The beautiful nymph Echo was cursed by the goddess Hera and could only repeat the last words said to her. Unable to communicate with the man she loved, Echo retreated to the mountains and pined away until just her voice remained. With her mouth agape and her hands at her ears, she appears startled by reverberating sounds. Cabanel’s paintings epitomize the mannered elegance and polish of the academic style. During the nineteenth century, such idealized portrayals of the nude were often deemed unconvincing, but many preferred them to more realistic depictions, which seemed shockingly indecorous.
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower left): ALEX. CABANEL. / 1874
Samuel P. Avery, New York (from 1874; commissioned from the artist with a pendant, "Ariane abandonnée"); Charles Stewart Smith, New York (until d. 1909); his son, Howard Caswell Smith, New York and Oyster Bay, N.Y. (1909–d. 1965); his widow, Mrs. Howard Caswell (Mary Phelps) Smith, Oyster Bay, N.Y. (1965; her gift to MMA)
Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération. "Alexandre Cabanel (1823–1889), La tradition du beau," July 10–December 5, 2010, no. 204 (as "La Nymphe Écho").
Cologne. Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud. "Alexandre Cabanel: Die Tradition des Schönen," February 4–May 15, 2011, no. 53.
Alexandre Cabanel. Letter to his niece. August 26, 1874, archives Saint-Pierre, Rome [excerpt published in Ref. Hilaire 2010, p. 381 n. 1], states that he has repainted this picture and its pendant "Ariane" and they are now finished; reports that Avery, for whom the pictures are intended, saw them the previous evening and "il en a été touché jusqu'aux larmes".
Georges Lafenestre. "Alexandre Cabanel." Gazette des beaux-arts, 3rd ser., 1 (April 1889), p. 278.
Albert Boime. The Academy and French Painting in the Nineteenth Century. London, 1971, p. 211 n. 64, cites it as an example of Cabanel's later style, characterized by strong color and brilliant brushwork.
Michel Hilaire in Michel Hilaire and Sylvain Amic. Alexandre Cabanel (1823–1889), La tradition du beau. Exh. cat., Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération. Paris, 2010, pp. 380–81, no. 204, ill. (color), notes that this painting and a pendant of Ariane, another mythological figure (present location unknown) were commissioned by Avery.
Jean Nougaret in Michel Hilaire and Sylvain Amic. Alexandre Cabanel (1823–1889), La tradition du beau. Exh. cat., Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération. Paris, 2010, p. 467, no. 333.