Pascal Adolphe Dagnan-Bouveret (French, 1852–1929)
Hamlet and the Gravediggers, 1883
Oil on canvas, 40 x 33 1/2 in.
Signed and dated lower left: J Dagnan-B 1883
Among the most creative students of the renowned academician Jean-Léon Gérôme, Dagnan-Bouveret staunchly maintained the academic tradition while modernizing it with contemporary themes and organizing his compositions with photographic techniques. Officially recognized and honored, Dagnan-Bouveret was named Officer of the Legion of Honor in 1891 and member of the Institut de France in 1900. Hamlet and the Gravediggers — Dagnan-Bouveret’s second work to enter the Museum collection — depicts the famous passage from Act V, Scene I of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, when the Danish prince discovers the skull of Yorick the Jester and contemplates the fate of all mankind. Dagnan-Bouveret’s friends, the artists Gustave Courtois and Karl von Steffen, posed for the figures of Horatio and Hamlet and the artist himself appears at the lower right, photographically cropped and facing the action. Painted in the lighthearted and somewhat satiric “troubadour style,” Dagnan-Bouveret’s naturalist tendencies are most clearly seen in the ragged figures of the gravediggers, depicted with his characteristic exactitude. First exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1884, it was popularized through reproductions published the same year. The artist gave Hamlet and the Gravediggers to his teacher, Gérôme, and a subsequent owner, the American banker George F. Baker donated it to The Metropolitan Museum of Art.