Joseph-Nicolas ROBERT-FLEURY (Cologne, 1797 – Paris, 1890)
A family of Greek refugees, painted in Venice in 1824
Signed, located (Venezia), dated May 20, 1824
and dedicated to Madame Morel in the lower left
29 x 24 cm
Related work: painting (?) Exhibited at the Salon of 1824 under the N ° 652
Provenance: former collection Benjamin Morel (1781-1860), politician and founder of the museum of Dunkirk
This watercolor is part of the philhellenic movement in the 1820s, following the struggle of the Greeks for their independence from the Turkish oppressor.
Under the Ottoman yoke for four centuries, the Greeks rose up in 1821 and even declared their independence at the Epidaurus Congress in 1822; events such as the Scio massacres or the Missolonghi siege in April 1824 (in which Lord Byron died) have a great impact on Western countries, in the scientific, political, and financial circles, but mostly artistic. But it was not until 1830, after the entry into the war of England and Russia in 1826, and France in 1827, for independence to be officially recognized.
This movement of sympathy towards a fight for freedom is reflected in the creation of numerous support committees (Stuttgart in 1821, London in 1823 ...); the French committee, one of the most recent (December 1824), will become one of the most active, led by Lafayette and Chateaubriand, and members as prestigious as Lamartine and Victor Hugo; beyond their moral support, these committees provide financial, food and even military support (with voluntary volunteers) through the setting up of charity festivals, subscriptions and exhibitions ...
On March 24, 1826, the Parisian committee organized a major exhibition at the Galerie Lebrun (4, rue du Gros Chenêt, now rue du Sentier, the hotel was built by Lebrun, the famous paintings dealer Elisabeth Vigée) , at the entrance fee, to support the Greek effort; the exhibition took place in two parts, from May 17th to July 2nd, then from July 16th to November 19th, with the participation of artists like Alaux, Bonington, Bouhot, Cogniet, Delaroche, Devéria, Horace Vernet, as well as Robert- Fleury (with two works: The evening prayer, view taken in the Gulf of Naples - No. 67, and leader of brigands - No. 68) and Delacroix.
But from 1821/22, a number of works illustrate the Greek uprising, also corresponding to the emerging attraction of the East among Western artists.
Delacroix made several drawings related to the conflict in 1822, then exhibited at the Salon of 1824 its famous Massacres de Scio, and the edition of 1826 its theatrical Greece on the ruins of Missolonghi (which also participates in the exhibition of the Galerie Lebrun). The number of works is progressive. In 1822, a painting is presented at the Salon of Paris, scene of Greek marriages, by Josephine Sarrazin de Belmont. In 1824, Cornu, Aubon, Delaperche, Gosse, Vafflard and Horace Vernet, with Delacroix and Robert-Fleury, raise to ten the number of works on display. At the Salon of 1827, nearly 20 pieces (Lansac, Delacroix, Vinchon, Scheffer, Odevaere, David of Angers, Colin ...) that illustrate the theme. The phenomenon then begins to slow down, but there are still some works exhibited from time to time in the Salons of the 1840s.
Our composition illustrates the flight of some Greeks, who come to find refuge in various Mediterranean ports, such as Marseille or Venice.
Even if at the time, the painted or graphic works are collected without distinction in the booklets of Salon, when it is a watercolor, a gouache or a drawing, the booklet specifies it in most cases, but without this being systematic, and sometimes with errors. Here, the booklet does not give any indication.
But the year 1824 being the first participation in the Salon for Robert-Fleury (he won a medal on this occasion), it would seem logical that in a bid to value it at best, he only exhibited paintings ( five in total.) Moreover, in view of the opening date of the Salon, August 25, 1824, and that of the execution of our watercolor, May 20, it could certainly be a preparatory work completed for the painting. But Robert-Fleury also exhibited watercolors at the Salon, especially in the 1830s, we can not completely exclude the possibility that our watercolor is the work exhibited at the Salon of 1824.
The cause of the Greeks seems to particularly touch Robert-Fleury because, as we have seen, he participated in the exhibition of the Galerie Lebrun of 1826, and he exhibited a second work "Greek", A Greek soldier in faction (under the N 2315), at this Salon of 1824.
Student of Girodet, Gros and Horace Vernet, Robert-Fleury was essentially a painter of historical subjects, often tragic episodes (Death of Henri IV, Last moments of Montaigne, Massacre of St. Bartholomew ...), incorporating a form of naturalism. He regularly participated in the Salon until 1869. At the request of Louis-Philippe, he painted two great compositions for the museum of the history of France in Versailles. His success earned him official positions in the Beaux-Arts administration and allowed him to receive the Legion of Honor.
His son, Tony Robert-Fleury (1837-1911), was also a renowned painter.
Benjamin Morel was, with his wife to whom the work is dedicated, the first owner of this watercolor. An important merchant and politician from a Dunkirk family, he was also a great friend of the arts; he sang, played music, but was especially a fan of drawings, close to the greatest artists of the time, such as: Horace Vernet, Delaroche, Lami, Bosio, Charlet, Bonington, Francia, Colin ..., and Robert- Fleury. He was particularly close to Robert-Fleury, who also realized his portrait (given by the son Morel at the museum), gave a drawing to the Human Society of Dunkerque (a society of rescue at sea) of which Morel was the founder, and donated to the Dunkirk Museum a portrait (Désiré Looten).