La Tarentelle: An evening coastal Landscape with Neapolitan Peasants dancing the Tarantella, 1799
Oil on canvas, H. 1.55 m; W. 2.12 m
Traces of a signature centre left: SABL.
Inventory number painted on the reverse: No 665.d.C.
Provenance: Cardinal Joseph Fesch, by whom acquired from the artist in 1802, for 6000 francs (see J.B. Private collection, Portugal
- Salon,’Arlequin au Muséum ou les Tableaux en Vaudeville’, Coll. Deloynes, 1799, XXI, p. 109-110, no. 561.
- ‘La Revue du Muséum’, Coll. Deloynes, 1799, XXI, p. 159, no. 562.
- ‘Exposition de tableaux au Salon du Louvre. Journal d’indications’, Coll. Deloynes, 1799, XXI, p. 361-362, no. 579.
- ‘Exposition des ouvrages de peinture…insérée dans le Journal de la Décade par le C. Chaussard’, Coll. Deloynes, 1799, XXI, p. 455-456, no. 580.
- 25 fructidor/11 septembre, 1799, Journal des Arts, de littérature et de commerce, p. 2, no. 11.
- J.B. Vanel, ‘Deux livres de comptes du cardinal Fesch, archevêque de Lyon’, Bulletin historique du diocèse de Lyon, 1802, January 1923, p. 76, no. 1 (‘la Tarentelle de Sablet 6.000 fr.’).
- 7 vendémiaire/30 septembre, 1803, Arch. nat., Minutier central, Etude LXIX, 870, Inventaire J. Sablet, 23 fructidor an XI/10 September, folio 19 (tableau appartenant à Lucien Bonaparte, ‘La Tarentaine’).
- Johann Dominicus Fiorillo, Geschichte der zeichnenden Künste in Deutschland und den vereinigten Niederlanden, 1815, II, p. 520.
- (George), Catalogue des tableaux composant la Galerie de feu son éminence le cardinal Fesch, 1841, Rome, no. 1751 (‘Une fête de matelots’).
- 26 mars ff, Rome, vente du cardinal Fesch, 1844, no. 820 (‘Une fête napolitaine’).
- Anne van de Sandt, Jacques Sablet (1749-1803). Biographie et catalogue raisonné, Université de Paris IV – Sorbonne, 1983, no. X. 29, as ‘localisation inconnue’.
- Philippe Costamagna (and others), Le goût pour la peinture italienne autour de 1800. Prédécesseurs, modèles et concurrents du Cardinal Fesch. Actes du Colloque, Ajaccio, March 1-4, 2005, p. 14.
Following its exhibition in the 1799 Paris Salon, our painting was acquired by Lucien Bonaparte, almost certainly on behalf of his uncle, Cardinal Fesch who was one of the greatest art collectors of the early 19th century. The picture remained in the Cardinal’s collection until his death in 1844, when it was sold in the posthumous sale of Fesch’s collection. Since then, the whereabouts of this monumental picture have been unknown until its recent rediscovery in a private collection in Portugal. In 2007, our picture figured in an important exhibition on Cardinal Fesch and the art of his time. In a recent cleaning the faint traces of a signature SABL have emerged on the wall below the fortress on the centre left of the composition.
Described by Anne van de Sandt as ‘certainement l’un des chefs-d’oeuvre de Jacques Sablet’ (exh. cat. Ajaccio, musée Fesch, Le cardinal Fesch et l’art de son temps. (…), 2007, no. 8, p. 49.), the painting depicts an idyllic scene of Neapolitan peasants dancing the Tarantella before a harbour with a castle reminiscent of the Castel Nuovo, Naples, above and beyond the fortress of Gaeta.
The Tarantella was a lively dance, performed to the accompaniment of tambourines, a guitar, or sometimes, as here, a lute. It is commonly believed to be named after the tarantula spider which was (incorrectly) thought to cause tarantism, a form of hysteria that was at one time endemic to the southern Italian town of Taranto, and the cure for which was thought to involve wild dancing.
The same dance is surely being performed in Sablet’s Danse à Naples, commissioned by Gustav III of Sweden in 1784 (now at Drottningholm Castle, Sweden), from which composition the three main groups of musicians to the right in the present work, the dancing couple in the centre, and the drinking couple to the left, have clearly evolved.
