Esther's toilet

Esther's toilet


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Title: The Toilet of Esther.

Author : CHASSERIAU Théodore (1819 - 1856)

Creation date : 1841

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 45 - Width 35

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage place: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre Museum) / René-Gabriel Ojédasite web

Picture reference: 02-012902 / RF3900

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre Museum) / René-Gabriel Ojéda

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

Returning from Italy the previous year, Chassériau, who had just broken off definitively from his master, Ingres, presented several works at the Salon of 1842, including this small painting which today counts among his most famous paintings. At the age of twenty-two, Chassériau embarked a little further on the path of a renovation of history painting (we hesitate to speak of religious painting here) by becoming part of a dreamlike eroticism that exhaled a heady fragrance. from the East.

Image Analysis

After representing Venus, Suzanne and Andromeda, Chassériau continued his exploration of the expressive possibilities of the "heroic" female nude by taking an interest in the book of Esther, a biblical tale already frequently used by its predecessors. If the latter had instead privileged the decisive audience that King Ahasuerus grants to his beautiful Jewish wife, who risks her life to save her people destined for extermination, Chassériau chooses to represent an earlier and rarer episode (chap. II) .

Pupil of Mordecai, a Jew deported by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylonia, Esther joined the women's apartment - Esther's Toilet is a harem scene with an impassive maid, tiger skin and jewelry box - in the palace of King Ahasuerus, who has been looking for a new bride since he repudiated the rebellious Vashti. Favored by the eunuch Aegean (who appears here in the guise of a Moor), Esther adorns herself to appear in all her beauty during the presentation which will perhaps make her the new sovereign (another very popular scene artists) and the instrument of the salvation of his people. The composition of Chassériau bears witness first and foremost to a certain horror of emptiness, this horror vacui which sometimes leads painters to clutter up the pictorial space to an excess (to the point that the servant and the eunuch appear here only in part). This sense of clutter is further heightened by the lack of depth of an otherwise impossible to locate scene. The canvas testifies to a great sophistication which is reflected first of all by the subtlety of the colors - the painter having notably played on the different values ​​of white, from the pearly body of Esther to the fabric, barred with a salmon-colored fabric, which covers the legs. This climate of languid preciousness is amplified by the liberties taken with the anatomy (voluntary elongation of the neck, arms) which are reminiscent of the aesthetics cultivated during the Renaissance and, closer to Chassériau, the fascinating extravagances and the impossible Ingres twists.

Interpretation

A heterogeneous horizon which then feeds an ever more substantial part of Western literary and figurative creation, the Orient already stimulated the imagination of Chassériau long before he went to Algeria in 1846. The appetite for exoticism which underpins stretches this dreamed but not lived Orientalism, drawing from all sources - significantly, theEsther of the Louvre is perhaps inspired by a Venus toilet by Rubens (Prince of Liechtenstein coll.), which would explain the blondness of the biblical heroine…) - was also the leaven of a subversion of artistic tradition and the means of emancipation from the tyranny of "decorum" . The romantics, who showed an immediate interest in oriental themes, will not be mistaken. There is, moreover, a deep convergence of Esther by Chassériau with another "beautiful Jew", that of "La Sultane favorite" by Victor Hugo, a poem which belongs to the collection of Oriental published in 1829. It is remarkable that, in Chassériau, the secularized representation of the power of seduction of the woman tends clearly to take precedence over the exaltation of a pious and virtuous Esther (anticipation of the Virgin in the Christian tradition) . This provocative eroticism, which blurs the line between genre painting and historical painting, made Esther a sister of the odalisques who would populate the painter's late compositions (Seraglio bath, 1849, Louvre; Moorish woman coming out of the seraglio bath, 1854, MBA Strasbourg) or the lascivious Pompeians of his Tepidarium (1853, Orsay).

Study in partnership with the Museum of Art and History of Judaism

  • Orientalism
  • biblical episode
  • biblical character

Bibliography

SANDOZ Marc, Théodore Chassériau (1819-1856).Catalogue raisonné of paintings and prints, Paris, 1974, n ° 89 PELTRE Christine, Théodore Chassériau, Paris, 2001, p.90-92, 119-204.PARIS, STRASBOURG, NEW YORK, 2002-2003, Chassériau - Another romanticism, Paris, National Galleries of the Grand Palais, Strasbourg, Musee des Beaux-Arts de Strasbourg, New York, The Metropolitan museum of art, collection no. 66

To cite this article

Alexis MERLE du BOURG, "La toilette d'Esther"


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