This painting and its pendant, Phryne (location unknown), were an immediate success at the Salon of 1868. They are typical of the scenes of fashionable life in Paris that Marchal painted in the decade prior to his suicide.
Penelope is not represented as the legendary wife of Odysseus but as a contemporary woman, dutifully engaged in needlework as she dreams about her husband, portrayed in the miniature before her. By contrast, Phryne was intended as an analogy to the classical Athenian courtesan of the same name. Marchal depicted her in an evening dress, glancing provocatively into her mirror as she completes her toilette.
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Artist:Charles-François Marchal (French, Paris 1825–1877 Paris)
Medium:Oil on canvas
Dimensions:43 1/2 x 19 1/2 in. (110.5 x 49.5 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of Mrs. Adolf Obrig, in memory of her husband, 1917
Inscription: Signed (upper right): Charles Marchal.
Henry Probasco, Cincinnati (probably 1868–87; probably bought at the Salon of 1868 with its pendant for Fr 28,000 or 30,000; his sale, American Art Association, New York, April 18, 1887, no. 35, for $575); [Knoedler, New York]; Adolf Obrig, New York; Mrs. Adolf Obrig, New York (until 1917)
Paris. Salon. May 1–June 20, 1868, no. 1666 (as "Pénélope").
New York. Knoedler. "An Exhibition of Paintings and Prints of Every Description, on the Occasion of Knoedler, One Hundred Years, 1846–1946," April 1–27, 1946, no. 62 (as "Grey Lady").
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity," February 26–May 7, 2013, not in catalogue.
Musée du Louvre-Lens. "Homère," March 27–July 22, 2019, no. 136.
[André Gill]. Gill-revue: Le salon pour rire (1868), p. 5, reproduces caricatures of this painting and its pendant.
Marius Chaumelin. "Salon de 1868." La presse (1868) [reprinted in Chaumelin, "L'Art contemporain," Paris, 1873, pp. 122, 126–27], praises this picture.
Louis Auvray. Exposition des Beaux-Arts: Salon de 1868. Paris, 1868, pp. 44, 47–48.
T. Thoré. Salon de 1868 (1868) [reprinted in T. Thoré, "Salons de W. Bürger, 1861 à 1868," vol. 2, Paris, 1870, pp. 464–66], states that this painting and "Phryne" are said to have been sold for Fr 28,000.
Raoul de Navery. Le Salon de 1868. Paris, 1868, pp. 32–33, notes that this picture and "Phryne" were said to have been purchased on the opening morning of the Salon by an "Américain enthousiaste" for Fr 30,000.
Charles Wallut. "Chronique du mois: Le Salon de 1868 (fin)." Musée des familles 35 (1868), p. 287, notes the strong moral contrast between the chaste "Penelope" and the courtesan, "Phryné," and Marchal's success at the Salon with the pair.
Arsène Houssaye. "Salon de 1868, introduction." L'artiste (May 1868), p. 247, praises this picture.
Jean Rousseau. "Salon de 1868. I." L'univers illustré 11 (May 9, 1868), p. 287, describes it as lively, charming, and superior in truth and grace to anything the artist produced before.
Cham. "Salon de 1868." Le charivari 37 (May 10, 1868), unpaginated [p. 3], reproduces a caricature of this painting with its pendant; calls it a painting of a “femme honnête” [honnorable woman] and notes that it has more admirers than its pendant, the “cocotte” [loose woman].
Pitou. La marotte 1 (May 14, 1868), unpaginated [p. 3], reproduces caricatures of this painting and its pendant as “toilette d’été” [summer outfit] and “toilette d’hiver” [winter outfit].
C[harles]. Maurand. "Salon de 1868. — Pénélope et Phryné, tableaux de M. Charles Marchal. — Dessins de M. Victor Cesson." L'univers illustré 11 (May 16, 1868), ill. p. 297 (engraving), publishes engravings after this painting and its pendant.
Bertall. "Promenade au Salon de 1868." Journal amusant no. 647 (May 23, 1868), p. 2 [reprinted in Le petit figaro 2 (June 7, 1868)], reproduces a caricature of this painting with its pendant; notes they are a financial success for the artist and jests they are being prepared for export in long boxes.