Jacques-Henri Sablet came from a French family of Swiss origin. Both he and his elder brother Jean-François (1745-1819) were pupils of Joseph-Marie Vien in Paris. Thanks to a grant from the State of Berne, he was able to go to Italy and in 1778 received a first prize for a Death of Pallas at the concorso of the Academy of Parma. He was soon however to abandon history painting for informal portraits and genre scenes, where he displayed strong sensibilité, no doubt inspired by the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Salomon Gessner. He collaborated with Abraham-Louis-Rodolphe Ducros on the publication of a series of Italian costumes in aquatint, providing the drawings from which Ducros made the plates, and himself executed in 1786 a series of etchings of popular characters (see van de Sandt, 1983, p. 100-113). Such pictures as the Drottningholm Danse à Naples, and to a greater extent, the masterly Colin-maillard (exhibited in the Salon of 1796, and now in the musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne) as well as the present work, with their lifelike expression, luminosity and vivacious colouring, show Sablet’s interest in the newly-developing taste for such subjects.
Such works, as well his ability to paint portraits, caught the attention of some of the foremost collectors and patrons of the day, including François Cacault, Lucien Bonaparte, Prince of Canino as well as the latter’s uncle Cardinal Joseph Fesch. Van de Sandt notes that this picture was presumably La Tarentaine in the posthumous inventory of 1803 of pictures in Sablet’s atelier, then listed as belonging to Lucien Bonaparte. If so, perhaps Lucien had been acting for his uncle, as it is certain that the picture had in fact been acquired by Fesch in 1802 for the then enormous sum of 6000 francs and that it also figured in the posthmous sale of his collection in Rome in 1844.
Cardinal Joseph Fesch (Ajaccio 1763 – Rome 1839) was of Swiss-Corsican origin. The half-brother of Letizia Ramolino Bonaparte (1750-1836), mother of the future Emperor Napoleon I, he formed, between about 1796 and his death in 1839, one of the largest private collections of paintings of the early 19th Century. His Roman residence was the Palazzo Falconieri in the Via Giulia, where he displayed many of his finest pieces, but he also rented other dwellings in which he stored the rest of his huge collection. Among the nearly 16,000 works which were recorded in his posthumous inventory, were many masterpieces, including Giotto’s Dormition of the Virgin, Fra Angelico’s Last Judgement, and Rembrandt’s Preaching of John the Baptist (all Berlin, Gemäldegalerie); Poussin’s Dance to the Music of Time (London, Wallace Collection), Mantegna’s Agony in the Garden and a Raphael Crucifixion (London, National Gallery). He was also an avid collector of Neapolitan still lifes, as well as the work of many other Italian 17th and 18th Century artists. He showed little interest in 18th Century French painting. As well as the present picture, Fesch also owned Sablet’s Colin-maillard. Upon his death, the collection was left in part to the Institut des Etudes, Ajaccio, that he had founded (now mostly Musée Fesch, Ajaccio); most of the rest (including our painting) was sold off at auction in Rome between 1843 and 1845.
La Tarantelle was exhibited in the 1799 Salon generally to much acclaim. Chaussard noted: ‘…Toujours grand peintre dans la scène familière et animée. Au fond du tableau la mer. Sur le devant des groupes, qui vont, qui viennent, se croisent, se quittent, se reprennent. Ils dansent véritablement et leur joie est bruyante… Les peintres n’obtiennent cet effet qu’en forçant en gris les derniers plans. Ici tout est argentin et clair; la lumière est répandue avec profusion. Qu’elle est donc cette magie et par quel secret de l’art…? C’est celui de Sablet, il l’a gardé pour lui seul. Comme il est supérieur à Vateau [sic]. La manière de Vateau était monotone et de convention; celle de Sablet est toujours brillante et vraie’. (« Exposition des ouvrages de peinture…insérée dans le Journal de la Décade par le C. Chaussard », Coll. Deloynes, 1799, XXI, p. 455-456, no. 580.)
The 1844 sale catalogue is more positive pointing to the variety in the depiction of the figures and the majesty of the setting: ‘La diversité d’action entre les différens groupes donne à cette composition un charme et un agrément que la variété des costumes et l’aspect grandiose du site ne fait qu’accroître encore.'(Fesch sale, Rome, 26 March 1844 ff., lot 820.)