Celebrated for his trompe-l'oeil imitations of bas-reliefs, Piat Joseph Sauvage was born in Tournai. After training in Antwerp with the grisaille painter Martin Joseph Geeraerts (1707–1791), he exhibited in Paris in 1774 at the Académie de Saint-Luc. He was also admitted to the academies of Toulouse (1774) and Lille (1776), and in 1783 became a full member of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. Sauvage's painted reliefs—which imitate sculptures in marble, stone, terracotta, and bronze—were prized: he received commissions for the palaces of Versailles (1781–87), Bellevue (1785), Fontainebleau (1785–86), and Compiègne (1785–89). With the advent of the Revolution he proclaimed Republican sentiments and commanded a National Guard battalion in 1795. He exhibited regularly from 1781 onward and then returned to Tournai, as director of the local academy.
Sauvage exhibited a painting titled The Triumph of Bacchus
at the Salon of 1781; listed as a relief imitating bronze, it was slightly larger than this work at 20 1/4 x 51 1/8 in. (51.6 x 130 cm). Here Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, rides a chariot drawn by a panther. Long associated with wild religious rites, he carries a staff or thyrsus
and raises a cup of wine. One of his followers bears an amphora, another a basket of fruit, while others blow horns and beat tambourines. Typically, Bacchus and his followers are depicted as putti
: images of childish play were popular subjects at the time.
At least three versions of the Triumph of Bacchus
by Sauvage are known. Of the two at the Metropolitan Museum (see also 07.225.314a
), this one bears Sauvage's signature at the lower left. The shape and scale of the composition suggest that it is an overdoor. The color imitates bronze.
[Katharine Baetjer and Francesca Whitlum-Cooper 2016]