S. T. "Pénélope. — Phryné: Tableaux de M. Charles Marchal." L’illustration 51 (May 23, 1868), p. 329, ill. p. 328 (wood engraving by Minne), sees virtue in the subject’s elegant dress and calls her “l’épouse laborieuse” [the industrious wife]; in combination with its pendant, considers the artist to have succeeded in depicting “deux types opposés de la vie moderne” [two opposite types of modern life].
Carlo Gripp. "Le Salon de 1868." L'image 2 (May 24, 1868), p. 1, reproduces caricatures of this painting and its pendant in the frontispiece; calls it “la femme rêvée par les passementiers de la rue Saint-Denis” [the woman dreamed of by the trimmers on Saint-Denis Street].
Charles Blanc. "Salon de 1868 (1)." Le temps (May 26, 1868), p. 1, calls Marchal a new competitor for Auguste Toulmouche and Alfred Stevens based on this painting and its pendant; notes that each of the two representations of virtue and vice will have their favorites and that he prefers "Phryné"; states that both pictures had been sold for 28,000 francs since the opening of the Salon.
L'artiste (June 1868), pp. 304–5, ill. (engraving), publishes an anonymous sonnet called "Penelope" and an engraving after this painting.
V[alentine]. Vattier. "Salon de 1868." Le nain jaune, New Series, 6 (June 5, 1868), p. 5, describes it and its pendant as “deux toiles bien finies, bien vernies” [two well-finished, well-varnished canvases]; states they do not achieve the ideal types announced by their titles and that their execution is appropriate to the the robust country women the artist had painted in the past.
Alfred Nettement. "Salon de 1868, IV." La semaine des familles no. 36 (June 6, 1868), p. 572, discusses the moral contrast between this picture and its pendant, calling the two “la reine et l'ennemie du foyer domestique” [the queen and the enemy of the domestic household]; compares it to “la femme forte que l'Ecriture a si gravement louée” [the heroic woman whom Scripture has so gravely praised].
G.[ustave] Cluserat. "Le Salon, VII." L'art 1 (June 11, 1868), p. 1, calls it, along with its pendant, a fashionable and financial success, if not an artistic one; notes that the two have been sold to an American for 30,000 francs and that their reproductions earned the artist another 18,000 francs; compares it to “La comtesse de Châlis,” likely referring to Ernest-Aimé Feydeau’s novel “La comtesse de Chalis: ou, Les moeurs du jour, 1867” (1868); remarks that it is mocked by passersby and attributes this to the immorality of the French nation; states that it lacks character and is, in the end, a bourgeois painting.
Ernest Chesneau. "Salon de 1868, III." Le constitutionnel no. 164 (June 12, 1868), p. 1, prefers this picture to its pendant; remarks that these paintings are a departure from the artist’s usual depiction of Alsatian subjects.
Z. "Le Salon de Paris." Journal des beaux-arts 10 (June 15, 1868), pp. 86–87, calls the appearance of the picture and its pendant at the Salon of 1868 "un des signes de notre temps" [one of the signs of our time] and casts doubt on the figure's moral rectitude.
H[enri]. Escoffier. "Salon de 1868, VII." Le journal illustré 5 (June 18, 1868), p. 203, speculates on the inner thoughts of the women represented in this painting and its pendant; describes them as abstractions or symbols that abound in innuendo but leave the viewer free to choose between domestic virtue and its antithesis; declares that Marchal has synthesized the moral and intellectual character of an entire era; describes the pictures’ execution as meticulous and cold, speculating that this contributed to their success; calls them remarkable works but stops short of declaring them masterpieces.
Jean Rousseau. "Salon de 1868 (Septième article.) XI: Le genre et ce qu’on appelle la modernité." L'univers illustré 11 (June 20, 1868), p. 383, calls it “un chef-d'œuvre de facture aussi bien que de goût et de simplicité” [a masterpiece of craftsmanship as well as of taste and simplicity]; contends that it and its pendant are the works of a stylist and an idealist rather than a realist because they attempt to represent eternal types rather than copy nature; wonders if their success will attach the artist to modern subjects permanently.
