Collection

Gustave Doré
French, 1832-1883

The Defense of Paris (Memories of 1870), 1871
Oil on canvas
Purchase, Suzette Morton Davidson, class of 1934, Fund
1972.2
Period: 19th c
Classification: Painting
Dimensions: Unframed: 76 1/2 x 51 in. (194.31 x 129.54 cm) Framed: 87 x 61 3/4 x 4 1/8 in. (220.98 x 156.85 x 10.48 cm)
Provenance v
Dore Sale, Paris 1885, no. 11; Collection Felix Gerard; Sale Felix Gerard, pere; Shepherd Gallery, New York; Collection of Mr. and Mrs. David Eames, New York; Purchase by VC Art Gallery with the Suzette Morton Davidson Fund, 1972.
Published References v
Deze 1930, p. 126, no. 11 and p. 163; Leblanc, 1931, p. 534, no. 11; Linda Nochlin, Art in America “Picasso’s Color: Schemes and Gambit,” December 1981.
Exhibition History v
Strasbourg, France, Musee d’Art Moderne "Gustave Dore," 10 June - 31 August 1983; South Hadley, MA, Mount Holyoke Art Musuem, “Highlights from the Vassar College Art Gallery Collection,” August 2 - November 19, 1990; New York, New York, IBM Gallery of Science and Art, “Highlights from the Vassar College Collection,” July 13 - September 11, 1993; Poughkeepsie, FLLAC, Vassar College, “The Lines of Battle: Images of War From the Fifteenth to Twentieth Centuries’: September 26 - December 14, 1997; New York, New York, Dahesh Museum of Art, "Fantasy and Faith: The Art of Gustave Dore," January 23 - April 22, 2007; Japan, Shimane Art Museum, "Paris--New York; Modern Paintings in 19th and 20th Century Master Works from the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York," March 7 - May 11, 2008. Cat. no. 1, p. 41; Japan, Ishibashi Museum of Art, "Paris--New York; Modern Paintings in 19th and 20th Century Master Works from the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York," May 17 - July 20, 2008; Japan, Yamagata Museum of Art, "Paris--New York; Modern Paintings in 19th and 20th Century Master Works from the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York," July 30 - August 31, 2008; Japan. Fuchu Art Museum, "Paris--New York; Modern Paintings in 19th and 20th Century Master Works from the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York," September 6 - November 3, 2008; Japan, Miyazaki Prefectural Art Museum, "Paris--New York; Modern Paintings in 19th and 20th Century Master Works from the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York," November 14 - December 14, 2008; Paris, France, Musee D'Orsay, "Gustave Dore: Master of Imagination," February 10 - May 11, 2014, Cat. no. 151 repr.; Ottawa, Canada, National Gallery of Canada, "Gustave Dore: Master of Imagination," June 13 - September 14, 2014, Cat. no. 151 repr.
Description v
Doré was a born illustrator, a prodigy who was making drawings to illustrate stories while still a young child. This interest led quickly to a career in art, beginning with drawings for Parisian journals made while still attending the Lycée Charlemagne. He then turned to painting (and sculpture), entering his first Salon in 1850. He made his reputation by illustrating many of the great works of world literature, including Dante’s Divine Comedy, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and the Bible. He was also a scathing social critic, publishing the illustrations to English journalist Blanchard Jerrold’s London: A Pilgrimage, in 1872, an indictment of the gulf between the classes in contemporary England. Vassar’s painting by Doré, The Defense of Paris, is one part of a trilogy of allegorical paintings entitled Souvenirs de 1870, a response in pigments to the humiliation France suffered at the hands of the Germans during the Franco- Prussian War. By skillfully managing a French ambassador’s misstatement regarding Prussian attempts to dictate the next king of Spain, the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck drew France into a war, declared by the Emperor Napoleon III on 15 July 1870. By 1 September the French army sur- rendered and the Emperor was captured. Paris was then besieged on 20 Sep- tember and surrendered on 18 January of the following year. Doré himself was inside the capital at the time and wrote plaintively of the horrors of the invasions and the siege. Doré portrays a female allegory of the French Republic standing inside the gates of Paris surrounded by beaten French soldiers and distressed civilians. The entire painting is executed en grisaille except for the red and blue of the French flag that is held furled behind France’s back. The entire mood is of disillusionment and defeat, yet the heroism of the Parisian populace is underscored. The remaining two paint- ings in the trilogy are somewhat more obscure in their allegorical references. One, entitled The Enigma, portrays a winged female figure (France) anxiously interrogating a Sphinx regarding, presumably, the outcome of the war, while Paris burns in the background. The second painting, The Black Eagle, shows the personification of the French Republic, her sword broken, protecting a fallen officer as a huge, menacing black eagle, a symbol of the German empire, swoops in for the kill.
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