Théodore Chassériau
(Santo Domingo, 1819-1856, Paris)
Recovery of Wounded Warriors, 1853
Oil on panel, 37.5 x 51.5 cm
Signed & dated lower right: Th. Chassériau 1853
Sandoz 226
Théodore Chassériau, born in 1819 in Santo Domingo in the West Indies, begins his artistic career at eleven in the studio of Ingres, who predicts that he will become the Napoleon of painting. When Ingres goes to Rome in 1834, Chassériau, owing to his youth, cannot compete for the Rome Prize, and his sojourn there in 1840, which depresses him, cannot restore the old relationship to his teacher, whom he now sees as merely a reproducer of the art of the past. Thus he is now open to the infIuence of Delacroix, whom he admires. A two-month sojourn in 1846 in Algiers – fourteen years after Delacroix’s stay in Algiers and Morocco – brings out his "Orientalism", for which he is predestined by his Creole descent.
Théophile Gautier, a sympathetic critic, along with others at first regrets this transition to his "seconde manière": "Nous déplorons seulement que l’artiste, qui pouvait vivre magnifiquement chez lui dans son palais de marbre aux colonnes ioniennes, aille sonner de l’oliphant devant le castel moyenâgeux d’Eugène Delacroix" (Criticism of the Salon of 1852). But the synthesis of the drawing from the school of Ingres and the painterly from Delacroix is the dominant feature of the last decade of the artist’s work after the Algerian sojourn. Visual memories of Algiers supported by numerous studies and reinforced by accounts of French officers of the conquest of Algiers ir 1830 furnish the themes. In 1850 Chassériau exhibits a picture showing Arabs salvaging the dead after a battle with the Spahis (Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass.). The picture in the Bührle Collection, executed three years later, is a more human intimate continuation of this monumental composition. It shows the tragic return of the defeated to their camp. The artist’s sympathy is expressed by the intense impasto.