Merry-Joseph Blondel

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Merry-Joseph Blondel
Portrait of Merry-Joseph Blondel.jpg
Blondel by his friend Ingres, Rome, 1809.
Merry-Joseph Blondel

(1781-07-25)25 July 1781
Paris, France
Died12 June 1853(1853-06-12) (aged 71)
Paris, France
Known forPainting
Movement Neo-Classical

Merry-Joseph Blondel (25 July 1781 – 12 June 1853) was a French history painter of the Neoclassical school. He was a winner of the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1803. After the salon of 1824, he was bestowed with the rank of Knight in the order of the Legion d'Honneur by Charles X of France and offered a professorship at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts: a position in which he remained until his death in 1853. In 1832, he was elected to a seat at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, [1]

History painting genre in painting defined by historical matter

History painting is a genre in painting defined by its subject matter rather than artistic style. History paintings usually depict a moment in a narrative story, rather than a specific and static subject, as in a portrait. The term is derived from the wider senses of the word historia in Latin and Italian, meaning "story" or "narrative", and essentially means "story painting". Most history paintings are not of scenes from history, especially paintings from before about 1850.

Neoclassicism Western art movements that draw inspiration from the "classical" art and culture of Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome

Neoclassicism is the name given to Western movements in the decorative and visual arts, literature, theatre, music, and architecture that draw inspiration from the "classical" art and culture of classical antiquity. Neoclassicism was born largely thanks to the writings of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, at the time of the rediscovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum, but its popularity spread all over Europe as a generation of European art students finished their Grand Tour and returned from Italy to their home countries with newly rediscovered Greco-Roman ideals. The main Neoclassical movement coincided with the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment, and continued into the early 19th century, laterally competing with Romanticism. In architecture, the style continued throughout the 19th, 20th and up to the 21st century.

Prix de Rome French scholarship for arts students

The Prix de Rome or Grand Prix de Rome was a French scholarship for arts students, initially for painters and sculptors, that was established in 1663 during the reign of Louis XIV of France. Winners were awarded a bursary that allowed them to stay in Rome for three to five years at the expense of the state. The prize was extended to architecture in 1720, music in 1803, and engraving in 1804. The prestigious award was abolished in 1968 by André Malraux, the Minister of Culture.


Blondel was a student of the Neoclassical master Baron Jean-Baptiste Regnault and from 1809, a lifelong friend of the painter Ingres. [2]

Jean-Baptiste Regnault French painter

Jean-Baptiste Regnault was a French painter.

For much of Blondel's painting career, he was occupied with public commissions for paintings and frescoes in important buildings, including palaces, museums and churches. Blondel completed major commissions for the Palace of Fontainebleau, the Palace of Versailles, the Louvre Museum, the Brongniart Palace (also known as the Paris Bourse), the Luxembourg Palace, and the churches of St.Thomas Aquinas and Notre-Dame-de-Lorette.

Palace of Fontainebleau castle in Fontainebleau, France

The Palace of Fontainebleau or Château de Fontainebleau, located 55 kilometres southeast of the center of Paris, in the commune of Fontainebleau, is one of the largest French royal châteaux. The medieval castle and subsequent palace served as a residence for the French monarchs from Louis VII to Napoleon III. Francis I and Napoleon were the monarchs who had the most influence on the Palace as it stands today.. It is now a national museum and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Palace of Versailles French palace on the outskirts of Paris

The Palace of Versailles was the principal royal residence of France from 1682, under Louis XIV, until the start of the French Revolution in 1789, under Louis XVI. It is located in the department of Yvelines, in the region of Île-de-France, about 20 kilometres southwest of the centre of Paris.

Louvre Art museum and Historic site in Paris, France

The Louvre, or the Louvre Museum, is the world's largest art museum and a historic monument in Paris, France. A central landmark of the city, it is located on the Right Bank of the Seine in the city's 1st arrondissement. Approximately 38,000 objects from prehistory to the 21st century are exhibited over an area of 72,735 square metres. In 2018, the Louvre was the world's most visited art museum, receiving 10.2 million visitors.

