My featured artist today is the 19th century French Romantic painter and lithographer, Camille-Joseph-Étienne Roqueplan . He was born in the small town of Mallemort which lies thirty-five kilometres south west of Avignon, but his family moved to Paris when he was still quite young. He came from a well-to-do and cultured family and his younger brother Louis-Victor-Nestor Roqueplan went on to become a well-known writer, journalist, and co-director of the Paris Opera. Contrary to most young people who want to become artists despite opposition from their parents, Camille Roqueplan was wary about having art as his future profession despite his father’s encouragement that this should be his future path. Camille liked to paint, but he believed art was just something to do for relaxation and should not be conceived as a future profession for he was adamant that his future lay in medicine. His foray into studying medicine and anatomy was brief and having failed his first set of exams he went to work in the same office as his father, as a clerk in the Department of Finance. This bureaucratic career was also short lived as he became bored and so after many career false starts he returned to painting
In February 1818, shortly after Camille’s eighteenth birthday he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris where he received his initial art tuition in the workshop of the French artist, Alexandre-Denis Abel de Pujol, but remained with him for just a short period before working in the studio of Antoine-Jean Gros, the French history and neo-classical painter, where he learnt to paint landscapes, marine paintings, historical subjects and genre scenes. He used both the mediums of watercolours and oil and was taught the secrets of lithography, which at the time was a new method of printmaking. He remained in Antoine-Jean Gros’ workshop for three years.
One of Roqueplan’s fellow students at L’ École des Beaux-Arts was the Nottingham-born, English painter Richard Parkes Bonnington, eighteen months younger than Roqueplan, who had moved to Paris when he was fourteen years of age and began studying at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1820. Bonnington favoured landscape painting and this no doubt influenced Roqueplan who began to produce small-scale paintings including some landscape works. Roqueplan was also influenced by the works of the Scottish historical novelist, Sir Walter Scott and in 1824 he completed a work entitled Historical Landscape based on Scott’s novel, Quentin Durward. Another small painting by Roqueplan, which he completed around 1829, also featured characters from a Sir Walter Scott romantic tragedy novel, Kenilworth, in which we see the heroine Amy Robsart pleading for forgiveness from her father, Sir Hugh Robsart but he is untouched by her tearful pleadings. This work, entitled The Pardon Refused, is housed in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Around 1835, Roqueplan changes his painting style from small landscape paintings to large-scale anecdotal works and one of his most famous of these can be seen at the Wallace Collection in London. It was completed by Roqueplan in 1836, in time to be exhibited at that year’s Salon in Paris. It is a large painting, measuring 219cms x 174cms and is entitled The Lion in Love. The work is all about the power of love even if it is at the expense of wisdom. I am sure many of us know how that feels! The painting is based on a fable written by the Jean de la Fontaine, who was the most famous French writer of fables and one of the most widely read French poets of the 17th century. There are 243 of these fables, originally written in French, by the poet in the late 1600’s which have since been translated in to many different languages. The Lion in Love is a sad tale which tells of a noble lion, which has fallen in love with a shepherdess. His love for the girl is so strong that he unwisely consents to her father’s demand that his teeth and claws are clipped lest they should hurt his daughter . The lion does not see through the father’s trickery and when his teeth and claws are paired down, his defence mechanism is rendered ineffectual, enabling the father to set his dogs on the defenceless lion. The question of who shaves down the teeth and claws of the lion is not told in the poem but in Roqueplan’s painting he depicts the act being carried out by the shepherdess herself. Maybe Roqueplan was drawing a parallel with the biblical tale of Delilah shaving off the hair of Samson, which rendered him defenceless. Below is an English translation of the poem by Jean De La Fontaine which I found on the Aesop’s Fables website.
THE LION IN LOVE
Sévigné, whose attractiveness
Serves as a model to Beauties,
You were born so beautiful,
In case you are indifferent,
Would you be enclined
To an innocent Fable’s games,
And see, without fear,
A lion tamed by Love?
Love is a strange master.
Happy is he who experiences it
Only through tales, minus its pains!
When it is told in front of you,
If the truth offends you,
The Fable at least can be endured:
It is bold enough
To come offer itself at your feet,
By zeal or by gratitude.
In the times when animals spoke,
Lions among others wanted
To be accepted in our circles.
Why not? since their kins
Were worth ours back in those times,
Having courage, intelligence,
And a beautiful head, moreover.
Here is how it happened:
A Lion from highly ranking parents,
While walking through a certain pasture,
Met a Sheperdess to his liking :
He asked for her in marriage.
The father would have preferred
A son-in-law a little less scary.
To give her to him seemed very harsh;
To refuse her was not so wise;
Even a rejection might have made it possible
That some fine morning we’d have seen
A clandestine marriage.
