Antoine-Jean Gros – French academic artist

Sappho at Cape Leucas.
Sappho at Cape Leucas.

Antoine-Jean Gros – the artist who betrayed Bonaparte and his talent

Antoine-Jean Gros knew everything: resounding success and oblivion. On a serene June day in 1835, the town of Meudon flew around the sad news: fishermen from the Seine fished out the body of a man. The identity of the drowned man and the reasons why he decided to end his life was soon established. The deceased was identified as the famous artist – Antoine-Jean Gros. Everything in fate turned out great, even at a very young age, Gros became the official painter of the legendary man who made a revolution in France, Napoleon I. He thought about suicide when he fell into a long depression and came to the conclusion that he had betrayed his vocation.

Portrait of Mademoiselle Recamier.
Portrait of Mademoiselle Recamier.

The career of Antoine-Jean Gros against the odds

Antoine-Jean Gros committed suicide at 64. He had an interesting and dramatic fate, he had to make a career in difficult times for art. But Fortune smiled at him, helping him achieve a lot. The artist was bestowed with his grace by one of the brightest European rulers. The painter created works on which he captured the heroic image of his powerful patron, Napoleon I.

Bonaparte on the Arcole Bridge.
Bonaparte on the Arcole Bridge.

Antoine-Jean Gros, the future chronicler of the Revolution, was born in 1771. His father was fond of painting all his life, he painted original miniatures, but he never received fame. The time of absolute monarchy, the rococo style prevailed in art. The first drawing teacher for Antoine-Jean was the elder Gros. In adolescence, a talented child was noticed and taken to study by Jacques-Louis David, a member of the French Academy of Arts. The master was supportive of the talent: when the boy was 16 years old, he helped him enter the Academy of Painting and Sculpture. The situation in the country had changed by that time, revolutionary moods appeared, so it was decided to send the young portrait painter to Italy. Young Gro, on the advice of his teacher, began to study the history of Renaissance art.

Portrait of the de Maistre sisters.
Portrait of the de Maistre sisters.

In Italy, Gro traveled a lot, absorbed the lessons of classical painting with pleasure, made sketches from the masterpieces of Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli. But at the same time, he did not forget about his own works, he learned to paint portraits. One of them, a portrait of Madame Poster, created in a classical manner, brought him fame.

On one of his trips around the country, he makes a fateful acquaintance with Napoleon’s beloved, the beautiful Josephine Beauharnais. She invited a talented young man to accompany her on her travels through the Italian provinces.

Bonaparte's visit to the plague barracks in Jaffa.
Bonaparte’s visit to the plague barracks in Jaffa.

The service of Antoine-Jean Gros for the benefit of Napoleon Bonaparte

Surely you know the legend how, during the battle, despite the heavy fire opened by the enemy, Bonaparte, in order to maintain the spirit of victory of his troops, rushed at the enemy, waving the flag. In fact, it is not known whether the commander Antoine-Jean Gros was present at this moment of glory or whether he painted a picture based on the memories of those who managed to survive in that battle with the Austrians. The work “Bonaparte on the Arcole Bridge” brought fame to the artist. He managed to recreate the heroic image of the commander on canvas.

Napoleon signed a decree conferring an officer’s rank on Gro. The artist was officially accepted into the service of an ambitious Corsican. The painter not only painted portraits of his high-ranking patron, but also carried out assignments related to the evaluation of works of art intended to be sent to France.

Christina Boyer.
Christina Boyer.
Napoleon was well aware of the importance of image.

Therefore, Gro ordered his portraits – it was important for the commander that he had a reputation as a brave and determined warrior. The artist did an excellent job of coping with the task: he himself fell under the spell of Napoleon and was fascinated by the personality of the military leader.

Antoine-Jean, along with his idol, took part in the battles, he could paint portraits from nature. As a result, truly worthy works came out from under his brush, which were duly appreciated by art critics and admirers of Bonaparte. Unfortunately, the artist sometimes had to flatter in his paintings. It was necessary to surround the image of the emperor with a heroic halo, to give it a resemblance to the heroes of ancient myths. Excessive exaggeration did not always have a good effect: some of the works can hardly be called successful. But this did not prevent Gro from becoming one of the most famous French artists of his time: in 1802, the painter was awarded a national prize for his work The Battle of Nazareth.

Madame Pasteur.
Madame Pasteur.
Battle of Abukir July 25, 1799, 1806.
Battle of Abukir July 25, 1799, 1806.
Napoleon on the Arcole Bridge, fragment, 1796.
Napoleon on the Arcole Bridge, fragment, 1796.
Bonaparte on the Arcole Bridge.2
Bonaparte on the Arcole Bridge.2
Antoine-Jean Gros Napoleon on the battlefield of Eylau.
Napoleon on the battlefield of Eylau.
Antoine-Jean Gros Portrait of Madame Bruyère.
Madame Bruyère.
Antoine-Jean Gros Portrait of General Duroc.
Portrait of General Duroc.
Antoine-Jean Gros Portrait of Quartermaster General Daru.
Portrait of Quartermaster General Daru.
Antoine-Jean Gros Battle of Nazareth. Nantes, Museum of Fine Arts.
Battle of Nazareth. Nantes, Museum of Fine Arts.
Antoine-Jean Gros Portrait of General Fournier Sarlovez.
Portrait of General Fournier Sarlovez.
Antoine-Jean Gros Napoleon near plague patients in Jaffa. Paris, Louvre
Napoleon near plague patients in Jaffa. Paris, Louvre.
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