National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Annual Bulletin 7, 1983-1984

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The Shepherd Paris of Jean-Germain Drouais

by John D. Bandiera

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In 1980 the National Gallery of Canada acquired The Shepherd Paris (fig. 1), a large "académie" attributed to Drouais. (12) In this very fine work, the youthful Paris, who according to legend was living as a shepherd on the slopes of Mount Ida, is shown standing before a naturalistic and somewhat melancholy landscape. The subject, of which there are numerous examples in painting and sculpture from antiquity to the nineteenth century, (13) is linked to the (more familiar) iconographic tradition of The Judgment of Paris. The author of The Shepherd Paris depicts the moment preceding the judgment of the 'beauty contest' between Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite by Paris, the son of Priam and "the handsomest of all mortal men." (14) Paris contemplates the prize, a golden apple delivered to him by Mercury, who can be discerned flying away in the top left-hand corner of the painting. It is probable that Paris is studying his own reflection in the apple, but his pensive countenance also suggests the dawning awareness of the significance of his fateful decision - one that will lead directly to the outbreak of the Trojan War. By having Paris contemplate his own reflection, the artist creates an emotionally charged and introspective mood. The landscape, with its clouds, blowing trees, and inconspicuous doric temple in the far-off wooded area to the left, also contributes to the general wistfulness and the romantic sense of a faraway place and time.

The understated emotionalism and quiet lyricism of The Shepherd Paris, as well as the elegant proportions and suave painting of the figure and the lively treatment of the landscape, all point to an artist possessed of both skin and sensitivity. Yet, although the extraordinary quality of this work is unquestioned, its authorship is still in dispute. Scholars have been unwilling to accept the attribution to Drouais (the most recent open challenge was in the catalogue of the David et Rome exhibition of 1981-82) for three compelling reasons. (15) The first is that the signature, "Drouais. f. Roma," is at least partially (and, in all likelihood, completely) spurious. (16) The second is that there is no reference in the literature to a Shepherd Paris by Drouais' hand. Third, the painting is thought to be out of place stylistically and thematically with the certified Drouais académies. (17) Indeed, if we are to accept The Shepherd Paris as a work by Drouais, we must alter our perception of the character of Drouais' oeuvre and reconsider the chronology of his works and his artistic development. This study win introduce evidence that supports an attribution of The Shepherd Paris to Drouais and sheds new light on his output and interests during his years in Rome.

By virtue of its dimensions and mythological pretext, it is probable that The Shepherd Paris was executed as an "envoi de Rome" (18) - a figure study painted by a pensionnaire at the French Academy in Rome and intended to be sent to Paris for presentation at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. (Normally a student would be required to execute one painted académie per year and four finished drawings of nude figures.) The painting's style and content also tie in neatly with the kind of "académies peintes" that were executed by David students in the 1780s. Therefore, The Shepherd Paris can be situated in the general time frame for an attribution to Drouais, who was in residence at the French Academy in Rome from 7 October 1784 until 13 February 1788.

Could it have been painted by Drouais during these forty months? Unfortunately, the picture's provenance cannot be traced farther back than the dealer from which it was purchased and, as has been noted, there is no contemporary documentation. However, it is possible to focus on a specific period within the forty months since we know when Drouais could not have painted The Shepherd Paris. In a letter of 9 April 1788 to d'Angivillier, "Surintendant des Bâtiments du Roi", Ménageot, who was the Director of the French Academy in Rome, wrote, "Le Sr Drouais n'a rien laissé du tout en peinture; il n'avait que son académie, en tout il n'a laissé que très peu d'études." (19) Therefore, at his death, Drouais' studio contained only his Philoctetes (fig. 2) and preliminary studies for his unfinished painting, The Departure of Gaius Gracchus. (No doubt there were also sketches for the copy of Domenichino's Adam and Eve, which Drouais had been ordered to paint for the king.) It is therefore inconceivable, especially considering Drouais' failing health in the last year of his life, that he would have worked on any other projects than these in the period from late 1786, when he began his Philoctetes and The Departure of Gaius Gracchus, until his death.

It is equally unlikely that Drouais would have painted The Shepherd Paris in the period from August 1785, when he exhibited his Dying Athlete (fig. 3), to late 1786. (20) A letter of 23 August 1786 from Lagrenée (Director of the Academy before Ménageot) to d'Angivillier informs us that Drouais bad been exempted from the requirement that he execute an académie for 1786 so that he could devote full attention to Marius at Minturnae (which required about eleven months to complete). (21) If The Shepherd Paris was painted by Drouais, it could have only been executed in the eleven-month period from his arrival in Rome to August 1785, and it is precisely there that we must look for answers to the question of authorship.

This was the most productive period of Drouais' career. His biographers tell us that he gave himself over completely to work, rising at four in the morning and working, sometimes without pausing for nourishment, until night-time. (22) In addition to the Dying Athlete, Drouais painted a Head of an Old Man (now lost) and helped David with his The Oath of the Horatii. (23) To this period we must also assign one other work for which there is no eighteenth-century documentation: the (so-called) Seated Gladiator (fig. 4) in Rouen (which some writers have confused with the Dying Athlete). (24) The conventional view is that the Seated Gladiator is an unfinished preliminary version of the Dying Athlete. But although there are similarities of theme, style, and ethos, the Seated Gladiator is probably not a preliminary work. The fact that the Rouen nude wears the laurels of the victor and is unwounded indicates this is a different conception from the Dying Athlete (described in the Journal de Paris "Nécrologie" of 1788 as "...un Gladiateur vaincu et blessé, dans les yeux duquel on voyoit encore briller le désir de la vengeance."). (25) As opposed to the Roman type of the Dying Athlete, the Rouen work probably depicts a Greek hero (certainly the helmet is Greek) who looks upward for divine guidance or to give thanks. (26)

We now know of at least one subject, for which there are no contemporary documents, that Drouais executed during his early years in Rome. Would it then be too speculative to consider the possibility that there is another and that this is The Shepherd Paris? I think not, since the evidence provided by connoisseurship strongly suggests that it is connected to the three certified Drouais académies. The most obvious similarity is the pose - in all four pictures the figures lean back on one arm, while the other arm is bent. (Furthermore, in every work there are draperies beneath the figures.) (27) The torsos of all four figures are gracefully curved, and three of them have their legs crossed. In all four, the angle of the heads, which seems to continue the curve of the bodies, is comparable.

There is also great similarity in the diagonal compositions of the four pictures and in the relationship of the figures to the surrounding space. In every instance, space is compressed behind the figure and opened up on the opposite side. This serves to isolate the figures (which occupy a comparable amount of pictorial space relative to the whole) and to create a meditative space around them. One can also point to the similarity of mood; all the figures are pensive and withdrawn, and each picture conveys a feeling of solemnity and seriousness.

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