Ary Scheffer (1795 - 1858)
One April day in 1813 a lad named Ary (short for Ariel)
Scheffer bounded up the stairs of a studio-home in Paris and tossed into his
mother's lap fifty francs. When he had got his breath he explained that he had
sold his first picture. Thereafter, his pictures sold— sold for all they were
worth—until he quit painting, in 1858. In the interim he enjoyed the favor of
the greater part of the
aristocracy of France in particular and of Europe in general.
In the beginning the prices he got for his pictures
were not large, but there was always enough money so that the gaunt wolf that
once scratched and sniffed at the Scheffer studio door was no longer to be seen
or heard. Five years later we find General Lafayette writing to a friend in
reference to a proposed visit to his Chateau de la Grange: "I do not think you
will find it dull here. Among others of our household is a talented young
painter by the name of Scheffer." Incidentally, the young painter was making a
portrait of Lafayette that is regarded as one of the best of him in existence.
Through his strong Republican tendencies Scheffer had very naturally drifted
into the company of those who knew Lafayette. The artist knew the history of the
great man and was familiar with his American career. Scheffer, as Elbert Hubbard
records, in his "Eminent Painters," was interested in America, "for the radicals
with whom he associated were well aware that there might come a time when they
would have to seek hastily some hospitable clime where to think was not a
crime." Lafayette was sixty-one; Scheffer was twenty-three at the time, but
there at once sprang up a warm friendship between them that lasted until the
death of the great French patriot.
Christ Weeping over Jerusalem
While sojourning with Lafayette, Scheffer met the Duchess of Orleans, and that
future Queen of
France was "so impressed by the quiet manliness of the young artist" that he was
invited to her estate at Neuilly to copy certain portraits, and incidentally to
give lessons in drawing to the Princess Marie. Of this event we read that "the
gentle, mild-voiced artist knew his place and did not presume on terms of
equality with the Princess who traced a direct pedigree to Louis the Great. He
thought to wait and allow her gradually to show her quality. She tried her
caustic wit upon him, and he looked at her out of mild blue eyes and made no
reply to her who had played tierce and thrust with every man she had met, and
had come off without a scar. But here was a man of pride and poise, far beneath
her in a social way, yet who had rebuked her haughty spirit by a simple look."
Surreptitiously, it is intimated, they fell in love and "there came a decided
evolution in his art; but it was not until she had passed away that one could
pick out an unsigned canvas and say positively, 'This is Scheffer's.' In all his
work one sees that look of soul, and in his best one beholds a use of the blue
background that rivals the blue of heaven. No other painter has gotten such
effects from colors so simple.
Born at Dordrecht, Holland, in 1795, Ary Scheffer studied drawing at Lille, and
in 1811 went to Paris, where, under Guérin,
he had Géricault
and Delacroix for fellow students, and with them eventually revolted against the
ultra-classicism of Guérin.
The three classes of subjects affected by Scheffer serve in a general way to
divide his art life into three periods. The third, characterized by religious
subjects, dated from 1837. After his forty-fifth year he was largely occupied
with sacred themes, and reached his highest achievement in "Christ Tempted of
Satan," "Christ Weeping over Jerusalem" and the "Christ of the Reed."