[Jules] Castagnary. "Salon de 1868 (10e article)." Le siècle (June 26, 1868), p. 2 [reprinted in "Le bilan de l'année 1868, politique, littéraire, dramatique" (Paris, 1869), p. 353, and Castagnary, "Salons (1857–1870)" (Paris, 1892), vol. 1, p. 312], remarks that this picture and its pendant do not appear to represent virtue and vice, adding that the subject matter is only apparent from their titles.
Alfred Nettement. "Salon de 1868, VII." La semaine des familles no. 39 (June 27, 1868), p. 618, ill. p. 616 (print), remarks that other critics view the moral dichotomy between “Penelope” and “Phryné” as a cliché; praises this “useful, moral, and ingenious” cliché in contrast to the strange novelty of “realist fantasies” by Courbet and Manet.
[Alfred] Darjou. "Revue du Salon de 1868." L'éclipse 1 (June 28, 1868), unpaginated [p. 4], reproduces caricatures of this painting and its pendant as “les petites poupées” [little dolls].
J. Grangedor. "Le Salon de 1868 (2e et dernier article)." Gazette des beaux-arts 25 (July 1868), p. 12, comments that this painting and "Phryne" do not clearly represent moral opposites as intended by the artist.
Paul Dimpre. "Exposition de beaux-arts." Le monde artiste (July 4, 1868), p. 2, describes it and its pendant as dresses whose titles could easily be changed; compares Marchal unfavorably to Auguste Toulmouche; states that it is extremely difficult to establish the difference between “la femme convenable et celle qui ne l’est plus” [the seemly and no longer seemly woman] by external factors alone and that the artist has forgotten that “chaque jour nous confondons sur le trottoir la belle qui ne fait qu’y passer avec celle qui l’habite” [every day we confuse the beauty who only walks by on the sidewalk with the one who lives there].
Ben Aymed. "Exposition des beaux-arts." L’indépendance parisienne 5 (July 5, 1868), p. 4, considers the subject banal but compliments its execution; suggests its success at the Salon is due to modern topicality rather than any real merit; observes that Penelope bears a false modesty and that her up-to-date toilette suggests she is a “cocotte” [loose woman]; compares the stature of its model to the “cantinières” [canteen keepers] of the Cent-Gardes Squadron.
André Albrespy. "Beaux-Arts: L’exposition des beaux-arts en 1868." La revue chrétienne 15 (August 5, 1868), p. 469, notes the praise the artist received for giving the subject enough seductive elegance to compete with its pendant; agrees that if it had “la sévérité de costume de la plus grande partie des Pénélopes de France, elle eût été respectée comme une sainte matrone et laissée à ses occupations” [the severity of dress of the greater part of the Penelopes of France, she would have been respected as a holy matron and left to her occupations]; criticizes the face as unintelligent and expressionless; imagines that Penelope wishes to imitate Phryné’s costume in order to retain her husband and laments the damage such tactics do to public morality; speculates that Marchal’s talent might be sunk by such fashion plates.
Philip Gilbert Hamerton. Painting in France After the Decline of Classicism. London, 1869, pp. 35–36, remarks that it "was painted only to give the force of contrast to" its pendant, "Phryne," noting that both sold for £1200.
Marius Chaumelin. "Salon de 1869." L'Indépendance belge (1869) [reprinted in Chaumelin, "L'Art contemporain," Paris, 1873, p. 240], notes the influence of this picture and "Phryne" on two paintings by Emile Saintin called "Fleurs de fête" and "Fleurs de deuil".
Arsène Houssaye. Les Parisiennes. Vol. 3, Les Femmes adultères. Paris, 1869, ill., frontispiece (engraving by Nargeot and Cucinotta).
Jules Claretie. Peintres et sculpteurs contemporains. Paris, 1873, p. 234.
Philippe Burty. "Nécrologie." La République française (1877) [reprinted in "L'Art" 9 (1877), p. 48], compares it to a banal illustration.
Edward Strahan [Earl Shinn], ed. The Art Treasures of America. Philadelphia, , vol. 1, p. 129; vol. 2, pp. 71–72, 74, notes the popularity of the engraving after this painting.
