Jules-Jean-Antoine Lecomte du Nouy (1789-1863)

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Christian Women at the Tomb of the Virgin

Jules-Jean Antoine Lecomte du Nouy was born into a noble piedmontese family who settled in France in the fourteenth century. He entered the Ecole des Beaux -Arts in 1861, where he studied under Charles Gleyre, and two years later he trained under Emile Signol. His fascination with all subjects historical and exotic, lead him to enter the studio of the great painter Jean-Leon Gerome. He was to go on to become a great Orientalist, first rate portraitist, as well as a talented sculptor.

He first exhibited in the Salon in 1863, and received a critical approval in 1865, with his painting entitled, “Le Sentinel grec”. This painting was based on the Greek tragedy, ‘Oresteia,’ by Aeschylus. One year later he won a Gold Medal for another classical subject, with a painting entitled, ‘Invocation of Neptune.’

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Adolphe Cremieux

In 1865, Jean-Leon Gerome persuaded him to go on a trip to Egypt with Felix Clement, as Clement had received a commission to decorate a palace near Cairo. Following this trip, Lecomte du Nouy’s paintings, sought to portray the opulence of the Orient. In his painting entitled, ‘The Guard of the Seraglio: Souvenir of Cairo,’ he portrays the grounds of the Khedival royal family, and shows the Harem Pavillion of the Gazirah Palace.

The painting entitled, ‘A Eunuch’s Dream,’ which hangs in the Cleveland Museum of Art, shows a eunuch dreaming. He exhibited the painting with a passage from the French philosopher, Montesquieu’s Persian letters;

“No passion had ever been more alive than that of the enuch Cosrou for the slave girl Zelide.”

The painting was a mixture of Arabian fable, and topographical observation.

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White Slave

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Demosthenes Practising his Oratory

In both his Orientalist paintings, and his other work, Lecomte du Nouy also sought to make use of the eerie qualities of half light to dramatic, and melancholic effect. He was a successful painter of his time, and in 1869 the French State bought one of his paintings.

In 1872, he was to go on a long voyage, which took in Greece, Egypt, Turkey, and Asia Minor. This lengthy trip was to provide him with much inspiration for his Oriental Paintings. Once back in Paris, he was commissioned by the Roman Catholic church to provide an altar piece for a church of St Vincent de Paul in Paris. He painted scenes from the life of St Paul.

Later on in his life, whilst en route to Constantinople, he stopped in Bucharest to visit his brother, Andre Lecomte du Nouy, who was a court architect. He ended up staying several years, as he received commissions for portraits of members of the royal family, together with commissions for frescoes in Romanian Churches.

In 1895, he exhibited his first sculpture, and he received an honourable mention for his ‘Mort de Gavroche,’ at the Salon of 1901.

Jules-Jean-Antoine- Lecomte du Nouy, throughout his long life lived through many art movements, including the great Impressionist movement. Art historians, and critics have commented that he always remained faithful to his own style of painting, without being influenced by the changing movements around him.

Paintings by Lecomte du Nouy can be found in the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Danish Museum in New York City, and the Musee d’Art et d’Histoire in Paris.

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The Opium Smoker