Blondel's 1814 painting La Circassienne au Bain became infamous during the early part of the 20th century for being the subject of the largest claim for financial compensation made against the White Star line, for a single item of luggage lost by a passenger on the RMS Titanic. [3]

<i>La Circassienne au Bain</i> painting by Merry-Joseph Blondel

La Circassienne au Bain, also known as Une Baigneuse, was a large Neoclassical oil painting from 1814 by Merry-Joseph Blondel depicting a life-sized young Circassian woman bathing in an idealized setting from classical antiquity. The painting was destroyed with the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912. When financial compensation claims were filed with US commissioner Gilchrist in January 1913, the painting gained notoriety as the subject of the largest claim made against the White Star Line for the loss of a single item of baggage or cargo.

White Star Line British shipping company

The Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, more commonly known as the White Star Line, was a British shipping company. Founded out of the remains of a defunct packet company, it gradually rose up as one of the most prominent shipping lines in the world, providing passenger and cargo services between the British Empire and the United States. While many other shipping lines focused primarily on speed, White Star branded their services by focusing more on providing steady and comfortable passages, for both upper class travelers and immigrants. Today it is most famous for the innovative vessel Oceanic of 1870, and for the losses of some of their best passenger liners, including the wrecking of RMS Atlantic at Halifax in 1873, the sinking of RMS Republic off Nantucket in 1909, the infamous loss of RMS Titanic in 1912 and that of HMHS Britannic while serving as a hospital ship in 1916. Despite its casualties, the company retained a prominent hold on shipping markets around the globe before falling into decline during the Great Depression, which ultimately led to a merger with its chief rival, Cunard Line, which operated as Cunard-White Star Line until 1950. Cunard Line then operated as a separate entity until 2005 and is now part of Carnival Corporation & plc. As a lasting reminder of the White Star Line, modern Cunard ships use the term White Star Service to describe the level of customer care expected of the company.

RMS <i>Titanic</i> British transatlantic passenger liner, launched and foundered in 1912

RMS Titanic was a British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912, after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. Of the estimated 2,224 passengers and crew aboard, more than 1,500 died, making it one of modern history's deadliest commercial marine disasters during peacetime. RMS Titanic was the largest ship afloat at the time she entered service and was the second of three Olympic-class ocean liners operated by the White Star Line. She was built by the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Thomas Andrews, chief naval architect of the shipyard at the time, died in the disaster.

Early life

Merry-Joseph was born on 25 July 1781 to Joseph-Armand Blondel (1740-1805), a painter and expert in stucco decoration, and his second wife Marie Marchand (died 1819). Merry-Joseph had two brothers and a sister, including Charles-Francois Armand Blondel, an architect. Several generations of the Blondel family had become associated with architecture and the design and decoration of buildings. Blondel's great uncle, Jacques-Francois Blondel (1705-1774) wrote a treatise on the subject and opened the first dedicated school of architecture in Paris. [4]

Stucco material made of aggregates, a binder, and water

Stucco or render is a material made of aggregates, a binder, and water. Stucco is applied wet and hardens to a very dense solid. It is used as a decorative coating for walls and ceilings, and as a sculptural and artistic material in architecture. Stucco may be used to cover less visually appealing construction materials, such as metal, concrete, cinder block, or clay brick and adobe.


