- Place of origin:
Legros, born 1837 - died 1911 (artist)
- Materials and Techniques:
oil on paper laid on card
- Credit Line:
Bequeathed by Constantine Alexander Ionides
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Alphonse Legros (1837-1911) was born in Dijon where he entered the Ecole des Beaux Arts before attending the 'Petite Ecole' of Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran (1802-1897) in Paris and then Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He started exhibited at the Salon in 1857. In 1863, Legros visited London where he found admirers and patrons, notably the Ionides family, and was ardently promoted by the brothers Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Michael Rossetti. An etcher, a painter and a sculptor, he succeeded Edward John Poynter (1836-1919) at the Slade School in 1876 and was naturalized as a British citizen in 1880.
This work is a fine example of Legros' religious paintings of the 1870s. It depicts a half-naked old man kneeling before a priest and perhaps receiving the host. Legros particularly favoured the religious thematic during the 1860s and appeared here indebted to 16th-century Venetian art he had studied in his youth in the Louvre.
In the centre a half naked white-bearded old man supported by a man with a dark beard, kneels on a white cushion on the steps of a building before a grey-haired priest; on the left kneels a monk; in the background a distant hill.
Place of Origin
Legros, born 1837 - died 1911 (artist)
Materials and Techniques
oil on paper laid on card
Height: 41.9 cm, Width: 31.2 cm
Object history note
The painting is not mentioned in C. A. Ionides inventory of his collection, indicating that it perhaps belonged to his father A.C. Ionides, or that it could have been a present from the artist, a lifelong friend of C. A. Ionides. Bequeathed by Constantine Alexander Ionides, 1900.
Ref: Basil S. Long, Catalogue of the Constantine Alexander Ionides collection.Vol. 1, Paintings in oil, tempera and water-colour, together with certain of the drawings, London : Printed under the authority of the Board of Education, 1925.
C. Monkhouse, ‘The Constantine Ionides Collection’ in Magazine of Art, vii, 1884, pp. 36-44, 208-214.
The collection formed by Constantine Ionides includes works of a wide variety of schools, periods and artists. His collection includes Old Masters, 17th century works, contemporary British works and French 19th century works. Constantine formed friendships with artists of the day, especially Legros, who, having spent 17 years in Britain, became a naturalise British citizen. Constantine proved a stable and generous buyer of Legros work, while Legros, in turn, became an advisor in the matters of art to the attentive Constantine. Under the influence of Legros Constantine developed a keen interest in French 19th century paintings purchasing works by Delacroix, Degas, Millet and Rousseau.
Constantine’s plans concerning his collection conformed to a more ‘public-welfare’ vein of thought than his father or brother. He decided to donate his collection to the Victoria & Albert Museum, instead of privately distributing it or disposing of it in a Sales room.
His will states:
'All my pictures both in oil and water colors and crayon or colored chalks (but subject as to my family portraits to the interest herein before given to my said Wife) and all my etchings drawings and engravings to the South Kensington Museum for the benefit of the nation to be kept there as one separate collection to be called "The Constantine Alexander Ionides Collection" and not distributed over the Museum or lent for exhibition. And I desire that the said Etchings Drawings and Engravings shall be framed and glazed by and at the expense of the authorities of the Museum so that Students there can easily see them.'
The collection bequeathed to the museum in 1901 comprises 1138 pictures, drawing and prints, to which a further 20 items were added on the death of his widow in 1920. The works are listed in the V&A catalogue of the Constantine Alexander Ionides collection.
Historical significance: This painting is a fine example of Legros' religious scene. It depicts an old man, kneeling half naked before a priest who is probably giving him the host. This act of contrition may have particularly interested Legros as he renewed the compositional formula in An honourable Penitent, c. 1868, Musée d'Orsay, Paris.
However while the Orsay painting combined the religious thematic which dominates Legros' production of the 1860s and the Spanish inspiration that is considered to be one of the main elements of Realism (see Edouard Manet (1832-1883) and Augustin Théodule Ribot (1823-1891)), the present painting appears more reminiscent of Venetian art, especially in such composition as St Jerome and a Donor in the Dulwich Picture Gallery, London.
The cool palette, composition formula with a somewhat theatrical stage and the atmospheric sky in the right background clearly reveal Legros' interested for the 16th-century Venetian art, which inspired him also in the depiction of several portraits.
A black chalk study of a man in prayer in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (WA1953.39.) may be related to the present painting.
Historical context note
History painting, i.e. depictions of non recurring events based on religious, classical, literary or allegorical sources, particularly developed in Italy during the Renaissance (15th-16th centuries). History painting could include religious themes, or depictions of momentous recent events, but the term was most frequently associated with Classical subject-matter. However a renewed impetus was given to religious subjects after the Council of Trent (1545-63), which stipulated new iconographical programmes. The development of art treatises, in which the compositional rules guiding the art of painting were discussed also notably, influenced the evolution of history painting. From around 1600 history painting's principal rivals: still-life, landscape and genre painting began to emerge as independent collectable genres. Furthermore, the Rococo taste for the ornamental in the early 18th century prioritised the decorative quality of history painting, so that subject matters became more entertaining than exemplary. There was a renewed interest in history painting during the Neo-Classical period after which the taste for such pictures faded towards the end of the 19th century when an innovative approach to the image was led by the Symbolists and was developed further by subsequent schools in the early 20th century.
Oil on paper, 'The Confession', Alphonse Legros, 1860s
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Summary Catalogue of British Paintings, London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 80-81.
B.S. Long, Catalogue of the Constantine Alexander Ionides collection. Vol. 1, Paintings in oil, tempera and water-colour, together with certain of the drawings, London, 1925, p. 34.
Paper; Card; Oil paint
Christianity; Scene of penitence