Scalbert: The Woman Who Saved France

Jules SCALBERT (1851-1928)
Jeanne d’Arc (first study)

Graphite on wove paper, n.d.
Preparatory drawing for an unidentified painting or décor.
Signed in pencil in the image. Image diameter: 14 inches.
Provenance: private Midwestern collection; purchased in Brussels in the 1960’s.

Jules Scalbert trained with two 19th century masters of the historic genre, Isidore Pils and Henri Lehmann.  Like his teachers he was drawn to mythology, religion and history, using the subjects to emphasize human emotion, much in the same way as old masters had.  This predilection clearly places Scalbert in the academic tradition that was still prevalent when he came of age as a pupil in these studios.  Many painters made their living thanks to commissions, often painting particular subjects on demand. Our drawing, like many of the painter’s works, presents a figure with very soft, elegant, and balanced features.  His style was one of harmony and idealization.  This drawing of Jeanne d’Arc is one of two in our possession.  It depicts the virgin heroine of France, who stood up against the English Protestant invasion, with the strength of Catholic faith.  Her face, that of a teenage girl, is unblemished in any way.  It is framed by her hands, piously folded in front of her armor, and the laurel garland of victors crowning her hair.  Both the face and the hands are highly detailed and shaded, and contrast with the sketch of her attire and the branch in the background. The artist took the drawing one step further, fully shading the composition in a second drawing.  It is very likely that this subject led to a painting.  However, to this day, we have not been able to locate such a work.

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