The Triumph of Bacchus

Piat Joseph Sauvage (Flemish, Tournai 1743–1818 Tournai)

early 1780s
Oil on canvas
19 1/4 x 46 1/8 in. (48.9 x 117.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1906
Accession Number:
  • Catalogue Entry

    Celebrated for his trompe-l'oeil imitations of bas-reliefs, Piat Joseph Sauvage was born in Tournai and studied there at the academy. 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 until 1810 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 is autograph, with Sauvage's signature at the lower left. The shape and scale of the composition suggest that it is an overdoor. The color imitates bronze.


  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Signed (lower left): Sauvage

  • Provenance

    Georges Hoentschel, Paris (until 1906; sold to Morgan); J. Pierpont Morgan, New York (1906)

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History