Girodet: Romantic Rebel
The Art Institute of Chicago
Girodet Romantic Rebel



    Girodet. The Spirits of French Heroes Welcomed by Ossian into Odin's Paradise, 1801. Musée National du Châteaux de Malmaison, Rueil-Malmaison.


    Click here to see what conservation has revealed below surface of the compositional study of Girodet’s Revolt of Cairo.


    The Réunion des Musées Nationaux provides a brief overview of Girodet: Romantic Rebel as presented in Paris at the Musée du Louvre.

    Art Access, a multimedia microsite, examines objects from the Art Institute of Chicago's permanent collection to enrich visitors' understanding of content, style, and historical context. This program features online resources, such as maps, glossaries with pronunciation guides, family activities, and information on individual works. The section Rococo to Realism features works by Girodet and several of his contemporaries, including Jacques-Louis David.

    Girodet’s creative production centers around the intersection of art and literature. His ambition was to transform poetry into painting, and painting into poetry. Listed below are links to some of the key contemporary and classical texts that inspired Girodet.

    François-René de Chateaubriand, Atala, 1801
    From the moment of its publication in 1801, Atala, or the Loves of Two Savages in the Desert was a huge success. Set in 18th-century Louisiana, François-René de Chateaubriand’s tragic story of American Indians tells the story of the Christian Indian maiden Atala, who frees the Indian brave Chactas from his enemies and finds refuge with him in the cave of the religious hermit Father Aubry. Having consecrated herself to God, Atala takes poison when she fears that she is falling in love with Chactas. After her death, the brave vows to become Christian himself. Imbued the sentimentality of the age, the novel was republished five times. Girodet’s loving depiction of The Burial of Atala (1813) captures the tragic sentiment of Chateaubriand’s story.

    To read the prologue to Atala in its original French, click here.

    Related Work: The Burial of Atala

    James Macpherson, The Poems of Ossian, 1765
    Scottish poet James Macpherson (1736–1796) falsely claimed to have found original texts written by the bard Ossian, said to be the last survivor of a third-century Gaelic tribe. In order to perpetuate this hoax, Macpherson gathered and rewrote Gaelic legends and passed them off as originals. The four works that he published between 1760 and 1765, supposedly translated from ancient Gaelic into English (and later into French and many other languages), launched a craze throughout Europe. Girodet used Macpherson’s poetry as inspiration for his complex political allegory The Spirits of French Heroes Welcomed by Ossian into Odin’s Paradise (1801).

    Related Works: The Spirits of French Heroes Welcomed by Ossian into Odin's Paradise
    Fingal Lamenting the Death of Malvina

    The Myth of Endymion
    Girodet’s painting The Sleep of Endymion (1791) signaled his major break with the aesthetics of his teacher, the Neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David. Click here to read a short synopsis of the classical myth.

    Related Work: The Sleep of Endymion

    Pygmalion and Galatea
    The Italian collector Giovanni Battista Sommariva commissioned Girodet’s last major work, Pygmalion and Galatea (1813–19). The artist devoted more than seven years to execute the painting. The myth of Pygmalion and Galatea originates in Ovid’s first-century A.D. masterpiece, The Metamorphoses.

    Related Work: Pygmalion and Galatea

    Anacreon and Sappho
    Drawings after Anacreon’s lyrical poetry were among the many illustrative projects that took up a large part of Girodet’s career. Anacreon was an ancient Greek poet whose writings focused on wine, love, and decadence. Girodet’s illustrations for his own translations of poems by Anacreon and other amorous Greek poets, such as Sappho, feature lighthearted subjects presented as lessons that promote the enjoyment of life and its pleasures.

    Aeneid, Phaedra, and Andromache
    Girodet’s drawings for Virgil’s Aeneid, (1800) and Racine’s Phaedra (1798) and Andromache (1801–1803), were printed by the preeminent fine book publisher Pierre Didot. Didot hoped to synthesize text into image and, by choosing the best artists and printmakers of his time, revive the art of fine-book publishing in France. These luminous, powerful sheets clearly reflect Girodet’s appreciation for the antique texts that he so carefully translated into images with crisp, sinuous lines and delicate washes.

    Related Work: Phaedra, Having Declared Her Passion, Attempts to Kill Herself with the Sword of Hippolytus, from Racine's Phaedra

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