The Girodet Exhibit - Burial of Atala


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The Burial of Atala

Anne-Louis Girodet (1767-1824)

(Atala au tombeau, dit aussi Les Funérailles d'Atala, 1808)

I saw the Girodet exhibit at the Art Institute and it was awesome. Girodet was a student of David around the time of the French revolution, and his work has a more romantic flair. This piece, The Burial of Atala is based on a story of forbidden love by Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand. Here is the story behind the painting from the Art Institute site:

Increasingly, Girodet explored themes of a more Romantic nature, taking up literary subjects that involved the irrational and the exotic, often portraying them in an erotic manner. In this way, his works embody an aesthetic ideal, breaking down the boundaries between poetry and painting. It was in his paintings and drawings illustrating literature that Girodet carried this fusion of literature and painting to its greatest extreme. In The Burial of Atala, Girodet paints a scene from François- René de Chateaubriand’s tragic love story, Atala, or the Loves of Two Savages in the Desert. This novel exemplifies the melancholic, exotic description of nature and evocative language that became trademarks of Romantic fiction, and it was immensely popular when it was published in 1801. It tells the story of the Christian maiden Atala, who frees the Indian brave Chactas from his enemies and finds refuge with him in the cave of the religious hermit Father Aubry. Having consecrated herself to God and a life of chastity, Atala takes poison when she fears she is falling in love with Chactas. After her death, Chactas vows to become a Christian himself. Commissioned by the director of a newspaper that opposed the Empire, Girodet’s painting elevates a subject from contemporary literature to the status of a major religious work. The monumental arrangement of the figures, the grotto setting, and the cross isolated against the distant sky recall The Dead Christ Supported by the Virgin.

5.jpg Self-portrait


Portrait of Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand


Mademoiselle Lange as Danaë

This one has a very funny story behind it, but you have to see the exhibit for the explanation as the computer image simply does not do it justice!

Here is a visual index to some of the works. The Four Seasons paintings are not to be missed. The image I posted earlier was from a small study of the four paintings and doesn't do justice to the big paintings. The way he paints details such as the sheer fabric on Spring is simply breathtaking and Autumn is squirting her own milk! There are too many pieces to show here but deserve mention... Hippocrates Refusing the Gifts of Artaxerxes is awesome but doesn't have a legible picture online, several based on mythology and many portraits, including Napolean and a freed slave named Jean-Baptiste Belley who gained political power.

This exhibit is definitely worth seeing. Unfortunately, his controversial Cairo painting was not part of the exhibit. The exhibit will travel to New York and Canada after it leaves Chicago at the end of the month. Here is the schedule and press release:

New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 24–August 27, 2006.

Montreal, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, October 12, 2006–January 21, 2007


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Thanks, David, for digging up that story. I laughed when I saw it at the exhibit. This is one of the funniest paintings I've ever seen and definitely one of my favorite works of art.

Here is the story...

You didn't mess with Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson. Mademoiselle Lange, a notorious actress, learned this the hard way when she and her wealthy husband commissioned a portrait, then asked the painter to remove it from public display at the Paris Salon of 1799 and, worse, tried to stiff him on the payments.

Girodet (1767-1824) promptly removed the canvas from its frame and slashed it to bits, sending these to Mlle. Lange. With surprising speed, he returned to the Salon with a new painting in the same frame: a portrait of the actress as Danae, one of the mythical lovers of Zeus, who spilled himself over her in the form of a cascade of gold.

It wasn't a compliment. It was a savage and unusually vindictive satire, exposing the actress as narcissistic, greedy and adulterous. Crammed with symbols of lust, avarice and cupidity, "Mademoiselle Lange as Danae" features the actress focused on the gold coins rather than the mirror in her hand -- which, in any case, is cracked. Her husband appears as a turkey with the tailfeathers of a peacock. A dove, symbolizing fidelity, is being strangled by a cord attached to a scale used for weighing money. Beneath it is a mask of Mlle. Lange's lover, its eyehole stuffed with a coin -- literally blinded by gold.

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