FÉLIX AUGUSTE CLÉMENT
(Donzère 1826-1888 Algiers)
Trace of signature
Oil on canvas; 100 x 82 cm
Provenance: Sale, De Baecque, Lyon, 16 March 2015, lot 522.
With mouth agape and eyes lifted, the crimson-cloaked Evangelist appears rapt by something unseen. He awaits divine inspiration for the book of scriptures propped in his lap. French painter Félix Clément omits the popular attributes to help identify the hoary old figure as Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, the four authors of the gospels that bear their names. Featuring a stark contrast between the illuminated figure and the dark background, Clément’s use of tenebrism reveals Italian Baroque inspiration. Emulating artists such as Guido Reni and Guido Cagnacci, Clément’s reinterpretation of the Baroque has a classical orientation that he undoubtedly absorbed during his five years spent studying in Rome.
Born in Donzère, France, Félix Auguste Clément attended the École des Beaux Arts in Paris in 1836, where he studied under Michel-Martin Drolling and François Edouard Picot. Beginning in 1843 he attended the EÉcole des Beaux-Arts in Lyon before returning to Paris in 1848. Winning the prestigious Grand Prix de Rome in 1856 with the painting Return of the Young Tobias, the artist moved to the Eternal City where he would study until 1862. Students at the French Academy in Rome were required every year to send a life-size nude study back to Paris, where it would be exhibited. Clément’s third submission The Sleeping Roman Woman, also known as The Siesta, merited the recognition of art critic, Paul Mantz, “The Siesta was the success of the small exhibition from the School in Rome.”
Rather than settling in Paris after his scholarship ended, the artist traveled to Egypt, where he explored extensively, gaining inspiration for the Orientalist paintings for which he is best known. From 1862 to 1868, Clément worked for Prince Halim decorating his Palace of Shubra, near Cairo. In 1872, the French state sent him to Italy to copy a fresco by Andrea Mantegna at the Eremitani convent in Padua, but he was forced to abandon the project after a few months due to health problems. Perhaps for a change of pace, Clément took a professorship at École des Beaux-Arts in Lyon in 1875 but resigned after just two years to return to the fresco project in Italy before returning yet again to Paris. His health fading, Clément traveled to Algiers in the winter of 1887 but he wouldn’t survive the season. He died while abroad on February 2, 1888.