The beautiful girl was meant for noble people,
-Daughter becomes easily infatuated with
A long maned lover.
So the father openly
Not daring to dismiss the lover,
Said to him: “My daughter is delicate;
Your claws could wound her
When you’ll wish to caress her.
Allow therefore that each paw of yours
Be declawed, and that your teeth,
Be filed down at the same time.
Your kisses will be less harsh,
And for you more delicious;
Because my daughter will respond to them better,
Being without these worries.
The Lion consented,
His heart was so blinded!
Without teeth or claws here he is,
Like a dismantled room.
A few dogs were turned aloose on him:
He did not resist much.
Love, Love when thou holdest us
One can well say: “Farewell prudence.”
In 1830, on the abdication of Charles X of France, a new king was crowned. He was Louis Philippe and it was he who decided that some of the palace rooms at Versailles should be set aside for a Museum of the History of France. These rooms were then filled with a large collection of paintings from the likes of Philippe de Champaigne, Charles Le Brun, Jacques-Louis David, Antoine Jean Gros, Rubens and the great female artist of the time, Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, and one room was designated as the Galerie des Batailles (Hall of Battles) in which works depicting great French battles could be displayed. Roqueplan contributed a work entitled Battle of Elchingem ,which he completed in 1837, and featured a scene from the October 1805 battle between the victorious French forces under Marshal Ney and the Austrian army around the town of Elchingem in south west Bavaria
Roqueplan’s health deteriorated in 1843 and as an aid to recovery he spent time in the foothills of the Pyrennees with its fresher and cleaner air. He remained there for three years during which time he painted many scenes depicting mountainous landscapes and peasant life. One such work can be found at the Wallace Collection in London with the title Peasants of the Béarn dated 1846. Béarn is a French province in the Basse-Pyrenees and one of the geographical features of this province is the Ossau Valley. It may be more than just a coincidence, but at the 1847 Salon, the year after the completion date given to Peasants of the Béarn, Roqueplan exhibited a work with the title, Peasants of the Valley of Ossau. Could these be one and the same painting?
Another painting of his which I like was painted around the same time, 1843. It is an oval work, entitled Girl with Flowers and is now housed in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. It is an everyday genre piece in which we see a young girl walking home with a bunch of wild flowers that she has collected, and which are held carefully in the folds of her raised skirt. She is young and pretty.
On her head is a wide-brimmed straw-coloured hat adorned with a pink flower and ribbons that seem to flutter down and fly off behind her giving us an impression of motion. She holds on to the brim of her hat, pulling it downwards affording her more shade from the sun and maybe ensuring it does not fly from her head due to the breeze. The hat frames her face. She looks at us enticingly and we cannot help but fall under the spell of her young beauty. What of course is more haunting is the sight of her left breast which has been uncovered due to lowering the neckline of her white linen blouse.
My final offering is a work he completed in 1851 entitled Rousseau and Mlle. Galley gathering Cherries and is based on one of the autobiographical tales from The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau , written by the French philosopher and writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This great work came in twelve volumes and recounted the first thirty-five years of his life. In Volume IV he recounts a tale from 1731, when he was nineteen years old, when he met and befriended a lady and her companion who were travelling through the countryside. He had assisted them with getting their horses across a stream and then they had stopped at a hostelry and were partaking of lunch when they decided to go outside and look for some cherries and it was then that Rousseau tells of his longing for the lady:
“…After dinner, we were economical; instead of drinking the coffee we had reserved at breakfast, we kept it for an afternoon collation, with cream, and some cakes they had brought with them. To keep our appetites in play, we went into the orchard, meaning to finish our dessert with cherries. I got into a tree, throwing them down bunches, from which they returned the stones through the branches. One time, Mademoiselle Galley, holding out her apron, and drawing back her head, stood so fair, and I took such good aim, that I dropped a bunch into her bosom. On her laughing, I said to myself, “Why are not my lips cherries? how gladly would I throw them there likewise!…”
In the painting we see Rousseau, having climbed a little way up the cherry tree, is dangling the fruit above Madamoiselle Galley. She stands holding her apron open to catch the fruit but Rousseau has other ideas as to where the cherries should land! The smile on her slightly flushed face is an indication that she too would like the cherries to be his lips.
Camille-Joseph-Étienne Roqueplan died in Paris in September 1855, aged 55.
In this and my previous blogs about Gabriel Metsu I have featured paintings which are housed at the Wallace Collection in London. If you are ever in London and want to visit an art gallery but are spoiled for choice, you must go to this one. It is right in the centre of town, a five minute walk from the major department stores on Oxford Street. I can assure you that you will not be disappointed with the collection.