Julien Michel GUÉ
(Le Cap, 1789 – Paris, 1843)
The rest in Egypt
Oil on panel
Signed and dated 1840 lower left
70 x 52,5 cm
Exhibition: Paris, Salon des Beaux-Arts – 1841 – No 926
Our painting is part of the movement of the renewal of religious painting, treated in an orientalist vein, which began in the mid 1830s and continued until the early 1850s. It is embodied in artists like Horace Vernet (1789 -1863), Frédéric Schopin (1804-1880), or Jean Murat (1807-1863).
The very subject of the painting lends itself to it, but the Egyptian atmosphere (palm trees in the foreground as in the background, pyramids, light melted, turban for Joseph) is found in many biblical paintings of the time. It should be noted, however, that the palm tree in the foreground is not merely a picturesque element or used to build the composition: the apocryphal gospel of the pseudo Matthew also names the scene as the “miracle of the palm tree”; the palm, miraculously bending thanks to Jesus, allows Mary to seize the fruits to feed on them.
Art criticism, as well as the Church, probably rightly pointed out the lack of religiosity of these works, a little too profane and kind, but which corresponded to the growing discovery and attraction of the Orient at that time. This orientalisation nevertheless brought a form of revivification to painting and religious images.
One can not also deny in this painting of Gué a certain Raphaelian inspiration, whether in the colors of clothing, in the composition or physiognomy “cherub” of Jesus, the latter challenging the viewer.
In 1794, following the assassination of his father Jean-Baptiste (1754-1793) during a revolt of black slaves, Julien-Michel Gué (nicknamed Chéri) must leave the island of Santo Domingo where he was born , to return to Bordeaux, the city of origin of his family. Returned as an apprentice in a tobacco factory, he follows the drawing classes in the evening, and becomes a student of Pierre Lacour (1745-1814) at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux.
We can divide his career into four main categories:
- The ancient neoclassical subjects, an academic genre he practiced in the 1810s, following his entry into the studio of Jacques-Louis David in 1813, with three attempts at the Rome Grand Prix of painting, for which he failed in each time in the third place (The Death of Jacob in 1813, Briseis returned to Achilles found in his tent the body of Patroclus – preserved since 1846 at the Museum of Bordeaux – in 1815, and Oenone refuses to rescue Paris at the siege of Troy in 1816 ), and a participation in the Salon of 1819 with a painting of small size (35 x 45 cm), The sacrifice of Jephtha (preserved in the museum of Niort since 1872).
- The views of landscapes, which he made for Baron Taylor around 1820 or exhibited in large numbers at the Salon in the 1830s. He also received a medal for Environs de Paris at the Salon of 1827. The sites represented are mainly in Paris region, Auvergne and alpine regions (Dauphiné, northern Italy, Swiss Graubünden, Austrian Tyrol and southern Germany), and many French museums keep them. As a landscaper he trained from 1824 his compatriot Adrien Dauzats Bordeaux (son of a machinist-decorator of the Bordeaux theater, Dauzats was first formed as scenic decorator) and will allow him to integrate Baron Taylor’s cartoonist / traveler team circa 1827.
- The sets, mainly for the theater, an activity that he practiced for fifteen years until 1835. Between 1821 and 1823, he worked for the Dramatic Panorama theater, founded by Jean-Pierre Alaux, his beau- brother since 1812, alongside the painter and decorator Pierre-Luc Charles Cicéri and Daguerre, in a troubadour style very pushed to the limit of the caricatural; together, for example, in 1822 they created the sets of Ali Pasha, the melodrama of Isidore Taylor. At the same time and afterwards, it is also used by the theater of La Gaîté (until 1835) and the Opéra Comique, or other royal theaters. He also creates some panoramic wallpapers for the Zuber factory in Rixheim. It also decorates several buildings, such as the ceilings of the throne room of the Paris City Hall, the arches of the Dauphin museum (former name of the museum of the Navy until 1830, then located at the Louvre), or even galleries of the castle of Compiègne. During this period, he became a good friend with, for example, Victor Hugo or Charles Nodier, and received the legion of honor in 1834.
- Religious painting and History. In the second half of the 1830s, he made some great compositions illustrating episodes of the History of France, including an order of Louis-Philippe for Versailles. At the very end of the 1830s, religious and particularly biblical painting held its attention until the end of his career.
It is to this last register belongs the Rest in Egypt, which was exhibited at the Salon of 1841 alongside five other works of Julien-Michel Gué, then domiciled for ten years at 40, rue Saint-Lazare in Paris in the romantic district of New Athens. N ° 928, titled The last judgment, was on this occasion acquired by the State for 2 000 Francs and placed in the hospices of Grasse. Jazet drew a lithograph, just as he had done for two other biblical paintings of Gué which were in 1842 exposed by the State at the Luxembourg Palace alongside the masterpieces of the last decades:
– Murmurers engulfed (Salon of 1839), subsequently deposited at the Tuileries Palace
– The last sigh of Christ (1840 Salon), a monumental format (1.85 x 2.60 m), with an ominous apocalyptic atmosphere and tones both dark and bright, probably inspired by the romantic artist English John Martin (1789-1854), preserved since 1846 at the Amiens Museum.
Julien-Michel Gué died in 1843 while working on six paintings that Queen Marie-Amélie commissioned him for the chapel of Dreux. It is his nephew (the son of his brother Pierre, 1779-1842) the painter Jean-Marie Oscar Gué (1809-1877) who completes one of them, Jesus in front of Caiphe (preserved in the museum of Bordeaux).
One of his daughters, Jenny (1832-1909), will marry his cousin Jean-Paul Gustave Alaux; their son Daniel (1853-1933), painter and professor of drawing, will be director of the Bordeaux Museum from 1907 to 1922. Jean-Marie Oscar directed the museum from 1859 to 1877.