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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
2020.296
People
Théodore Chassériau, French (Ste. Barbe de Samana, S. America 1819 - 1856 Paris)
Title
The Punishment of Cain
Other Titles
Original Language Title: Caïn maudit
Classification
Paintings
Work Type
painting
Date
1836
Culture
French
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/333620
Location
Level 2, Room 2120, European and American Art, 17th–19th century, The Lure of the East
View this object's location on our interactive map
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
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)
Provenance
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

Notes:
[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
2020
Object Number
2020.296
Division
European and American Art
Contact
am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu
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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]

Exhibition History

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

Related Works

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu