Prud'hon—one of the principal representatives of Neoclassicism—undertook this picture in 1813 for the former Empress Marie-Louise. The subject is from the great seventeenth-century French tragedian Racine. Andromache, shown with her attendant Cephise and her child's nurse, has just rejected Pyrrhus whose father, Achilles, had killed her husband Hector. She embraces her son, in whom she sees Hector's features. Pyrrhus is accompanied by his tutor, Phoenix.
Left incomplete, the picture was finished after Prud'hon's death by a pupil, Charles Boulanger de Boisfremont (1773–1838).
Pierre-Paul Prud’hon was born in Cluny and educated there by the local Benedictine monks. Supported by the diocese, he received a municipal scholarship in 1774 to attend the École de Dessin in Dijon. The young artist moved to Paris in 1780 to continue his training at the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture and subsequently won the Prix de Rome in 1784 with a painting of Pompeius before Gentius (location unknown). He first exhibited at the Salon of 1791, where he presented a drawing, The Genius of Liberty and Wisdom (Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass.), and he continued to submit paintings and sketches to the Salon over the following three decades.
Prud’hon looked to the Homeric epics as well as to Andromaque, a work of the seventeenth-century French dramatist Racine, for the narrative elements of this tragedy. The Greek king Pyrrhus, son of Achilles, takes Hector’s widow, Andromache, and her son, Astyanax, as spoils of the Trojan War, and in so doing disregards the petitions of the victorious Greek soldiers who intend to kill the boy to prevent him from becoming a future opponent. Pyrrhus falls in love with Andromache, and in an effort to gain her affections, offers to keep Astyanax safe from the sanguinary Greeks. Andromache, however, despises Pyrrhus, who is the son of the warrior who killed her husband at Troy. She rebuffs his advances and remains loyal to Hector.
In Prud’hon’s depiction, Phoenix, the aged tutor of Pyrrhus, stands behind his pupil, while Andromache is accompanied by her friend Cephise. Astyanax leaps from the arms of his nurse into those of his mother. Andromache has spurned Pyrrhus once again, and this decision is symbolized by her embrace of her son, in whom she sees both the physical characteristics and inner virtues of Hector. In Racine’s narrative, Andromache imagines that, by kissing Astyanax, she also comes into contact with her slain husband: "It is Hector, she exclaims as she kisses him. Here are his eyes, his mouth, and already his courage. It is Hector himself. It is you, dear husband, whom I embrace." Smarting from this rejection, Pyrrhus extends his right arm toward Astyanax in a gesture of disbelief. Phoenix points away, advising his pupil to forget his feelings for Andromache and attend to his duties as king. The Trojan War provides the emotional backdrop, and the relational strife of Pyrrhus and Andromache becomes an allegory of the larger conflict between the Greeks and Trojans. As a loving mother and faithful widow, Andromache honors the memories of her husband and his fallen compatriots. She is therefore emblematic of uxorial piety. By contrast, Pyrrhus is a king who, despite his temporal power, can neither undo the bloody history of the war nor reconcile his own emotional impulses with the societal pressures that impinge upon his political rule. Most likely commissioned by Empress Marie-Louise, the second wife of Napoleon, this picture was begun by Prud’hon about 1813 and was his first painting of a subject from antiquity in thirty years. The artist made four preparatory drawings, experimenting with different poses and gestures; each is in black and white chalk on blue paper, in keeping with his usual manner. One finished study (Musée du Louvre, Paris) includes most of the salient elements seen in the final painting: e.g., the triangular composition of three female figures seated in the foreground, the strong verticals of Pyrrhus and Phoenix to the right of Astyanax, and the outstretched arms and elegant neckline of Andromache at the center. When Prud’hon died in 1823, the work was incomplete. It subsequently entered the collection of the artist’s friend and pupil Charles Boulanger de Boisfrémont, who repainted portions of the composition. Radiographs of the picture have revealed that Boisfrémont altered the gestures and expressions of Pyrrhus and Phoenix and added the vases on the ledge in the background.
