Prud’hon—a principal representative of Neoclassicism who developed this smoky, sfumato technique—began this painting for the former empress of France, Marie Louise. Still incomplete when he died, it was finished by one of his students. The subject of family devotion and its relationship to the state is taken from the French dramatist Racine: Andromache embraces her son, Astyanax, in whom she sees the features of her husband, who had been killed by Achilles. When mother and son become spoils of war, Achilles’s son, Pyrrhus, falls in with her; however, as Pyrrhus’s surprised gesture indicates, she rejects his advances in fidelity to her deceased husband.
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Title:Andromache and Astyanax
Artist:Pierre Paul Prud'hon (French, Cluny 1758–1823 Paris)
Artist: completed by Charles Pompée Le Boulanger de Boisfrémont (French, Rouen 1773–1838 Paris)
Medium:Oil on canvas
Dimensions:52 x 67 1/8 in. (132.1 x 170.5 cm)
Credit Line:Bequest of Collis P. Huntington, 1900
Prud’hon was born in Cluny. 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 won the Prix de Rome in 1784. 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 submitted a number of paintings and sketches to the Salon over the following three decades.
Prud’hon looked to Andromaque, a work of the seventeenth-century French dramatist Racine, for the narrative elements of this tragedy. Pyrrhus, son of Achilles, took Hector’s widow, Andromache, and her son, Astyanax, as spoils of the Trojan War, disregarding the petitions of the victorious Greek soldiers who intended to kill the boy to prevent him from becoming a future opponent. Pyrrhus fell in love with Andromache, and in an effort to gain her affections offered to keep Astyanax safe from the Greeks. Andromache, however, despised Pyrrhus, the son of the warrior who killed her husband at Troy. She rebuffed his advances and remained 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, and her 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 imagined 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 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 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 Trojan War nor reconcile his own emotional impulses with the pressures that impinge upon his rule.
The picture was Prud’hon's first painting of a subject from antiquity in thirty years. The artist made several 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: 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 was bought at the artist's posthumous sale by his friend and pupil Boisfrémont, and X-radiographs revealed that Boisfrémont significantly altered the gestures and expressions of Pyrrhus and Phoenix and added the vases on the ledge in the background.
Charles Howard 2012; updated by Katharine Baetjer 2017
Inscription: Signed (lower left, on base of plinth): P. P. Prud'hon
the artist (until d. 1823; his posthumous inventory, 1823, as "Andromaque et Pyrrhus"; his sale, Paillet, Paris, May 13–14, 1823, no. 1, as "Andromaque pressant tendrement son fils Astyanax, en présence de Pyrrhus; l'instant représenté est celui où le fils d'Achille cherche à fléchir la veuve d'Hector. Céphise et Phénix, témoins de cette scène du plus haut intérêt, partagent avec la nourrice d'Astyanax, une émotion des plus grandes. Ce tableau, dont une partie des accessoires et quelques draperies ne sont point terminés, avait été destiné à l'Archiduchesse de Parme," for Fr 6,000 to Boisfrémont); Charles Boulanger de Boisfrémont, Paris (1823–at least 1824; sold for Fr 8,000 to Laperlier); Laurent Laperlier, Paris (until 1867; his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, April 11–13, 1867, no. 38, as "Andromaque," for Fr 11,000 to Rivière); baron Rivière, Paris (1867–69; sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, March 22, 1869, no. 37, for Fr 7,150 to Caillot); Madame Caillot, Paris (from 1869); E. Secrétan, Paris (until 1889; his sale, Sedelmeyer, Paris, July 1, 1889, no. 66, 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 [published in Clément 1880, p. 402], writes on behalf of the empress Marie-Louise thanking Prud'hon for his letter and asking him to send the painting.
Explication des ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, architecture 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, regrets 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) [McWilliam 1991, no. 1273], remarks that all the faces are similar, regardless of age or sex, but admires the freshness of color; comments that the painting was left unfinished and that the two inferior figures in the background are by another hand.
A[uguste]. Jal. L'artiste et le philosophe. Paris, 1824, pp. 221–23 [McWilliam 1991, no. 1272], admires the characterization of Andromache as a mother, but not as a widow.
[Elise Voïart]. Notice historique sur la vie et les ouvrages de P. P. Prudhon, peintre. Paris, 1824, p. 24.
"Salon de 1824." Le Mercure du dix-neuvième siècle 7 (1824), pp. 149, 208, 294 (McWilliam 1991, no. 1242).
