Echo

Artist:
Alexandre Cabanel (French, Montpellier 1823–1889 Paris)
Date:
1874
Medium:
Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
38 1/2 x 26 1/4 in. (97.8 x 66.7 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
Gift of Mary Phelps Smith, in memory of her husband, Howard Caswell Smith, 1965
Accession Number:
65.258.1
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 800

In Greek mythology, the beautiful nymph Echo is cursed by the goddess Hera and can only repeat the last words said to her. Unable to communicate with the man she loves, Echo retreats to the mountains and pines away until just her voice remains. Cabanel shows the nymph with her mouth agape and her hands at her ears, is if startled by reverberating sounds. The painter’s work epitomizes the mannered elegance and polish of the academic style. Nineteenth-century critics often deemed such idealized portrayals of the nude 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.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Rodin at The Met," September 16, 2017–February 4, 2018.

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.