Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ary Scheffer

The Ghosts of Paolo and Francesca Appear to Dante and Virgil
oil on canvas
size unknown
The Louvre Museum, Paris, France

This painting shows a scene from Dante's Inferno of Dante and Virgil viewing Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta in Hell. There are three other versions of this painting by Ary Scheffer (Wallace Collection, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Louvre, Cleveland Art Museum in Cleveland, OH).

Ary Scheffer (1795-1858), Dutch-French Romantic painter, often painted subjects from literature, especially the works of Dante, Byron and Goethe. He did not show much affinity with Romanticism and developed his own style, which has been called "frigidly classical". He was also an accomplished portrait painter, finishing 500 portraits in total. His subjects included composers Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt, the Marquis de la Fayette, Pierre-Jean de Beranger, Alphonse de Lamartine, Charles Dickens, Duchess de Broglie, Talleyrand and Queen Marie Amelie. After 1846, he ceased to exhibit. His strong ties with the royal family caused him to fall out of favour when, in 1848, the Second Republic came into being. Shut up in his studio, he produced many paintings that were only exhibited after his death in 1858. By the time of his death, his reputation was damaged. Though his paintings were praised for their charm and facility, they were condemned for poor use of color and vapid sentiment. But nowadays he is considered a major player in the Romantic movement.

Scheffer was the son of a portrait painter. He was taught by his parents and attended the Amsterdam drawing academy from the age of 11. In 1808 his father became court painter of Louis Bonaparte in Amsterdam, but he died a year later. In 1811 he moved to Paris, where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In 1819 he was asked to make a portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette. Perhaps because of Lafayette's contacts, he was politically active throughout his life and he became a prominent Philhellene. He was made commander of the Legion of Honour in 1848. As a captain of the Garde Nationale he escorted the royal family in their escape from the Tuileries and escorted the Duchess d'Orleans to the Chambre des Deputes where she in vain proposed her son to be the next monarch of France. He fought in the army of Cavaignac during the popular uprising in Paris, but he was so shocked by the cruelty and hatred from the government's side and the misery of the lower classes that he withdrew from political activity and refused to make portraits of the family of Napoleon III. In 1850 he became a French citizen. He continued his frequent travels to the Netherlands, and made trips to Belgium, Germany and England, but a heart condition slowed him down and in 1858 took his life in his summerhouse in Argenteuil. He is buried in the Cimetiere de Montmartre.