Dihl & Guerhard

At the age of fourteen, on the advice of his maternal uncle, Merry-Joseph went to work in the office of a Notary, an experience which he would later describe as "excruciating". [5] After two years of complaining to his father, in 1797, a place was secured for him as an apprentice at the Dihl and Guerhard porcelain factory, where young apprentices received figure drawing lessons from the celebrated Charles-Etienne Leguay for five out of every ten working days. By 1801, however, demand for Dihl and Guerhard porcelain had increased so much that the drawing department was eliminated and apprentices were expected to focus on decorative techniques more suited to the demands of mass-production, directly on the factory floor. [6]

Civil law notary lawyer of noncontentious private civil law

Civil-law notaries, or Latin notaries, are agents of noncontentious private civil law who draft, take, and record instruments for private parties and are vested as public officers with the authentication power of the State. As opposed to most notaries public, their common-law counterparts, civil-law notaries are highly trained, licensed practitioners providing a range of regulated services, and whereas they hold a public office, they nonetheless operate usually—but not always—in private practice and are paid on a fee-for-service basis. They often receive the same education as attorneys at civil law but without qualifications in advocacy, procedural law, or the law of evidence, somewhat comparable to solicitor training in certain common-law countries.

Porcelain ceramic material

Porcelain is a ceramic material made by heating materials, generally including kaolin, in a kiln to temperatures between 1,200 and 1,400 °C. The toughness, strength, and translucence of porcelain, relative to other types of pottery, arises mainly from vitrification and the formation of the mineral mullite within the body at these high temperatures. Though definitions vary, porcelain can be divided into three main categories: hard-paste, soft-paste and bone china. The category that an object belongs to depends on the composition of the paste used to make the body of the porcelain object and the firing conditions.

Regnault's studio and the Prix de Rome

Aeneas rescuing his father from Troy, oil on canvas, 1803. Blondel Enee portant Anchise.JPG
Aeneas rescuing his father from Troy, oil on canvas, 1803.

In 1801, once again, Blondel convinced his father to break his apprenticeship contract as his drawing talent secured him a place in the studio of Baron Jean-Baptiste Regnault. Within a year, Blondel had acquired the nickname Monsieur de Cinq-Prix (Mr Five-prizes) among his peers at the studio, on account of the number of medals and prizes he had won for his drawing. [7] Another year on and Blondel's entry to the 1803 salon, a painting depicting Aeneas rescuing his father from the burning city of Troy, won him the Grand Prix de Rome. However, due to a change in the system and the temporary suspension of scholarships, no students were sent to the French Academy in Rome that year and Blondel would have to wait until 1809 before he could take his place at the Villa Medici. [8]

Hecuba and Polyxena, oil on canvas, after 1814 Hecuba and Polyxena LACMA 73.3.jpg
Hecuba and Polyxena, oil on canvas, after 1814
Napoleon visiting the Palais Royal for the opening of the Tribunat in 1807, oil on canvas Napoleon visiting the Tribunat (Palais Royal) in 1807.jpg
Napoleon visiting the Palais Royal for the opening of the Tribunat in 1807, oil on canvas
Felicite Louise Julie Constance de Durfort (1782-1870), oil on canvas Blondel - Felicite Louise Julie Constance de Durfort (1782-1870).jpg
Félicité Louise Julie Constance de Durfort (1782-1870), oil on canvas

Rome and Ingres

On arrival at the Villa Medici in Rome in 1809, Blondel struck up a friendship with fellow student Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres which, as correspondence between the two artists demonstrated, lasted for the rest of their lives. In 1835, Ingres returned as the director of the French Academy in Rome and Blondel appeared to be the favourite to succeed him in 1840. Together with his second wife, Louise Emilie Delafontaine, Blondel stayed at the Villa Medici as a guest of Ingres for four months in 1839, during which time the three of them undertook a lengthy sketching tour of the Marches and Umbria. When Blondel was unexpectedly overlooked for the position of director of the Academy in 1840, Ingres sent him a "lengthy and heartfelt" letter of condolence. [9]

Further Awards

After three years in Rome, Blondel returned to Paris and became a regular exhibitor at the Louvre salon exhibitions. At the salon of 1817, Blondel won a gold medal for his painting depicting the Death of Louis XII. After the salon of 1824, the rank of Chevalier (Knight) in the order of the Legion d'Honneur, was bestowed upon both Blondel and Ingres by the French King, Charles X.

