Théodore Chassériau

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Théodore Chassériau
A self-portrait of Chassériau painted at the age of 16
Born(1819-09-20)September 20, 1819
DiedOctober 8, 1856(1856-10-08) (aged 37)
Nationality French
Education Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
Movement Romanticism; Orientalism

Théodore Chassériau (September 20, 1819 – October 8, 1856) was a Dominican-born French Romantic painter noted for his portraits, historical and religious paintings, allegorical murals, and Orientalist images inspired by his travels to Algeria. Early in his career he painted in a Neoclassical style close to that of his teacher Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, but in his later works he was strongly influenced by the Romantic style of Eugène Delacroix. He was a prolific draftsman, and made a suite of prints to illustrate Shakespeare's Othello . The portrait he painted at the age of 15 of Prosper Marilhat makes Chassériau the youngest painter exhibited at the Louvre museum. [1]


Life and work

The Toilette of Esther, 1841, oil on canvas, 45.5 x 35.5 cm, Paris, Louvre Esther.jpg
The Toilette of Esther , 1841, oil on canvas, 45.5 x 35.5 cm, Paris, Louvre

Chassériau was born in El Limón, Samaná, in the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo (now the Dominican Republic). [2] His father Benoît Chassériau was a French adventurer who had arrived in Santo Domingo in 1802 to take an administrative position in what was until 1808 a French colony. [3] Theodore's mother, Maria Magdalena Couret de la Blagniére, was the daughter of a mulatto landowner born in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). In December 1820 the family left Santo Domingo for Paris, where the young Chassériau soon showed precocious drawing skill. He was accepted into the studio of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres in 1830, at the age of eleven, and became the favorite pupil of the great classicist, who regarded him as his truest disciple. [4] (An account that may be apocryphal has Ingres declaring "Come, gentlemen, come see, this child will be the Napoleon of painting.") [5]

Statue of painter Theodore Chasseriau located in Santa Barbara de Samana Theodore chasseriau Samana.jpg
Statue of painter Théodore Chassériau located in Santa Bárbara de Samaná

After Ingres left Paris in 1834 to become director of the French Academy in Rome, Chassériau fell under the influence of Eugène Delacroix, whose brand of painterly colorism was anathema to Ingres. Chassériau first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1836, and was awarded a third-place medal in the category of history painting. [6] In 1840 Chassériau travelled to Rome and met with Ingres, whose bitterness at the direction his student's work was taking led to a decisive break. While in Italy, Chassériau made landscape sketches and studied Renaissance frescoes. [7]

Venus marine dite Venus Anadyomene, 1838, Paris, Louvre 1838 Theodore Chasseriau - Venus Anadyomene.jpg
Vénus marine dite Vénus Anadyomène, 1838, Paris, Louvre
Andromede attachee au rocher par les Nereides, 1840, Paris, Louvre 1840 Chasseriau Theodore - Andromeda Chained to the Rock by the Nereids.jpg
Andromède attachée au rocher par les Néréides, 1840, Paris, Louvre
Study of a Man (1832) - Musee de Montauban Musee Ingres-Bourdelle - Etude d'apres le modele Joseph, 1839 - Theodore Chasseriau - Joconde06070001378.jpg
Study of a Man (1832) - Musée de Montauban
Macbeth and Banquo Meeting the Witches on the Heath, 1855. An example of one of Chasseriau's many works inspired by Shakespeare MacbethAndBanquo-Witches.jpg
Macbeth and Banquo Meeting the Witches on the Heath, 1855. An example of one of Chassériau's many works inspired by Shakespeare
The Two Sisters, 1843, Paris, Louvre Theodore Chasseriau - Mesdemoiselles Chasseriau (Louvre RF 2214) 0000787160 OG.JPG
The Two Sisters , 1843, Paris, Louvre
Portrait of Reverend Father Henri-Dominique Lacordaire, 1840, Paris, Louvre Theodore Chasseriau - Reverend Father Dominique Lacordaire - WGA4805.jpg
Portrait of Reverend Father Henri-Dominique Lacordaire , 1840, Paris, Louvre
Portrait d'Alexis de Tocqueville, 1850 Alexis de tocqueville.jpg
Portrait d'Alexis de Tocqueville , 1850

Among the chief works of his early maturity are Susanna and the Elders and Venus Anadyomene (both 1839), Diana Surprised by Actaeon (1840), Andromeda Chained to the Rock by the Nereids (1840), and The Toilette of Esther (1841), all of which reveal a very personal ideal in depicting the female nude. [8] Chassériau's major religious paintings from these years, Christ on the Mount of Olives (a subject he treated in 1840 and again in 1844) and The Descent from the Cross (1842), received mixed reviews from the critics; among the artist's champions was Théophile Gautier. In 1843, Chassériau painted murals depicting the life of Saint Mary of Egypt in the Church of Saint-Merri in Paris, the first of several commissions he received to decorate public buildings in Paris. [7]

Portraits from this period include the Portrait of the Reverend Father Dominique Lacordaire, of the Order of the Predicant Friars (1840), and The Two Sisters (1843), which depicts Chassériau's sisters Adèle and Aline.

