Rediscovered and presented during the recent retrospective devoted to Pécheux by the museums of Dole and Chambéry, the painting that we present is the witness of a fascinating period of transition in the arts and of a brilliant synthesis carried out by the artist. The many classical references reveal his solid training and his culture nourished by his Italian years and his fruitful relationships. The tender and tangy colors, the grace that emanates from the different figures or the sensual detail of the breast revealed by Hélène in her flight are characteristic of the refinements of 18th century painting. The informed spectator will not fail to distinguish in this work of 1760 the thrills of Neoclassicism which will see Pécheux and his contemporaries progressively evolve towards an art more and more idealized.
The scene represents the flight of the famous lovers Paris and Helena from Sparta, under a stormy sky. Helene's worried face contrasts with Paris's determined air. The arrangement of the figures in frieze is clearly borrowed from the antique repertoire and echoes the ancient bas-relief of the 'Borghese Dancers' presented in the eponymous villa from 1617 to 1807 and today in the Louvre museum. The draped silhouettes of the queen's following are reminiscent of the Pompeian frescoes which the artist was able to discover with the excavations carried out in Pompeii and Herculaneum from 1748. To represent the ancient city of Sparta, he was inspired by the monuments of Rome ancient (imperial forums and amphitheatres) as well as the Vatican of Bramante. The fluid fall of the drapes and the delicacy of the profiles are also part of the aesthetic of this rediscovery of the beautiful ideal. The graceful gesture of Hélène who tries to adjust the veil on her shoulder refers to the model of the Greek statue of Diana of Gabies, also passed from the Borghese collections at the Louvre.
Laurent Pécheux (Lyon, 1729 - Turin, 1821). A French painter in the Italy of Enlightenment ', Dole, Musée des Beaux-Arts, June 27 - September 30, 2012, Chambéry, Musée des Beaux-Arts, October 24, 2012 - January 20, 2013, p. 94-95, no 24
Painted for Monsieur Rigaud, trader in Lyon (mentioned by the artist in his 'Note des tableaux que j'ay fait à Rome…', p. 1, manuscript kept in Turin: "En petit, à Mr. Rigaud cy above, the kidnapping of Helene by Paris ");
Private collection, Paris
Laurant Pécheux (1729 - 1821)
A painter from Lyon, Laurent Pécheux did his apprenticeship in his hometown after a short stay in Paris in the studio of the famous Charles-Joseph Natoire. Independent in nature, he did not go through the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, which did not prevent him from going to Rome in 1753 at the age of 24. There, he quickly joined the studio of Anton Raphael Mengs and also met Pompeo Batoni, two painters who then dominated the Roman art scene. Close to Johann Joachim Winckelmann, archaeologist and theorist advocating a return to the principles of Greek art which, according to him, had reached the ideal Beauty, Mengs sought to restore on the canvas the purity of the lines of ancient art and of the great masters. Under his influence, Pécheux became a "Roman" painter in the tradition of Raphael.
In this second part of the 18th century, Antiquity was rediscovered, exhumed, restored, collected and studied. The Capitoline Museum was enriched throughout the century with masterpieces of Antiquity offered or purchased by successive popes. Pécheux is thus immersed in this universe, also inhabited by the new approaches of Piranesi, defender of Etruscan and Roman creation. Very quickly, he asserted himself as one of the most accomplished representatives of history painting in the Eternal City. His reputation allowed him to obtain prestigious commissions and eminent Roman families, Borghese and Barberini in particular, entrusted him with the decoration of the ceilings of their urban palaces. He also works for French amateurs, for the Grand Master of the Order of Malta, Pope Pius VI, as well as the Empress Catherine II of Russia. Far from his hometown, Pécheux is not however forgotten by his compatriots and also works for sponsors from Lyon. Thus, around 1754, he painted a portrait of Mr. Rigaud, a trader in Lyon, who was none other than the commissioner of our painting, as indicated in the "Note des tableaux que j'ay fait à Rome ...", manuscript by the artist in the Accademia delle Scienze in Turin1.
Luigi Cesare Bollea, 'Lorenzo Pecheux, maestro di pittura nella R. Accademia delle Belle Arti di Torino', Turin, 1942, p. 26, 33 and 393
Alessandro Baudi di Vesme, 'Schede Vesme. L'arte in Piemonte dal XVI al XVIII secolo ', Turin, III, 1968, p. 796, n ° 13
1. Published by L. C. Bollea, 'Lorenzo Pecheux, maestro di pittura nella R. Accademia delle Belle Arti di Torino', Turin, 1