The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 015b
Copy after Girodet's 'The Entombment of Atala'

Copy after Girodet's 'The Entombment of Atala'

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1857
Collection: Whereabouts unknown
Accession Number: none
Medium: oil
Support: unknown
Size: unknown
Signature: unknown
Inscription: unknown

Date

Whistler may have been commissioned to paint a Copy after Girodet's 'The Entombment of Atala' in 1857.

On 16 September 1857 his mother, Anna Matilda Whistler (1804-1881), wrote to Whistler:

'Mr King desires to be remembered to you & says when he is able to send you an order it will be to copy "The burial of Atala" in the Louvre gallery. he once owned a copy of it a large fine picture three feet square, from association with his dear Isabella as her selection when they were in Paris, he very naturally wishes to have it to contemplate again.' 1

However, there are no further records of this.

Images

Copy after Girodet's 'The Entombment of Atala, Whereabouts unknown
Copy after Girodet's 'The Entombment of Atala, Whereabouts unknown

A. L. Girodet, The Burial of Atala, Musée du Louvre
A. L. Girodet, The Burial of Atala, Musée du Louvre

Subject

Titles

Whistler's title is not known.

Description

A. L. Girodet, The Burial of Atala, Musée du Louvre
A. L. Girodet, The Burial of Atala, Musée du Louvre

This was presumably intended to be a copy, or partial copy of The Entombment of Atala, 1808 (Musée du Louvre, INV 4958) by Anne-Louis Girodet (1767-1824), which is described by the Louvre as:

'Chactas the Indian and Father Aubry are burying Atala, heroine of Chateaubriand's novel, published in 1801. Everything about this funerary elogy - the Christian subject, the exotic setting, intense emotions - must have appealed to those who, on the fringes of David's rigor, remained attached to the sacred, to nature and sentiment.

A young woman torn between love and religion.

In the sunset, in a cave, the old hermit, Father Aubry, is supporting the corpse of the half-caste Atala. Chactas the Indian, stricken with grief, clings passionately to the young woman's knees. Atala, torn between her love for Chactas and the vow she took to remain a virgin and a Christian, committed suicide. With a crucifix clutched in her hand and the drapery of her dress clinging to her bust, she is both pure and sensual. After their all-night vigil, the two men will bury her in the cave. A verse from the Book of Job is carved on the cave wall: "When it is yet in flower, and is not plucked with the hand, it withereth before all herbs." Girodet drew his subject from Chateaubriand's Atala, or the Loves of Two Savages in the Wilderness (1801), set in America in the 17th century. This novel by the first French romantic novelist was published in his hugely popular The Genius of Christianity. The book celebrated Catholicism at the time when Bonaparte signed the Concordat with the Church. The exoticism, the defense of the innocence of primitive peoples and the religious sentiment that characterized the novel are all transposed into the picture. Girodet has not merely illustrated a single scene from Chateaubriand's novel, he has synthesized several passages. He has also forsaken the antique subjects dear to his master, David, for new subject matter: for Girodet, unlike David, painting no longer has a moral or political function.' 3

Comments

Girodet showed the painting at the 1808 Salon. It was widely praised, and admired by, among others, Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867).

If in fact it was copied by Whistler, it would have been his sole American subject (excluding portraits of Americans).

Technique

Technique

Unknown.

Conservation History

It is not known if this copy was completed.

History

Provenance

Exhibitions

It was not exhibited in Whistler's lifetime.

Bibliography

Catalogues Raisonnés

Authored by Whistler

Catalogues 1855-1905

Journals 1855-1905

Monographs

Books on Whistler

Books, General

On Girodet:

Catalogues 1906-Present

Journals 1906-Present

Websites

On Girodet:

Unpublished

Other


Notes:

1: 17 August and 16 September 1857, GUW #06487.

2: A. M. Whistler to J. Whistler, 17 August and 16 September 1857, GUW #06487.

3: Musée du Louvre website. See also Guégan 1999 [more].