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A man and a woman walk with two small children into a dark deserted landscape

At right, a family clad only in animal skin loincloths trudges onward into a bleak desert under foreboding skies at sunset. At far right, a dark haired man hangs his head, clasping his hands in front of him as he walks. In front of him, at center right, a pale skinned woman holds her long brown hair in her hand to hide her face. A small dark haired child holds its arm up to its face and buries it against the woman’s leg. Ahead of her, in shadow, a larger child turns back to look up at her with a questioning expression.

Gallery Text

Painted when he was only sixteen years old, this brooding composition formed part of Chassériau’s successful submission to the Salon of 1836. It depicts the exile of Cain and his family as retribution for the murder of his brother Abel. Chassériau contrasts lights and darks to convey an immediate feeling of pathos. Overcome with sorrow, the group wanders into a landscape devoid of light, vegetation, and human scale. Their bodies form the painting’s only vertical elements, further emphasizing the bleakness of the wilderness. Their milky rendering reveals Chassériau’s artistic debt to Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, the painter’s mentor, who had recently left Paris to head the French Academy in Rome. The only visible face in the composition is that of the child to the left. Modeled after the artist’s own visage, it suggests his emotional identification with subjects concerning unease and isolation.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Théodore Chassériau, French (Ste. Barbe de Samana, S. America 1819 - 1856 Paris)
The Punishment of Cain
Other Titles
Original Language Title: Caïn maudit
Work Type
Persistent Link


Level 2, Room 2120, European and American Art, 17th–19th century, The Lure of the East
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Physical Descriptions

Oil on canvas
120.7 x 162.6 cm (47 1/2 x 64 in.)
Frame: 141 x 181.6 x 8.9 cm (55 1/2 x 71 1/2 x 3 1/2 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: signed and dated 'T.Chasseriau. 1836' (lower right)


Recorded Ownership History
The artist, sold; to Francois-Victor-Emmanuel Arago (1812-1896), Paris 1836, probably by descent; to his heirs, 1896, until at least c.1911. [1] Private collection Paris, 1960. [2] J. M. Stratton, Greenwich, CT ( - 1981) sold [through his sale, Sotheby's, New York, 28 May 1981, lot 21). [Wildenstein, New York (by 1994-2009)] sold [3] [through Christie's, New York, June 4, 2009, lot 151]; to Eric Seiler, Darcy Bradbury, Gray and Kristin Friedman, Edward and Karen Friedman, Theodore and Ruth Mirvis, transferred; to Eric Seiler and Darcy Bradbury, 2018, gift; to Harvard Art Museums, 2020

[1] According to Marcel the painting was still with the Arago family circa 1911
[2] Per Sandoz’s 1974 catalogue rasionné the painting was in a private collection, Paris in 1960
[3] J. Ribner, 1994 mentions painting is with Wildenstein.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Eric Seiler AB '78, AM '82, JD '82 and Darcy Bradbury AB '78, MBA '82 in honor of Matthew Rutenberg
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art

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Publication History

  • "Beaux-Arts: Salon de 1836", Journal des débats: politiques et litteraires (April 30, 1836)
  • Valbert Chevillard, Un Peintre Romantique: Theodore Chasseriau (Paris, France, 1893), p. 14
  • Marc Sandoz, Théodore Chassériau, 1819-1856: catalogue raisonné des peintures et estampes, Arts et Metiers Graphiques (Paris, France, 1974), pp. 118-119, no. 25, repr. p. 119 as pl. XVII
  • Louis-Antoine Prat, Dessins de Théodore Chassériau : 1819-1856, Editions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux (Paris, France, 1988), p. 56
  • Jonathan P. Ribner, "Chasseriau's juvenilia: some early works by an enfant du siècle", Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte (1994), vol. 57, no. 2, pp. 230, 233
  • Christine Peltre, Théodore Chassériau, Gallimard (Paris, 2001), p. 57
  • Stéphane Guégan and Vincent Pomarède, Théodore Chassériau (1819-1856): The Unknown Romantic; French title: Chassériau: Un autre romantisme, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art / Yale University Press (New York, NY and London, England, 2002), pp. 32, 36, repr. p. 32, as fig. 1
  • Old Masters and 19th Century Art, auct. cat., Christie's, New York (New York, June 4, 2009), lot 151
  • Pictures, Drawings, and Sculpture from the Collection of Matthew Rutenberg, auct. cat., W. M. Brady & Co., Inc. (New York, Winter 2020), n.p. [in remembrance by Henri Zerner]
  • Jonathan P. Ribner, Loss in French Romantic Art, Literature, and Politics, Routledge (New York, 2022), pp. 191-192, repr. p. 191 as fig. 5.6

Exhibition History

  • 32Q: 2120 19th Century, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Related Works

Verification Level

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