The Emperor is seen, unusually, in evening dress rather than uniform; in every other way - the crown and sceptre; the sash and star of the Légion d'honneur; the ermine-trimmed mantle; the throne - this is a state portrait. The setting is the Salon Louis XIV of the Tuileries palace. At the time of its completion, the portrait was criticized as being unflattering, for not sufficiently camouflaging the Emperor's lack of stature and his thickening waistline; critics of both the painting and its subject said it resembled nothing more than a "portrait d'un maître d'hôtel". But it was apparently well received within the Imperial family. And his wife, the Empress Eugénie, thought it very like, capturing her husband perfectly; she had the painting hung in her private apartments at the Tuileries, and it was one of the paintings she requested be returned to her in her exile in England. The portrait was long thought lost, but has been found and restored and is now at Compiègne.
|A wonderfully precise yet poetic passage.|
Alexandre Cabanel (28 September 1823, Montpellier – 23 January 1889, Paris), French academic painter of historical, classical, and religious subjects, he was also well known as a portrait painter. At seventeen he entered the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he studied with François-Édouard Picot. He first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1844, and the next year won the Prix de Rome. Cabanel was elected a member of the Institute in 1863, and was appointed professor at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1864, where he taught until his death. Cabanel was closely connected to the Paris Salon, winning the grande médaille d'honneur at the Salons of 1865, 1867, and 1878. He was a regular member of the Salon jury and, perhaps not surprisingly, his legions of pupils were constant exhibitors. Through those students, Cabanel had perhaps more influence than any other artist of his day in shaping the sensibilities of Belle Époque French painting. He died in Paris at the age of sixty-five.
|A study for the Emperor's portrait.|
He is best remembered today as one of the leading members of the Salon jury of 1863 which refused two-thirds of the work submitted for exhibition, including that of Courbet and, most famously, Manet and others who would soon come to be known as Impressionists. The resulting scandal was such that, in a conciliatory gesture, the Emperor arranged for the refused artists to have their own exhibition; the resulting Salon des Refusés is seen by many as marking the birth of the Impressionist movement.
The same year, 1863, is also the date of the only one of Cabanel's paintings that is still well known. His almost ridiculously erotic La Naissance de Vénus - the birth of Venus - was a great success at the Salon that year and was immediately snapped up by the Emperor for his private collection.