The great David, a pupil of whose pupil Edouard Dubufe was, and Horace Vernet, appear to have been the guides selected by him, rather than the greatest of his masters—Paul Delaroche. The influence of both is to be traced in this work, although it may be said to take rank above any production of either of them. In drawing, color, and composition, rendering of textures, and the exhibition of the resources of the palette, now better known to French painters than ever before, the picture leaves nothing to be desired. The faces of the principal figures are full of that "expression to the life" in which the English are justly considered to excel, while the admirable focus of the groups, the color, and interest, are as un-English as excellent. Fault-finding in more than one or two unimportant details would be hypercriticism where so much is perfect, and it becomes our happy privilege, in this notice, to commend and to point out, to "lay" readers about Art, the manifold beauties of its technical execution. A critical examination will show that the composition is on the pyramidal principle, and the arrangement of groups principally in threes. In the central portion of the canvas, where the marble pillars of the porch fall off in perspective, the Profligate stands holding up a golden cup in his right hand, as in the act of proposing a toast. His red costume and commanding figure attract the eye, and the attention falls at once and equally on him and on the magnificent woman whose arms embrace his neck, and whose eyes, as her chin rests close on his breast, gaze with dangerous fascination into his face. Her dress is of rich white satin, and, with the delicate green and gold sheen of her rival's robe—she with whom the Prodigal's right hand toys in caress—makes up a wonderfully brilliant prismatic chord, having the effect of focusing the richer, but not less gorgeous, pigments spread everywhere on the canvas. The faces of the women are very beautiful, and are made voluptuous by a subtle art which, through all their beauty, tells a story of unrestrained lives of passion and pleasure.
The face of the magnificent creature at the Prodigal's left hand is a wondrous piece of drawing. It is thrown back against him and from the spectator, in order that she may look up into his face—at the moment a dissipated, spiritless face, without even the flush of the wine which dyes her's so rosily—a face at once weak and weary, and yet revealing a possible intensity, indeed, the face of a French woman who "has lived," rather than that of a man.
Up to this centre leads the other groups. Below, and seated on the rich rugs which cover the marble pavement, musicians and singers pause to listen to impassioned words from a laurel-crowned poet, while further on a sort of orchestra plays time for the sensuous dance of lithe-bodied Oriental dancers—each woman of them more ravishing than the other. Minor incidents, like dice-play and love-making, give interest to the remaining space, and keep up the revel.
Throughout, the drawing is true, and good, and graceful. The hands of the figures demand especial mention. The hand of one of the women, near the central group, grasped by her lover at the wrist as he kisses her shoulder, is particularly exquisite in form and color; the more remarkable, perhaps, because the position of it is so trying in nature and so difficult to draw.
The type of feature chosen for the women, the dancing girls excepted, is essentially Gallic. As remarked before, the face of the Prodigal, also, is French; but the musicians and the poet have faces of their own which seem to belong to the university of genius. The mere revelers, curiously enough, have a likeness to the figures in some old Italian pictures; one of them looks like a copy of Judas Iscariot, made younger.
A distant city and mountains fill up the background, and, on the extreme right of the near middle distance, flights of marble steps ascend to a grand doorway, where servants are seen loitering within easy call of their masters.
It was by a sublime inspiration that Dubufe painted the accessory panels in monotone. In that on the right, a dismal sky, filled with rolling clouds and sad presaging ravens flying, over-shadows the outcast, seated on a rock in an attitude of listless dejection, with the swine feeding at his feet. In the panel on the left he is seen in the close embrace of his merciful parent. His head is bowed in humility, and, in an agony of remorse and shame, while the old house-dog sniffs at him for an obtrusive mendicant who has no business with such affectionate welcome.
Let us congratulate ourselves that this picture has come to our country, as yet so barren of great works, and pray that the noble school of art of which this is so admirable an exponent, may find favor, not only with our painters, but with those who call themselves connoisseurs, in preference to unmeaning works of microscopic finish, or slick examples of boudoir and millinery painting.
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"THE ALDINE PRESS."—JAMES SUTTON & CO., Printers and Publishers, 23 Liberty St., N.Y.