N.-B.-F[abien]. P[illet]. Une Matinée au Salon, ou les peintres de l'école passés en revue. Paris, 1824, pp. 34–35 (McWilliam 1991, no. 1276).
Stendhal. "Musée Royal: Exposition de 1824." Journal de Paris (August 29, 1824) [reprinted in "Mélanges d'art," Paris 1932, p. 14] (McWilliam 1991, no. 1239).
Stendhal. "Salon de 1824: Premier article." Journal de Paris (August 31, 1824) [reprinted in "Mélanges d'art," Paris, 1932, p. 18] (McWilliam 1991, no. 1239).
[Etienne-Jean] D[elécluze]. "Beaux-arts: Exposition du Louvre.—no. V." Journal des débats politiques et littéraires (September 15, 1824), p. 3 (McWilliam 1991, no. 1267).
Stendhal. "Salon de 1824: Huitième article." Journal de Paris (October 16, 1824) [reprinted in "Mélanges d'art," Paris, 1932, p. 79] (McWilliam 1991, no. 1239).
M. [Auguste] Chauvin. Salon de mil huit cent vingt-quatre. Paris, 1825, p. 89 [McWilliam 1991, no. 1266], finds it unfortunate that two figures were finished by the then owner.
[E. F. A. M.] M[iel]. 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.
Jules Renouvier. Histoire de l'art pendant la Révolution. Paris, 1863, p. 117.
Philippe Burty inCollection 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 of December 8, 1814, associating the painting with the situation of the empress Marie-Louise in 1814.
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.
Etienne 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. 250–58, 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 it owing to her changed circumstances; lists the drawings.
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. 350–54, 358–61, fig. 13, draws attention to the Didot edition of Racine, to which Prud'hon contributed.
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 79.
Charles Sterling. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of French Paintings. Vol. 1, XV–XVIII Centuries. Cambridge, Mass., 1955, pp. 201–3, ill., as probably started in 1815, after Prud'hon had made preparatory drawings and sketches; comments that the empress presumably commissioned it in 1814, and that the subject alludes to her own unhappiness as the mother of the King of Rome, her son by the exiled Napoleon.
James Hugus Slayman. "The Drawings of Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, A Critical Study." PhD diss., University of Wisconsin, 1970, pp. 78–80, 198 n. 26, p. 199 n. 30, pl. 65.
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], identifies contemporary sources and studies 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), reviews the evolution of the composition through the studies and an x-ray, explaining that Boisfrémont's changes are more extensive than previously understood, resulting in "more than just a paint surface of uneven quality" as "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.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 398, ill.
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, pl. 14 (color).
Sylvain Laveissière. Pierre-Paul Prud'hon. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, pp. 12, 25, 28–29, 119, 174, 210–13, 215, 216, 218–21, 231, 236, no. 161, ill. (color, overall and detail) [French ed., 1997, pp. 16, 26, 28, 31, 119, 174, 210–13, 215–16, 218–21, 231, 236, no. 161, ill. (color, overall and detail), as "Andromache et Astyanax"], 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 that it probably dates to 1813–14, and that the composition was elaborated and may even have been finalized long before; publishes additional drawings in support of this argument.
Colta Ives in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 1999–2000." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 58 (Fall 2000), p. 34.
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. 78, 87–88, 102, 104, 108, 215, 219, 237, 247 n. 97, p. 249 n. 13, p. 258 nn. 2, 6.
Anne Lafont in "Roustam et le couvent des Capucines, ou le clan davidien hors les murs." Jacques-Nicolas Paillot de Montabert 1771–1849: Idées, pratiques, contextes. Ed. Frédérique Desbuissons. [Langres], 2009, p. 42.
Isabelle Mayer-Michalon inDe l'alcôve aux barricades, de Fragonard à David: Dessins de l'École des Beaux-Arts. Ed. Emmanuelle Brugerolles. Exh. cat., Fondation Custodia. Paris, 2016, p. 211.
Katharine Baetjer. French Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art from the Early Eighteenth Century through the Revolution. New York, 2019, pp. 358–63, no. 120, ill. (color), fig. 120.4 (x-radiograph).
Old Master & British Drawings, Including Works from the Collection of Jean Bonna. Christie's, New York. January 28, 2020, p. 87, under no. 93, presents a related drawing in which Andromache kneels next to Astyanax.
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