Inscription: Signed (lower left, on base of plinth): P. P. Prud'hon
Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, Paris (1814–d. 1823; his posthumous inventory, March 31–April 8, fol. 13 [April 4], as "Andromaque et Pyrrhus"; his sale, May 13–14, no. 1 as "Andromaque . . ." for Fr 6,000 to Boisfremont; ); Charles Boulanger de Boisfremont, Paris (1823–at least 1824; sold for Fr 8,000 to Laperlier); Laurent Laperlier, Paris (?1824–1867; his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, April 11–13, no. 38, as "Andromaque" for Fr 11,000 to Rivière); baron Rivière, Paris (1867–69; sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, March 22, no. 37, as "Andromaque" for Fr 7,150 to Caillot); Madame Caillot, Paris (from 1869); E. Secrétan, Paris (until 1889; his sale, Sedelmeyer's, Paris, July 1, no. 66 as "Andromache" for Fr 10,100 to Durand-Ruel]; [Durand-Ruel, Paris, from 1889]; Collis P. Huntington, New York (until d. 1900; life interest to his widow, Arabella D. Huntington, later [from 1913] Mrs. Henry E. Huntington, 1900–d. 1924; life interest to their son, Archer Milton Huntington, 1924–terminated in 1925)
Paris. Salon. August 25–?, 1824, no. 1384 (as "Andromaque," lent by M. de Boisfremont).
Paris. Grand Palais. "De David à Delacroix: La peinture française de 1774 à 1830," November 16, 1974–February 3, 1975, no. 145.
Detroit Institute of Arts. "French Painting 1774–1830: The Age of Revolution," March 5–May 4, 1975, no. 145.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "French Painting 1774–1830: The Age of Revolution," June 12–September 7, 1975, no. 145.
Yokohama Museum of Art. "Treasures from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: French Art from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century," March 25–June 4, 1989, no. 76.
Paris. Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais. "Prud'hon ou le rêve du bonheur," September 23, 1997–January 5, 1998, no. 161.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Pierre-Paul Prud'hon," March 10–June 7, 1998, no. 161.
Ballouhey. Letter to Prud'hon. December 8, 1814 [reprinted in Charles Clément, "Prud'hon, sa vie, ses ouvrages et sa correspondance," Paris 1880, p. 402], writes on behalf of the empress Marie-Louise thanking Prud'hon for his letter and asking him to send the painting, probably this work.
Explication des ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, architecutre et gravure des artistes vivans. Exh. cat., Musée Royal des Arts. Paris, 1817, p. 71, no. 623, as "Andromaque"; describes the painting and reprints text from Racine.
E.-F.-A.-M. Miel. Essai sur les beaux-arts, et particulièrement sur le salon de 1817. Paris, 1817–18, p. 6, notes that Prud'hon's "Andromaque" was not in the 1817 exhibition.
C[harles]. P[aul]. Landon. Salon de 1824. Paris, 1824, pp. 43–44, pl. 27 (engraving by Reveil), remarks that the faces are very similar, regardless of age or sex, but admires the freshness of color and the delicate brushstrokes; comments that the two figures in the background are by another hand.
A. Jal. L'artiste et le philosophe. Paris, 1824, pp. 221–22.
[Elise Voïart]. Notice historique sur la vie et les ouvrages de P. P. Prudhon, peintre. Paris, 1824, p. 24.
M. Chauvin. Salon de mil huit cent vingt-quatre. Paris, 1825, p. 89, finds it unfortunate that two figures were finished by the then owner.
[E. F. A. M. Miel]. Revue critique des productions de peinture, sculpture, gravure, exposées au Salon de 1824. Paris, 1825, p. 121.
Le Cabinet de l'amateur et de l'antiquaire 3 (1844), pp. 517–18, no. 34.
Charles Blanc. Histoire des peintres de toutes les écoles: École française. Vol. 3, 1863, p. 23, no. 29.
Collection de M. Laperlier, tableaux & dessins de l'école française du XVIIIe siècle et de l'école moderne. Hôtel Drouot, Paris. April 11–13, 1867, p. 22, no. 38, cites the letter dated December 8, 1814 and written for the empress Marie-Louise.
Edmond de Goncourt. Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint, dessiné et gravé de P. P. Prud'hon. Paris, 1876, pp. 116–18, no. 47, provides provenance and lists drawings and sketches.
Alfred de Lostalot. "La Collection Laurent Richard." Gazette des beaux-arts, 2nd ser., 17 (May 1878), p. 461.
Charles Clément. Prud'hon sa vie, ses œuvres et sa correspondance. 3rd ed. [1st ed. 1872]. Paris, 1880, pp. 401–3, reprints the 1814 letter.
Étienne Bricon. Prud'hon. Paris, , p. 108.