Académie and École

In 1824, the year of his knighthood, Blondel was awarded a professorship at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, a position which he occupied until his death in 1853. In that same year, Blondel also competed for a vacant seat at the Académie des beaux-arts but lost out to Ingres. He was eventually elected to a seat at the Académie in 1832. [10]

Public commissions

The fall of Icarus, ceiling fresco, Palais du Louvre Ceiling of Rotunda of Apollo (Louvre).jpg
The fall of Icarus, ceiling fresco, Palais du Louvre

By the mid 1820s, his many notable achievements had firmly established Blondel as a history painter of great renown and he was accordingly rewarded with many public commissions for paintings and frescoes in important buildings, including museums, palaces and churches. Most notable among these commissions were;

La France victorious at Bouvines, Palais du Louvre Palais du Louvre - Conseil d'Etat - Antichambre -1.JPG
La France victorious at Bouvines, Palais du Louvre

Blondel was working on his fresco cycle at the church of St.Thomas Aquinas, in the 7e arronsissement when he fell ill and died in 1853. [11]

La Circassienne au Bain

Copy After Blondel of painting lost on the RMS Titanic in 1912. La Circassienne au Bain, After Blondel.JPG
Copy After Blondel of painting lost on the RMS Titanic in 1912.

(main article La Circassienne au Bain )

Louvre Exhibition

Blondel's entry for the salon exhibition in November 1814 was a full sized figure painting, in oil on canvas, depicting a standing female figure, bathing in an idealised setting from classical antiquity. In typically simplistic fashion, the exhibition catalogue described the painting as painting no.108, Une Baigneuse (a bather). Critical references to the painting would later confirm Blondel's given title for the picture as La Circassienne au Bain. [12]

Loss on the RMS Titanic

In January 1913, a claim was filed in New York against the White Star Line, by RMS Titanic survivor Mauritz Håkan Björnström-Steffansson, for financial compensation resulting from the loss of the painting. The amount of the claim was $100,000 ($2.4 million equivalent in 2014); a valuation which reflected Blondel's significant artistic status at that time and making it by far the most highly valued single item of luggage or cargo lost as a result of the sinking. [13]

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  1. M. Raoul Rochette, permanent secretary of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, Discours prononcé aux funérailles de M. Blondel, 13 June 1853. (Record of speech in the public domain).
  2. Guillaume, Germaine Merry-Joseph Blondel et son ami Ingres, Bulletin de la Société de l'histoire et de l'art Francais, 1936.
  3. New York Times, Thursday 16 January 1913, Titanic Survivors Claim $6,000,000, p.28
  4. Blondel, J.F. Cours d'architecture ou Traité de la Décoration, Distribution et Construction des Batiments, 4th ed, Paris, 1773.
  5. Portraits by Ingres: Image of an Epoch, Gary Tinterow and Philip Conisbee (eds), Metropolitan Museum of Art, Exhibition Catalogue, 1999, page 164.
  6. Guillaume, Germaine Merry-Joseph Blondel et son ami Ingres, Bulletin de la Société de l'histoire et de l'art Francais, 1936.
  7. Portraits by Ingres: Image of an Epoch, Gary Tinterow and Philip Conisbee (eds), Metropolitan Museum of Art, Exhibition Catalogue, 1999, page 164.
  8. Barnes, Joanna R., American Federation of Arts, French Oil Sketches and the Academic Tradition, pp. 125
  9. Guillaume, Germaine Merry-Joseph Blondel et son ami Ingres, Bulletin de la Société de l'histoire et de l'art Francais, 1936, pp.74-76.
  10. Lapauze, Henry, Ingres: sa vie et son oeuvre (1780-1867), d'apres des documents inedits, Paris, 1911, p.240.
  11. M. Raoul Rochette, permanent secretary of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, Discours prononcé aux funérailles de M. Blondel, 13 June 1853.
  12. Livret du Salon du Louvre Explication des ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, Architecture et Gravure exposes au musee royal des arts, le 1er Novembre 1814, p.11
  13. New York Times, Thursday 16 January 1913, "Titanic Survivors Asking $6,000,000", p.28