And The Winner Is…

March 12 2014, 11:47am

This large watercolor of a krater, executed in Lyon in the mid-19th century, is currently being featured on our stand at TEFAF Maastricht. Carlton Hobbs LLC Most unusually, it bears the inscription PRIX D’ENCOURAGEMENT in the top left corner, above at least four distinct signatures, indicating that the watercolor is a rare survival of a competition entry. The drawing is also signed and dated at the lower left, by Antoine-Marie Chenavard (Lyon 1787-1883 Paris). Chenavard trained at the École de Dessin de Lyon and studied at the École Royale des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Upon his return to Lyon, Chenavard was appointed ‘architecte de la préfecture et du département du Rhône’ in 1819 and served as a professor of architecture at the École royale des beaux-arts in Lyon from 1823 to 1861. The École held annual competitions for its students, after which the distribution of prizes among the students was published. For example, in the August 29, 1847 edition of the Lyon newspaper, Le Censeur, Professeur M. Chenavard is listed as heading the architecture section, under which is recorded the winner for Ornament: Prix d’encouragement (médaille d’argent): Orsel (Jacques-Alphée-Antoine, de Lyon. It can therefore be assumed that as head of the department Chenavard’s signature appears on the present watercolor as an endorsement for the entry, while the four signatures at the top provide verification by the judges that it was reviewed and awarded the Prix d’Encouragement. The artists name is no doubt missing to prevent favoritism on the part of those evaluating the work. Detail. Carlton Hobbs LLC. Detail. Carlton Hobbs LLC. The watercolor is a nineteenth century rendering of an ancient vase form with elements of contemporary design, executed during the later stages of neoclassicism in France following the Revolution. The drawing depicts a volute krater, a large vessel used for diluting wine with water in Greek symposia. The volute is the largest of all the types of kraters, named for its handles, which extend vertically from the vessel’s shoulder and resemble the scrolled volutes of a column’s capital. From the 8th century BC onwards, the Greek colony of Taras in the southeast Italian region of Apulia (or Puglia) was a major production center for pottery, and particularly of black-figure and red-figure works. Another technique was white-ground vase painting, a variation of red-figure painting that flourished in the late 6th and 5th centuries BC, used particularly for funerary purposes. It was most popular in Athens and came closest to imitating the wall paintings of Pompeii. Figure 1 The bodies of these vessels generally depicted funereal imagery, most often a naiskos (small temple), however here the artist has used his creative freedom and illustrated an alternative vignette from antiquity taken from an Attic red-figure bell krater formerly at Malmaison, and in the collection of the Musée du Louvre since 1825 (figure 1). The scene depicts a contest of music between the god Apollo and the satyr Marsyas. When Apollo found Marsyas boasting about his musical abilities, he proposed a competition for which the winner could chose the punishment of the loser. Apollo played his lyre and Marsyas his double flute, but during the second round of the contest the instruments were to be played upsidedown, and as the flute was not suited to this, Marsyas lost. As his punishment, he was tied to a tree and flayed alive by Apollo. Figure 2 A second departure from simply being a slavish copy of an extant ceramic are the volutes of the vase handles. Traditionally these would bear identical masks of a female, occasionally the gorgon Medusa. However, on the present drawing, these masks are replaced by two different romantic female portraits. The shoulders of the krater are applied with swan heads issuing directly from the body of the vessel, as opposed to continuing from the handles, a feature found on many Apulian kraters of the 4th century (figure 2). Figure 3 A related drawing of a volute krater was illustrated by Percier and Fontaine in their 1802 volume Recueil de Décorations Intérieures, Plate 18, Figure 1 (figure 3), a publication which aided in the continued interest in neoclassical prototypes during the Restauration. Like the present example, this drawing employs tongue and dart, Greek key, and stiff-leaf decoration throughout the design. The similarly-shaped handles, with swans at the shoulder, also terminate in volutes bearing the likenesses of two females in profile. A further commonality is the depiction Apollo and his lyre, standing beside a seated female figure. We hope you might have a chance to visit our booth and see the drawing in person!