Throughout his life he was a prolific draftsman; his many portrait drawings executed with a finely pointed graphite pencil are close in style to those of Ingres. [9] He also created a body of 29 prints, including a group of eighteen etchings of subjects from Shakespeare's Othello in 1844. [10]

He exhibited the colossal portrait Ali-Ben-Hamet, Caliph of Constantine and Chief of the Haractas, Followed by his Escort in the Salon of 1845, where it received equivocal reviews. In 1846, Chassériau made his first trip to Algeria. From sketches made on this and subsequent trips he painted such subjects as Arab Chiefs Visiting Their Vassals and Jewish Women on a Balcony (both 1849, now in the Louvre). A major late work, The Tepidarium (1853, in the Musée d'Orsay), depicts a large group of women drying themselves after bathing, in an architectural setting inspired by the artist's trip in 1840 to Pompeii. His most monumental work was his decoration of the grand staircase of the Cour des Comptes, commissioned by the state in 1844 and completed in 1848. He followed the example of Delacroix in executing this work in oil on plaster, rather than in fresco. [7] This work was heavily damaged in May 1871 by a fire set during the Commune, and only fragments could be recovered; these are preserved in the Louvre.

After a period of ill health, exacerbated by his exhausting work on commissions for murals to decorate the Churches of Saint-Roch and Saint-Philippe-du-Roule, Chassériau died at the age of 37 in Paris, on October 8, 1856. He is buried in the Montmartre Cemetery.

Technique and style

Chassériau's art has often been characterized as an attempt to reconcile the classicism of Ingres with the romanticism of Delacroix. [11] In composing his narrative paintings, his concern for the decorative arrangement of figures and the creation of a mood took precedence over narrative coherence. His preferred method of working was to study his model carefully and then draw from memory. [12] He favored the serpentine pose, especially for his female figures. Art historian Jonathan P. Ribner calls "the inclined neck and bent knee" Chassériau's "signature motif" and says that "his command of foreshortening and three-dimensional composition remained uneven to the end, and this limitation is reflected in the tenacity of his ... inclination toward flattened, stylized poses." [12] According to Léon Rosenthal, Chassériau was "much less concerned with bringing heroes to life or developing characters than desirous of producing subtle and infinitely rich impressions suggested to him by the themes he chooses". [12]


His work had a significant impact on the style of Puvis de Chavannes and Gustave Moreau, and—through those artists' influence—reverberations in the work of Paul Gauguin and Henri Matisse. [13] There is in Paris a Society for the painter: Association des Amis de Théodore Chassériau.

Works of Chassériau are in the Musée du Louvre where a room is dedicated to him, in the Musée d'Orsay, and in the Musée de Versailles. Collections in the United States holding works by Théodore Chassériau include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University, the National Gallery of Art of Washington, D.C., the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Museum of the Art Rhode Island School of Design, The J. Paul Getty Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago.


Selected works

See also


  1. Jean-Baptiste Nouvion, Chassériau Correspondance oubliée, preface by Marianne de Tolentino, Paris, Les Amis de Théodore Chassériau, 2014
  2. Guégan et al. 2002, p. 163.
  3. Guégan et al. 2002, pp. 58, 163.
  4. Guégan et al. 2002, p. 168.
  5. Guégan et al. 2002, pp. 60, 168.
  6. Guégan et al. 2002, p. 170.
  7. 1 2 3 Rosenthal.
  8. Guégan et al. 2002, p. 53.
  9. Prat 1989, p. 5.
  10. Fisher 1979, p. 13.
  11. Rosenblum 1989, p. 32.
  12. 1 2 3 Ribner, Jonathan P. (1994). "Chassériau’s Juvenilia: Some Early Works by an 'Enfant du Siècle'". Zeitschrift Für Kunstgeschichte, 57(2), 219–238.
  13. Guégan et al. 2002, p. 287.

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Further reading

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