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Medea

Artist:
Charles Antoine Coypel (French, Paris 1694–1752 Paris)
Former Attribution:
Formerly attributed to Charles Le Brun (French, Paris 1619–1690 Paris)
Date:
ca.1715
Medium:
Pastel
Dimensions:
11 9/16 x 8 1/8 in. (29.4 x 20.6 cm)
Classification:
Drawings
Credit Line:
Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1953
Accession Number:
1974.25
Not on view
An accomplished pastellist, Charles-Antoine Coypel used the medium not just for finished works, but frequently as a preparatory step in developing his painted compositions. The Metropolitan’s pastel is a study for Coypel’s earliest surviving canvas, Jason and Medea (Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin), which was submitted to the Académie royale as the artist’s reception piece in 1715. Not surprisingly, for an artist who would pursue simultaneously a career as a playwright, Coypel’s conception of the subject was unabashedly theatrical. Set against a curved architectural backdrop, the scene depicts the climax of the story: Medea, having committed her vengeful acts, escapes the wrath of Jason; she is airborne, gripping the reins of her dragon chariot in her left hand while brandishing a dagger in her right. Starkly lit against dark clouds, she is a fearsome sight, every muscle of her face clenched in fury.
Before its re-attribution in 2001, the pastel was long considered to be a work by the seventeenth-century painter, Charles Le Brun, whose treatise on facial expression and emotion influenced history painters for well over a century. Coypel, who had a strong interest in theater, was especially drawn to the legibility and dramatic power of Le Brun’s models.
Marking: Lower right corner, blind stamped: collector's mark of Chevalier de Damery, Lugt 2862
Chevalier de Damery (French, died 1803 (?)); Vendor: Colnaghi, New York
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," April 25, 2005–July 24, 2005.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Pastel Portraits: Images of 18th-Century Europe," May 17–August 14, 2011.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "About Face: Human Expression on Paper," July 27, 2015–December 13, 2015.

Perrin Stein "A Newly Discovered Pastel by Charles Coypel." Burlington Magazine. vol. 143, April 2001, fig. no. 33, p. 220, ill.

Neil Jeffares Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800. London, 2006, p. 147.

Katharine Baetjer, Marjorie Shelley "Pastel Portraits, Images of 18th-Century Europe" The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. 2011, cat. no. 37, 48, ill.



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