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Oedipus and the Sphinx before Thebes - Georges Antoine ROCHEGROSSE (1859-1938)
Oedipus and the Sphinx before Thebes - Georges Antoine ROCHEGROSSE (1859-1938)  - Paintings & Drawings Style Art nouveau
Ref : 112250
15 000 €
Period :
19th century
Artist :
Georges Antoine ROCHEGROSSE (1859-1938)
Provenance :
Medium :
Oil on panel
Dimensions :
l. 10.43 inch X H. 13.86 inch

Paintings, drawings and works of art from 16th to 20th century

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Oedipus and the Sphinx before Thebes - Georges Antoine ROCHEGROSSE (1859-1938)

Georges Antoine ROCHEGROSSE (1859-1938, France)
Oedipus and the Sphinx before Thebes

Oil on panel
35.2 x 26.5 cm

Circa 1885

Signed at the bottom right


- Kieselbach Gallery, Budapest, Hungary, 2006
- Carl Laszlo, Basel
- Private collection, Switzerland
- Private collection, France

Rochegrosse's painting illustrates the myth of Oedipus, focusing on the scene of "The Riddle of the Sphinx." Oedipus, son of King Laius of Thebes and Jocasta, is abandoned as a child to avoid a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. His ankles are pierced to pass a strap and tie him to a rock, but he is rescued by shepherds and raised by the king of Corinth, Polybus. As an adult, he learns from an oracle that he must flee his homeland to avoid killing his father and marrying his mother. On the way to Thebes, Oedipus encounters and kills an old man during a dispute, unaware that the man is his father, Laius, thus fulfilling the first part of the oracle's prophecy.

Before entering Thebes, Oedipus meets the Sphinx, who guards the city's entrance, demanding travelers answer her riddles under penalty of death. In Greek tradition, the Sphinx has the head of a woman, the body of a lion, and the wings of a bird, contrasting with the Egyptian version of the Sphinx, which is a guardian of royal tombs. Oedipus must answer two questions: "What creature walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening?" and "There are two sisters: one gives birth to the other, and she, in turn, gives birth to the first. Who are the two sisters?" Oedipus correctly answers "man" for the first and "day and night" for the second, thus defeating the Sphinx.

As a reward for defeating the Sphinx, Oedipus gains the throne of Thebes and the hand of Jocasta, Laius’s widow, unaware she is his mother. The couple has two sons and two daughters. When a plague strikes Thebes, the oracle reveals that Laius’s murder must be avenged to appease the gods. Investigating, Oedipus discovers he is the murderer of his father. Upon learning the truth, Jocasta commits suicide, and Oedipus blinds himself and goes into exile, accompanied by his daughter Antigone. Taken in at Colonus by King Theseus of Athens, the myth of Oedipus continues with the tragedies surrounding Antigone.

In the painting, the Sphinx dominates Oedipus, seemingly trying to possess him, with piercing or glassy eyes, depending on the interpretation. Oedipus, with his gaze lowered and glassy eyes, answers the questions. Thebes, in the background, is highlighted by light, symbolizing the favorable outcome of the ordeal. The pencil drawing shows an irregular touch, and the composition emphasizes the contrast between the light on Thebes and the darkness around Oedipus, evoking the threat of death. The light on Thebes contrasts with the surrounding darkness, creating an atmosphere of tension and unease heightened by the characters' gazes.

Rochegrosse was influenced by the work of Gustave Moreau, particularly his "Oedipus and the Sphinx" presented at the Salon of 1864. His version is more symbolist and darker, contrasting with his Orientalist works inspired by his travels. Another painting by Rochegrosse, "La Mort de la Pourpre" (1914), also explores spiritual and allegorical themes, depicting the death of poetry in the face of industrialization. Rochegrosse's Orientalist paintings, often inspired by his travels, are distinct from his symbolist work. The face of his wife frequently appears in his works, offering a personal continuity to his art.

Thus, Rochegrosse's "The Riddle of the Sphinx" is a symbolic and emotional interpretation of the myth of Oedipus, marked by artistic influences and a contrast between light and darkness to evoke themes of fate, death, and knowledge.



Paintings & Drawings