A wealth of sumptuous detail and rich color come together in this extraordinary and monumental portrait by the French Orientalist painter Georges Rochegrosse. The scene captures the artist’s beloved wife, Marie, in a room that is an absolute feast for the senses, from the curio of polished Chinese pottery and tabletop of glistening silver to Marie’s woven shrug and her poodle’s abundant coat of fur. Rochegrosse’s carefully composed color harmonies lend cohesion to the otherwise eclectic composition, which is among the finest of his oeuvre.
Despite the bounty of detail that surrounds her, Marie appears at ease in this room, and the intimacy of the composition reveals the depth of the relationship between subject and artist. After they married in 1890, Marie became Rochegrosse’s greatest muse and appeared in his compositions time and time again, as great heroines of antiquity or seductive odalisques in exotic interiors. The present portrait, however, offers a rare glimpse into the daily life of this artistic pair, as Rochegrosse captures her at the breakfast table of their villa in El-Biar. Nestled in the hills above the Bay of Algiers, the home, known as Djenan Meriem, was legendary for its sumptuous interiors that blended East and West. As one French journal wrote in 1905, "Djenan-Meriem resembles some Oriental beauty whose welcoming smile captivates you as soon as you see it." The same sentiment is felt in this beautifully composed portrait, which is an undeniable treasure of the French Academic tradition.
Born in 1859, Georges Rochegrosse was the stepson of the great poet Théodore de Banville, a connection that allowed him entry into intellectual circles at an early age. When he was just 12 years old, he entered the Académie Julian, where he studied under Gustave Boulanger and the great Jules Lefebvre. He later enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts, and in 1882 he exhibited for the first time at the Paris Salon, where he continued to exhibit each year for the remainder of his career.
Considered an international success and star of the Salon, Rochegrosse enjoyed tremendous popularity during his lifetime. His output was primarily dedicated to large-scale historical genre scenes, which, after an 1894 visit to Algiers, took on a decidedly Orientalist style. Enamored of the region, he and his wife spent their winters in their famed villa in El-Biar. Filled with stately neoclassical columns, lush gardens, Oriental ceramics, and vibrant fabrics, the estate served as the backdrop for many of Rochegrosse’s compositions towards the end of his career.
Named a professor at the Art Academy in Algiers, Rochegrosse won a medal of honor in 1906 for his painting La Joie Rouge and was made an Officier of the Légion d'Honneur in 1910. Today, his works can be found in the collections of the Musée d’Orsay (Paris), Musée des Beaux-Arts (Paris), Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington D.C.), and Musée du Louvre (Paris).
Canvas: 40 1/2" high x 30" wide
Frame: 49" high x 38 1/3" wide
Signature: Signed and dated “G. Rochegrosse Djenan Meriem 1904” (lower left)
Georges-Antoine Rochegrosse, Les Fastes de la Decadence, Moulins, Musée Anne-de-Beaujeu, 2013-2014, no. 25.