, fixed pose is borrowed from Greco-Roman antiquity and is in keeping with the spirit of his master Bouguereau. The woman kneeling in front of her, which symbolizes surprise, takes up Raphael’s manner. But Marioton also distances himself from his master in many ways: the treatment of the flesh does not adopt the pearly effects of the latter.
Note by Alice Thomine-Berrada, curator at the Musée d’Orsay