Ernest Augustin Gendron (French, 1817–1881)
The Nymphs at the Tomb of Adonis, ca. 1864
Oil on canvas, 22 3/8 x 39 3/8 in.
Throughout his career, Gendron painted mythological subjects, considered the highest genre in the academic tradition. The story of Adonis, the beautiful young hunter who became Venus’s lover but attacked and killed by a wild boar while hunting, is from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which provided artists with popular subjects since the Renaissance. Unlike most artistic representations of the legend — Venus trying to prevent Adonis from going to the hunt, Adonis’s death, or Venus mourning — Gendron chose to portray its aftermath. In The Nymphs at the Tomb of Adonis, Gendron depicts languorously reclining nymphs lamenting the loss of Adonis at the site of his grave, an ideal opportunity to paint sensual and erotic female nudes under the pretext of Classical mythology. When Gendron exhibited this painting at the Paris Salon in 1864, the catalogue provided the visitor with a brief text after the picture’s title: “When the night star shines on this foliage, a soft sleep follows their moaning.”
Pupil of Paul Delaroche, Gendron traveled to Italy from 1844 to 1847, at the same time as his master and Jean-Léon Gérôme. Gérôme and the Néo-Grecs influenced his interest in the art of antiquity, and he also specialized in religious and allegorical subjects, as well as genre scenes. In 1846, he won a third-class medal, in 1849 a second-class medal, and in 1855 a third-class medal at the Exposition Universelle, the same year he was nominated Knight of the Legion of Honor. He received numerous public commissions, notably for the Palais d’Orsay, Salle des pas-perdus du Conseil d’Etat, 12 panels, 1850, since destroyed; Saint Cloud, the party gallery of the Ministère d’Etat (now the Ministère de Finance), 1856; and the St. Catherine chapel in the church of St. Gervais, 1866.