Hugues Merle (March 1, 1823 - March 16, 1881),
Esther before King Ahasuerus, oil on canvas, signed and dated lower left
Hugues Merle 1875.
Dimensions without frame: Length: 145.5cm Width: 95.5cm
Dimensions with frame: Length: Width: 167cm Width: 118cm
William Schaus collection in 1877
Percy A. Rockefeller collection until 1938
Hubert Faure Collection (1919 - 2020) until 2021
Hugues Merle, Queen Esther, 1875, oil on canvas, 79 x 68 cm, private collection.
"New Paintings at Schaus", The New York Times, April 2, 1877, p. 4.
Barbizon paintings: including works by Corot, Harpignies, Diaz, Cazin, Courbet, Henner:American historical paintings including a Winslow Homer and works by Stuart, Luks, Eakins, Inness, Murphy ... portraits by Romney and Raeburn ...
from the collection of the late Mr. and Mrs. Percy A. Rockefeller, public sale, March 24 at 8:15 p.m., Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, The
Galleries, 1938, p. 19 (lot 25).
Michaël Vottero, "Hugues Merle (1822-1881) Genre painting and art market under the Second
Empire ", Bulletin of the French Art History Society, 2011, p. 205.
A recent restoration has uncovered the date of the present painting Esther before Ahasuerus. Hugues Merle painted in 1875 Esther’s fight to save her people from death. The painting was probably a commission from the painter’s American dealers and corresponded to the expectations of
new American art collectors on the second half of the Nineteenth Century.
The Swooning of Esther is a theme that had inspired the greatest European artists since the Renaissance (Veronese, Artemisia Gentileschi, Nicolas Poussin, Jan Boeckhorst, Antoine Coypel, Jean-François de Troyes, Tiepolo). It gave the painters the opportunities to invent palatial architecture, to create sumptuous costumes, and to imagine the characters living under the reign of
the Persian king Ahasuerus, in the fifth Century B.C.E. The story is narrated in the Old Testament and in the Book of Esther, Chapter 15 of the Hebrew Bible. Hugues Merle focused on the description of Esther known for her great beauty. The young orphan and Jewish queen was the wife of King Ahasuerus. Esther was charged by her oncle to appeal to the King because his minister
Raman decided to destroy the Jewish people. She also risked death because it was forbidden to approach the king unsummoned. Esther collapsed in fear as she neared his throne. The king, moved by her fainting, granted her request to spare the Jews of Persia.The painter’s skills lie in the closed composition centered on Esther, whose mission is as difficult as its outcome is dangerous. Hugues Merle did not paint the happy ending of the story but
focused on the description of Esther fainting. He painted Esther’s beauty before her convulsion, before her loss of balance. The young woman’s anxiety is palpable. Her gaze is distant. She tries for a moment to loosen the transparent veil that covers her head and neck. The richness of her jeweled
garments and the brilliance of her jewels envelop Esther in a halo of light whereas in the background stands the grim character of the king enthroned.