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7688 Large 19th C. 6'x8' Oil on Canvas Study of "Cleopatra Testing The Poisons"

Height:71.5 in. (181.80 cm)
Width:95.25 in. (242.00 cm)
Country of Origin:France
Artist:attrib. Alexandre Cabanel
Year:19th C.
Description:Recently surfaced and newly discovered, large initial preparatory study oil on canvas of Cleopatra Testing Poisons on the Condemned Prisoners circa 1885. Inscribed lower left Cabanel.


Cleopatra Testing Poisons on Condemned Prisoners (Cléopâtre essayant des poisons sur des condamnés à mort) was completed in 1887 just two years before his death. Painted by the French artist Alexandre Cabanel, this stunning 6' x 8' mural was executed as an oil on canvas.  It now hangs in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp, Belgium. It shows Cleopatra sitting at a banquet observing the effects of poisons on prisoners condemned to death.

Cabanel had always had a taste for historical and Orientalist themes and when the painting was first seen by the Parisian public, he was feted by the critics and showered with honors. Several international collectors attempted to buy the painting. This piece was never intended to be "published" or shown to the public. The final product was painted solely by Cabanel who expanded the scope and added detail.

Cabanel was extremely fond of historical subjects. The original concept for this large allegorical scene, Cleopatra Testing Poisons on the Condemned Prisoners, was completed in 1885. Cabanel's original idea was first put on to canvas by students in his Atelier under the master's direction.

There is no question that he had his hand in the first draft as well. He could not have resisted painting certain parts that his students found difficult to interpret.  No great artist would have had the patience to teach what would have been easy for him, besides he would have been in a hurry to see the final product. Proof of this can be compared to the final painting where the main figures are almost identical, save for a costume change, various color differences and added background detail.

Query: Was this painting copied after the orginal? If so, why? Could it be for instructional and teaching purposes? If so, it would have been copied exactly with no details left out and far easier since nothing was left to the imagination.

We contend that this study was done before the "original" was started. It was done as a precursor for the final version. Logically then, what followed, the original, must be the copy! It was an improved version of the artist's original vision. We present this first draft, albeit unsigned, in this offering.

Cabanel continued to expand the concept of this painting with his earlier study of Cleopatra (image 8). Here, all of Cleopatra is very close to what would be the first draft, yet it now stands in the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Beziers, France. It is unsigned but attributed to Cabanal.

Antiquarian Traders, now the proud owner of this painting, intends to pursue placement in either of the two museums that already house Cabanel's two paintings of Cleopatra. In fact, we are now contacting the Museums around Europe and the USA to assess their interest.

In the mean time, it is offered for sale. Auction records show that smaller pieces of Cabanel's works have sold for upwards of $425,000. To date, no work of this magnitude has been sold.

Artwork Dimensions: 72"H x 96 "W (181.8 cm x 242 cm). The dimensions of the painting with the frame is 85” H x 109” W x3/12” D

Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889 ) 

French painter and teacher. His skill in drawing was apparently evident by the age of 11. His father could not afford his training, but in 1839 his département gave him a grant to go to Paris. This enabled him to register at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts the following October as a pupil of François-Edouard Picot. At his first Salon in 1843 he presented Agony in the Garden (Valenciennes, Mus. B.-A.) and won second place in the Prix de Rome competition (after Léon Bénouville, also a pupil of Picot) in 1845 with Christ at the Praetorium (Paris, Ecole N. Sup. B.-A.). Both Cabanel and Bénouville were able to go to Rome, as there was a vacancy from the previous year. Cabanel's Death of Moses (untraced), an academic composition, painted to comply with the regulations of the Ecole de Rome, was exhibited at the Salon of 1852. The pictures he painted for Alfred Bruyas, his chief patron at this time (and, like Cabanel, a native of Montpellier), showed more clearly the direction his art had taken during his stay in Italy. Albaydé, Angel of the EveningChiarruccia and Velleda (all in Montpellier, Mus. Fabre) were the first of many mysterious or tragic heroines painted by Cabanel and show his taste for the elegiac types and suave finish of the Florentine Mannerists.

On Cabanel's return to Paris, the architect Jean-Baptiste Cicéron Lesueur (1794-1883) commissioned him to decorate 12 pendentives in the Salon des Caryatides in the Hôtel de Ville (destr. 1871). Several major decorative commissions followed, which included work on the Hôtel Pereire, the Hôtel Say and the Louvre. Much has been destroyed, but the ceiling in the Cabinet des Dessins in the Louvre, The Triumph of Flora, which combines the hard contours and careful finish of Ingres's school with a composition and colour that recalls the ceilings of the French Rococo, is probably typical of Cabanel's talent for achieving sumptuous effects.

In 1855 Cabanel exhibited Christian Martyr (Carcassonne, Mus. B.-A.), Glorification of St Louis (Lunéville, Mus. Lunéville) and Autumn Evening (untraced), establishing his academic and official credentials. In 1855 he received the Légion d’honneur and in 1863 he was elected to the Institut and nominated professor (along with Jean-Léon Gérôme and Isidore-Alexandre-Augustin Pils) at the reorganized Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He won the Grande Médaille d'Honneur at the Salons of 1865, 1867 and 1878. His dark-eyed heroines, thinly painted, usually in muted colours, and immaculately drawn, were popular with collectors on both sides of the Atlantic; likewise his mythological paintings, which were a by-product of his decorative works. Nymph Abducted by a Faun (1860, exh. Salon, 1861; Lille, Mus. B.-A.; see fig.) is a solid, decorative group in the manner of Charles Coypel or François Lemoyne. He exhibited the Birth of Venus (1862; Paris, Mus. d’Orsay) in 1863 to widespread acclaim. It is composed like an overdoor by Boucher, although it has been suggested that it was influenced by Ingres's Odalisque and her Slave (1839; Cambridge, MA, Fogg). Both paintings were acquired by Napoleon III. In 1867 he painted a huge Paradise Lost (Munich, Maximilianum) for Ludwig II, the King of Bavaria, and in 1868 Ruth (untraced) for the Empress Eugénie. The full-length portrait of the Emperor that Cabanel painted for the Tuileries in 1865 was liked by critics less than Hippolyte Flandrin’s dreamy portrait exhibited in 1863 (c. 1860-61; Versailles, Château), but it was much more popular at court. Cabanel's portraits were already in demand, and he rivalled Edouard Dubufe and Franz Xavier Winterhalter as portrait painter to the Napoleonic aristocracy.

Cabanel was also a successful teacher. His pupils (like those of his master, Picot) often won the Prix de Rome; among the best known are Jules Bastien-Lepage, Edouard Debat-Ponsan, Edouard Théophile Blanchard (1844-79), Henri Gervex and Lodewijk Royer. He was elected regularly to the Salon jury, and his pupils could be counted by the hundred at the Salons. Through them, Cabanel did more than any other artist of his generation to form the character of 'belle époque' French painting. Cabanel’s pictures were always drawn and painted with a high degree of academic virtuosity, combined with an undercurrent of strong feeling, as in the Death of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta (1870; Paris, Mus. d’Orsay). This made him extremely popular in his lifetime.

Dimensions:  6'H x 8'W
Price: $132,500.00

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