Eugène Montrosier. "Art contemporain: Marchal." Les Chefs-d'œuvre d'art au Luxembourg. Ed. Eugène Montrosier. Paris, 1881, p. 107, reproduces a drawing related to our painting and another related to "Phyrne" (both, whereabouts unknown).
Victor Fournel. Les Artistes français contemporains: Peintres—sculpteurs. Tours, 1884, pp. 413–15, comments that the public's enthusiasm is disproportionate to the painting's artistic value; notes that Marchal never again achieved the success brought to him by this picture and its pendant.
Clarence Cook. Art and Artists of Our Time. New York, 1888, vol. 1, p. 66.
Jules Breton. The Life of an Artist: Art and Nature. New York, 1891, p. 273.
Henry Marcel. La Peinture française au XIXe siècle. Paris, 1905, p. 219.
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 63.
Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 2, XIX Century. New York, 1966, pp. 177–78, ill., state that Probasco was probably the American who purchased this work and its pendant from the Salon; mention a smaller painting of Penelope by Marchal, sold in New York in 1882 [see Notes].
Joachim Heusinger von Waldegg. "Jean-Léon Gérôme's 'Phryne vor den Richtern'." Jahrbuch der Hamburger Kunstsammlungen 17 (1972), p. 141, fig. 19 (caricature).
Thierry Chabanne. Les Salons caricaturaux. Exh. cat., Musée d'Orsay. Paris, 1990, pp. 29, 40–48, 52 n. 53, pp. 62–63, fig. 18, reproduces and discusses in detail caricatures made after the painting and its pendant at the Salon of 1868.
Susan Sidlauskas. "Resisting Narrative: The Problem of Edgar Degas's Interior." Art Bulletin 75 (December 1993), p. 689, fig. 18, dates it 1867.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 435, ill.
T. J. Clark. The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers. revised ed. (lst ed. 1984). Princeton, 1999, pp. 113, 294 n. 118.
Ivan Gaskell. Vermeer's Wager: Speculations on Art History, Theory and Art Museums. London, 2000, p. 134, fig. 51.
Bernard Vouilloux. Le Tableau vivant: Phyrné, l'orateur et le peintre. Paris, 2002, p. 50.
Christiane Dotal. "Femmes mythiques et légendaires comme allégories modernes au XIXe siècle." L'artiste et sa muse. Ed. Virginie Schmitt. Rome, 2006, pp. 47–49, 58, 60 n. 21, fig. 3, observes that Penelope is depicted as a "parisienne moderne" wearing a Worth gown.
Danielle Derrey-Capon inAlfred Stevens: 1823–1906. Exh. cat., Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. Brussels, 2009, p. 174 n. 5.
Justine De Young. "'Housewife or Harlot': Art, Fashion, and Morality in the Paris Salon of 1868." Cultures of Femininity in Modern Fashion. Ed. Ilya Parkins and Elizabeth M. Sheehan. Durham, N. H., 2011, pp. 124–47, colorpl. 4, fig. 6.1, discusses the painting and its pendant in detail and reviews the copious criticism and caricatures of the pair following their appearance at the Salon of 1868.
Justine De Young inImpressionism, Fashion, & Modernity. Ed. Gloria Groom. Exh. cat., Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Chicago, 2012, p. 235 [French ed., "L'Impressionnisme et la Mode," Paris, p. 259], calls it and its pendant, "Phryne" (location unknown), the most discussed paintings of the 1868 Salon; casts her as the ideal wife.
Isolde Pludermacher inSplendeurs & misères: Images de la prostitution, 1850–1910. Exh. cat., Musée d'Orsay. Paris, 2015, p. 234.
Luc Piralla-Heng Vong inHomère. Ed. Alexandre Farnoux et al. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre-Lens. Paris, 2019, pp. 231, 248, no. 136, ill. (color), discusses it as an example of the nineteenth-century tendency to transpose mythological figures into contemporary reality; compares it to interiors by Vermeer then being rediscovered in France.
A smaller painting of Penelope by Marchal was formerly in the John Wolfe collection (his sale, Chickering Hall, New York, April 5–6, 1882, no. 65). An engraving after our picture is reproduced in L'Artiste 1868. A related drawing (present whereabouts unknown) is reproduced in Montrosier 1881.
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