(Paris, 1799 - Paris, 1852)
The adoration of the shepherds
Oil on canvas
Signed and dated lower right
100.5 x 76 cm
Exhibition: Paris Salon of 1842 under number 429
Félix Cottrau was born in Paris on March 5, 1799; his father, secretary general of the ministry of the navy, obtained an important administrative post at the house of King Joseph. He took his whole family to Naples, and it was at the naval college in that city that Cottrau began his studies with his brother Guillaume, which he completed with his family.
We do not know in which workshop he took drawing and painting lessons, but when the events of 1815 deprived his father of his place and he was forced to create a career for himself, all he had to do was say to himself: I want to be painter, to become one.
Its first successes date back to the 1820s.
Cottrau often made excursions to Rome; it was there that he made friends with several French artists; there are two to whom he rendered a service that only he could render them: always dressed in a manner that was at the same time picturesque, elegant, and original, he was kind enough to serve as their model. He therefore posed in front of Léopold Robert (1794-1835) for the Dancing Harvester (a sickle in his hand) and in front of Francisque Duret (1804-1865) for his two Neapolitan Dancers.
It was in Rome that he first saw the members of Napoleon's family, who resided there. He never left their entourage. He then made frequent trips to Arenenberg in Switzerland where members of the imperial family had established their residence, going so far as to become the drawing teacher of Hortense de Beauharnais.
However, all this did not make him neglect painting. From 1827 and until 1845, he sent several good paintings to various exhibitions in Paris, among which we can notice our Adoration of the Shepherds, of which here is a comment from the time about it: “Diametrically opposed to M. Flandrin, M. Félix Cottrau perhaps sacrifices the whole a bit too much for the effect. The Adoration of the Shepherds which he exhibited is a beautiful canvas well lit, of a good color and a great harmony of light; it does M. Cottrau the greatest honor and proves that this artist is one of the few who consider art for art, and not for profit. His Adoration of the Shepherds is one of the good paintings in the Salon. (Journal des Artistes, July 3, 1842, p.194).
His successes and the interpersonal skills of the imperial family allowed him to be well introduced to foreign courts; he received several commissions from the King of Bavaria and other sovereign princes of Germany, as well as from the King of Holland.
Cottrau was awarded the Legion of Honor on July 5, 1846, for his copy of Rembrandt's Anatomy Lesson now on display at the School of Medicine. In 1852, he was appointed Inspector General of Fine Arts by Napoleon III.
The artist died on December 19, 1852, in Paris at the age of 53. He is buried in the Montparnasse cemetery.
His portrait-charge by Jean-Pierre Dantan (1800-1869) was produced in 1829 in Rome and is now exhibited at the Carnavalet Museum.
Museums : Bourges, Paris (Louvre, Academy of Medicine), Vitré, Calais, Rennes, Malmaison, Compiègne, Bordeaux…
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