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Hagar driven out by Abraham.
© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot
Publication date: April 2012
Vernet was in 1833 as director of the Académie de France in Rome when he discovered Algeria, which France was beginning to conquer. Going to discover "topical subjects", there was above all the somewhat hallucinated intuition of the absolute immutability of the Arab-Muslim world, placing it in immediate contact with the decor, physiognomies and outfits of the Bible at the time of the patriarchs or Christ. Reinforced by several trips to North Africa and the Middle East between 1837 and 1854, this founding experience which made him write back from his first trip to the Maghreb "Nothing can better give an idea of our fathers in the plains of Canaan." It was Jacob and all of Genesis [...] if I had the talent to take advantage of it, what a beautiful picture we could paint! "Led him to embark on the path of a renewal of religious painting both revived and made more authentic through contact with an unchanging East. Working as a theoretician, Vernet defended his views against his detractors in his artistico-ethnographic essay "On the relations which exist between the costume of the ancient Hebrews and that of the modern Arabs", published in 1848 in The Illustration and read at the Academy of Fine Arts in January of the same year.
Inspired by a biblical episode (Genesis, XXI) frequently illustrated by artists between the XVIIe and the XIXe century, the painting represents the repudiation by Abraham of Hagar and their son Ishmael. Long barren, Sarah, wife of Abraham, encouraged the union of her husband with her Egyptian maid Hagar (Genesis, XVI). A divine intervention finally gives a legitimate child to the couple - Isaac -, which results in the banishment of the servant and her son to the desert where the angels will save them from death. After Rebecca at the fountain, a painting also inspired by the Old Testament which he presented at the Salon of 1835 on his return from his trip to Algeria, Vernet deepens with his Repudiation of Agar the process known as "Arabization" of the Bible, a reading of which he will be the most ardent defender in France.
Nothing is missing here, neither the Bedouin tent, nor the picturesque types and costumes (especially that of Abraham, copied from that of a "handsome Scheyck [sic] of Bedouins "), which will arouse the admiration of Prosper Mérimée. As a good painter of history, very familiar with the great academic tradition, Vernet explores the psychology of the protagonists of the drama and plays heavily on oppositions by constructing his composition on either side of a large vertical line. On the left, on the side of Sarah who jealously watches over Isaac, the elect, the order, the lineage, the inheritance. On the right, promised to the loneliness of the desert if not to death, Hagar and the adulterous son of Abraham who look towards the latter in which can be read the distress and the incomprehension of the child and the silent pain (and somewhat disdainful?) of the betrayed concubine. Between the elect and the outcasts stands the lofty figure of the patriarch whose inflexible attitude is - barely - tempered by the shadow of a passing regret.
The opposition between a West deemed to be essentially dynamic and shaped by the notion of progress and a static East leading to perpetual repetition is certainly one of the most deeply rooted prejudices in 19th century European thought.e century. While it justified the colonial enterprise in certain respects, it also encouraged artists to relentlessly question the forms and figures of countries which offered the stimulating promise of a temporal as well as geographical translation. While Delacroix had discovered "living antiquity" in the East, Vernet saw there the opportunity for a renovation of religious painting offering an alternative to the neo-Gothic movement he abhorred.
Study in partnership with the Museum of Art and History of Judaism
- biblical episode
- French Academy in Rome
- biblical character
- Merimee (Prosper)
- Acadamy of Arts
SOUVIRON Claude, DEPIERRE Marie-Colette, Orients - City of Nantes, Museum of Fine Arts: 19th century collections, catalog of the exhibition Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes (June - September 1982), Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts.Cat. n ° 3 Exhibition catalog The Romantic Years: French painting from 1815 to 1850, Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Paris, national galleries of the Grand Palais, Plaisance, Palazzo Gotico, 1995-1996, Paris-Nantes, Grand Palais-Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes, 1995 Exhibition catalog Women of the Old Testament, Nice, musée national Message biblique Marc-Chagall, July 3-October 4, 1999, Paris, R.M.N., 1999 Exhibition catalog Horace Vernet, Rome, Académie de France, Paris, École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Rome-Paris, De Luca-École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, 1980.
To cite this article
Alexis MERLE du BOURG, "Hagar hunted by Abraham"