The French Savants in Egypt, 1798 (1875)

Medium: oil

Exhibited: Royal Academy, 1875

Original caption: ‘When the Mamelukes charged, the cry was “Let Messieurs the savants and the donkeys enter within the square”‘

The painting was part of the collection of the late R.A. Cosier Esq. of Thamesfield, Berkshire, and was auctioned by Messrs Christie, Manson and Woods, at King Street, St James’s Square, London, on 4 and 5 March 1887. It was purchased by ‘Norwood’ for £84.

Athenaeum, 1 May 1875:

During the expedition of the French in 1798, a joke was current which associated the troops with the donkeys on which they rode. It was said that when the Mamelukes charged the invaders, MM. les savants and les ânes were ordered within the square formed to receive cavalry. Mr. Crowe has taken advantage of the tale to present to us a well-arranged and admirably-executed group of the learned men in question, reclining, lounging or standing on the desert sand in hot sunlight. Bertholet sits on a black mule, and talks with Villoteau, a draughtsman; St. Hilaire, seen in profile, converses with Dutestre, another draughtsman; next to Fourier is Conté, the latter with a bandage over the eye which he lost while experimenting in the manufacture of the crayons which preserve his name; Denon is in a green coat, listening to Monge, who gesticulates with both hands; Balzac is talking with Cotaz; the latter, in a blue coat, lies on the sand. It is a capital, solid and careful picture, a little hard in execution, and rather scattered in colour, but otherwise quite a model for the painters of the present day.

Illustrated London News, 15 May 1875:

[We prefer Handing the Brush to] ‘The French Savants in Egypt, 1798’ (831), where we see ‘Messieurs les Savants’ and the donkeys in the middle of a large square formed by the French infantry to resist the Mamelukes. Our acknowledgment is due, however, to the conscientious research and the careful thoroughness with which everything is here realised; while climatic influences may to some extent justify the hardness of aspect of which we have complained.

The painting was later shown at the International Exhibition in Paris; the Athenaeum commented (11 May 1878):

… portraits, costume, accessories are studied with marvellous accuracy, but these are the least valuable part of the work, which in technique shows decided mastery.

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