Jean Guiffrey. "L'œuvre de Pierre-Paul Prud'hon." Archives de l'art français 13 (1924), pp. 89–93, no. 249, under nos. 250–52, 254, 256–58, states that the work was begun in 1815 and alludes to the separation of the empress Marie-Louise from her son; suggests that Prud'hon abandoned the painting because her circumstances changed.
Bryson Burroughs. "The Collis P. Huntington Collection Comes to the Museum." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 20 (June 1925), p. 142, ill. p. 147.
H[arry]. B. Wehle. "Notes on Paintings in the Huntington Collection." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 20 (July 1925), p. 178.
Jean J. Seznec. "Racine et Prud'hon." Gazette des beaux-arts 26 (1944), pp. 354, 358–60, 364, fig. 13.
Charles Sterling. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of French Paintings. Vol. 1, XV–XVIII Centuries. Cambridge, Mass., 1955, pp. 201–3, ill., notes that it was probably started in early 1815, after Prud'hon had made many preparatory drawings and sketches; comments that the empress presumably commissioned it in 1814, and that the subject of Andromache and Astyanax alludes to her own unhappiness as the mother of the young King of Rome, her son by Napoleon, who was in exile on the island of Elba.
James Hugus Slayman. "The Drawings of Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, A Critical Study." PhD diss., University of Wisconsin, 1970, pp. 78–79, 198 n. 26, p. 199 n. 30, pl. 65, describes the development of the composition in the drawings.
Charles McCorquodale. "From David to Delacroix." Art International 19 (June 15, 1975), p. 27.
J[ean]. L[acambre]. French Painting, 1774–1830: The Age of Revolution. Exh. cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais. 1975, pp. 278, 572–73, no. 145, ill. [French ed. "de David à Delacroix, la peinture française de 1774 à 1830," Paris, 1974, pp. 565–66, pl. 183], quotes from contemporary sources and reproduces Guiffrey's list of related works.
Exhibition of French Drawings: Neo-Classicism. Exh. cat., Heim Gallery. London, 1975, unpaginated, under no. 106.
Hugh Honour. "Y eut-il une peinture 'néo-classique' en France?" Revue de l'art no. 34 (1976), p. 88.
Laurence B. Kanter. "Andromache and Astyanax by Pierre-Paul Prud'hon and Charles Boulanger de Boisfremont." Metropolitan Museum Journal 19/20 (1984), pp. 143–150, figs. 1 and 6 (x-ray photograph), traces the evolution of the composition through the preparatory studies and an x-ray, deciding that Boisfrémont's changes and additions to Prud'hon's work are more extensive than previously realized, and "have resulted in more than just paint surface of uneven quality . . . they have concealed an important stage in the artist's creative processes and compromised our appreciation of his literary and dramatic intelligence".
Pierre Rosenberg and Marion C. Stewart. French Paintings 1500–1825, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. San Francisco, 1987, p. 258.
Sylvain Laveissière. "Lettres de Pierre-Paul Prud'hon et de Constance Mayer, 1808–1820." Archives de l'art français, n.s., 29 (1988), p. 31 n. 2.
Sylvain Laveissière. "Prud'hon illustrateur: deux dessins pour Dijon." Bulletin des Musées de Dijon no. 2 (1996), p. 29.
Sylvain Laveissière. "The Creative Process." Connaissance des arts special no. (1997), p. 14, colorpl. 14.
Sylvain Laveissière. Pierre-Paul Prud'hon. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, pp. 12, 29, 119, 174, 210–13, 215, 216, 218–21, 231, 236, no. 161, ill. (color, overall and detail), mentions that the 1814 letter does not refer to the painting directly, the only clue being a note on the envelope which reads "for the 'Andromache' picture"; contends it is unlikely that this work alludes deliberately to the events of 1814 because the commission probably dated to 1813, and the composition was elaborated long before, and may even have been finalized by the end of the eighteenth century; publishes additional drawings in support of this argument.
Sylvain Laveissière. "'Notre Saint Prud'hon': Une lettre inédite de Laurent Laperlier à Philippe Burty." Mélanges en hommage à Pierre Rosenberg: Peintures et dessins en France et en Italie, XVIIe–XVIIIe siècles. Paris, 2001, p. 252.
Elizabeth E. Guffey. Drawing an Elusive Line: The Art of Pierre-Paul Prud'hon. Newark, Del., 2001, pp. 88, 102, 104, 108, 215, 219, 237, 249 n. 13, p. 258 nn. 2, 6.