The Poet Inspired by the Melancholy of the Ruins
Oil on canvas
210 x 286 cm
Signed lower left:
PROVENANCE: Sale Drouot, Paris, 21 March 1980; private collection, Italy
EXHIBITION: Salon des Artistes Français, Paris, 1899, no. 1846
BIBLIOGRAPHY: G. Schurr, Les petits maîtres de la Peinture (1820-1920), 1981,
tome V, p. 143-144, reproduced
In his painting—quite justly singled out by the critics and rewarded by the Jury du Salon of 1899—Suau revisited one of the major themes of the 18th and 19th centuries in western art: melancholic meditation on the ephemeral character of great civilizations, once the glory of the antique world, but then in decline before being battered to extinction by barbarian invasions or the devastating forces unleashed by Nature.
A student of Benjamin Constant, Jules Lefebvre and Robert-Fleury, Edmond Suau (fig.a) produced expressive portraits and beautiful landscapes (fig. b) taking inspiration from the 18th century; but he was above all inspired by the greatest of genres, history painting, wide, ambitious compositions where his energetic paintbrush could show what it was capable of.
The use of a format of large dimensions allowed Suau to elaborate a vast panorama embracing the ruins of the antique city, depicted realistically in a somewhat ochre color that contrasts with the luminus blue of the Italian sky and the mass of the volcano that dominates the scene, its ever-threatening activity shown by the wisps of smoke escaping from the crater.
The figure of the poet, foreshortened and shown in three-quarter profile, is perfectly mastered. We see him nostalgically contemplating the irremediable passage of time, while his muse—veiled in white and holding the lyre of Poetry—wills him to creative inspiration with a delicate gesture.