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A Woman from the Land of Eskimos

December 31, 1825
Akbar Shah II 1806–1837

A Woman from the Land of Eskimos



A Woman from the Land of Eskimos 1826 Léon Cogniet (French, 1794-1880) France, 19th century Oil on fabric Framed: 62.9 x 57.2 x 8.9 cm (24 3/4 x 22 1/2 x 3 1/2 in.); Unframed: 42.5 x 36.5 cm (16 3/4 x 14 3/8 in.) Bequest of Noah L. Butkin 1980.249 DESCRIPTION Although many artists of the Romantic movement sought evidence of ideal existence in the Orient and the Near East, Cogniet instead chose to depict an Eskimo with her distinctive tattoos. Indeed, this painting is among the first to use images of an unspoiled, "primitive" culture as an embodiment of truth and beauty. When this painting was shown in an 1826 exhibition, the accompanying catalogue stated that it was "painted after nature." However, the artist never traveled to the Arctic. Still, he may have actually seen an Eskimo. In 1825 a Paris newspaper reported that an Eskimo woman and her dog were performing in the city as part of a curiosity show. The show also included a massive panoramic view of Baffin Bay (located between northeast Canada and Greenland). That painting may have inspired the dark sky and icy landscape in Cogniet's picture. ARTIST BIOGRAPHY LÉON COGNIET Léon Cogniet came to painting just as the pictures by Théodore Géricault (1791-1824) challenged the established neo-classical style and academic hierarchies. Straddling these two worlds, Cogniet experimented with different subjects and composition but generally retained a relatively traditional technique. He entered the École des Beaux-Arts in 1812 and studied with Baron Pierre-Narcisse Guérin (1774-1833), but he was friendly with Delacroix (q.v.), Géricault, and other romantics. Aiming for the most esteemed rank of history painter, Cogniet won the Grand Prix de Rome in 1817 (Helen Freed by Castor and Pollux, École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris) and made his Salon debut while studying in Rome (Metabus, King of the Volscians, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Chartres). The French state first bought his paintings at the 1824 Salon (Marius on the Ruins of Carthage, Musée des Augustins, Toulouse), and three years later he was commissioned for a series of the life of St. Stephen for the church of St. Nicolas-des-Champs in Paris (in situ). Around the late 1820s Cogniet became especially enamored of subjects from contemporary British literature, by Sir Walter Scott for example, an interest shared by many French romantic artists. He seems to have been open to different styles and fluctuated between a conventional neoclassicism and more personally inflected romanticism. After 1831 Cogniet became regularly engaged on prestigious public commissions under the regime of Louis-Philippe. He painted Bonaparte's Expedition to Egypt (1833-35), a ceiling in the Louvre palace for the newly created Musée d'Egypte, then several large canvases for the new Musée Historique at Versailles. For these official paintings Cogniet combined his early neoclassical style of clearly organized pictorial space and forms, crisp modeling in light and shade, and smooth surface finish with greater attention to natural-istic details, a looser or more casual composition. The artists adopting this style were called the juste milieu (loosely, "middle of the road"), a term first used in the political arena to identify politicians who espoused neither conservative nor radical ideas but those that, rather, benefited the bourgeoisie, the same class that most admired these paintings. In 1843 Cogniet enjoyed a huge success with Tintoretto Painting His Dead Daughter (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux), an invented scene of the great Venetian painter at the deathbed of his beloved daughter. In spite of its popularity, Cogniet exhibited only portraits at the following Salons, and his production fell off after the mid-1850s. He received the highest titles given to painters: Academician (1840), Legion of Honor (1846), and professor at the École des Beaux-Arts (1851). Teaching became an important aspect of Cogniet's later life. Besides the atelier for men that he established by 1830, he was also responsible for another for women, which his sister Marie-Amélie directed. He served as drawing instructor at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand from 1831 to 1876, where Degas (q.v.) was his student. He also taught at the École Polytechnique for sixteen years, which may have contributed to his interest in such new technologies as drawing machines and photography that he later integrated into his painting. Nevertheless, after the administrative and curricular reforms of 1863 were passed to reorganize the Académie and École des Beaux-Arts, Cogniet resigned from his teaching position there in protest. Among his hundreds of pupils were Bonnat (q.v.), Meissonier (q.v.), and Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921). INSCRIPTION Signed lower right: Léon Cogniet / 1826 PROVENANCE Offered by Cogniet to Baron Gros in 1826. His sale, Paris, 23 November 1835 (lot 125), Femme du pays des Esquimaux, ouvrage exposé au salon du Louvre en 1827, for ff 715 to Dubois. Mme Pétrus Martin, Paris. Her collection sale, Paris, Drouot, 6-7 February 1902 (lot 10), Femme du pays des Esquimaux, signé à gauche, 45 x 36 cm, ff 42. (The CMA painting is signed on the right and the Douwes version is signed on the left, so this auction catalogue entry may refer to that painting.) Shepherd Gallery, New York. Bought in August 1976 by Mr. and Mrs. Noah L. Butkin, Cleveland. Bequeathed to the CMA in 1980. CITATIONS Talbot, William S. "Cogniet and Vernet at the Villa Medici." The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 67, no. 5 (1980): 135-49. Reproduced & Mentioned: p. 137 Nolan, Dennis. Keepers of the Flame: Parrish, Wyeth, Rockwell and the Narrative Tradition. Stockbridge, MA: Norman Rockwell Museum, 2018. Reproduced: p. 63; Mentioned: p. 58 EXHIBITION HISTORY Paris, Galerie Lebrun. Explication des ouvrages de peinture exposés au profit des grecs (1826), no. 26, Une femme du pays des Esquimaux, peinte d'après nature. Paris, Musée Royal des Arts. Salon (1827), no. 211, Femme du pays des Esquimaux (Ce tableau appartient à M. le baron Gros). Minneapolis Institute of Arts (6/1/2003 - 8/31/2003 ) and Metropolitan Museum of Art (9/29/2003 - 1/4/2004): "Constable to Delacroix: British Art and the French Romantics", exh. cat. #36, p. 92-93. Year in Review: 1980. The Cleveland Museum of Art (organizer) (June 23-July 19, 1981). Constable to Delacroix: British Art and the French Romantics, 1820-1840. Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN (June 1-August 31, 2003); The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY (September 29, 2003-January 4, 2004).

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Ismail Mazari

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Very good information.


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