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Pierre-Narcisse_Guérin_001.jpg
Aeneas tells Dido about the fall of Troy, 1815.

Pierre-Narcisse, baron Guérin (May 13, 1774 - July 6, 1833), French painter, was born at Paris.

Becoming a pupil of Jean-Baptiste Regnault, he carried off one of the three grands prix offered in 1796, in consequence of the competition not having taken place since 1793. The pension was not indeed re-established, but Guérin fulfilled at Paris the conditions imposed upon a pensiennaire, and produced various works, one of which brought him prominently before the public. This work, "Marcus Sextus" (Louvre), exhibited at the Salon of 1799, excited wild enthusiasm, partly due to the subject, a victim of Sulla's proscription returning to Rome to find his wife dead and his house in mourning--in which an allusion was found to the actual situation of the émigrés.

Guérin on this occasion was publicly crowned by the president of the Institute, and before his departure for Rome (on the re-establishment of the école under Suvée) a banquet was given to him by the most distinguished artists of Paris. In 1800, unable to remain in Rome on account of his health, he went to Naples, where he painted the "Grave of Amyntas". In 1802 Gurin produced "Phaedra and Hippolytus "(Louvre); in 1810, after his return to Paris, he again achieved a great success with "Andromache and Pyrrhus" (Louvre); and in the same year also exhibited "Cephalus and Aurora" (Collection Sommariva) and "Bonaparte and the Rebels of Cairo" (Versailles).

The Restoration brought to Guérin fresh honours; he had received from the first consul in 1803 the cross of the Legion of Honour, and in 1815 Louis XVIII named him Academician. The success of Guérin's "Hippolytus of Andromache", of "Phaedra and of Clytaemnestra" (Louvre) had been ensured by the skilful selection of highly melodramatic situations, treated with the strained and pompous dignity proper to the art of the first empire; in Aeneas relating to Dido the disasters of Troy (Louvre), which appeared side by side with "Clytaemnestra" at the Salon of 1817, the influence of the Restoration is plainly to be traced. In this work Gurin sought to captivate the public by an appeal to those sensuous charms which he had previously rejected, and by the introduction of picturesque elements of interest.

But with this work Guérin's public successes came to a close. He was, indeed, commissioned to paint for the Madeleine a scene from the history of St Louis, but his health prevented him from accomplishing what he had begun, and in 1822 he accepted the post of director of the Ecole de Rome, which in 1816 he had refused. On returning to Paris in 1828, Guérin, who had previously been made chevalier of the order of St Michel, was ennobled. He now attempted to complete "Pyrrhus and Priam", a work which he had begun at Rome, but in vain; his health had finally broken down, and in the hope of improvement he returned to Italy with Horace Vernet. Shortly after his arrival at Rome Baron Guérin died, on the 6th of July 1833, and was buried in the church of La Trinité de Monti by the side of Claude of Lorraine.

A careful analysis and criticism of his principal works will be found in Meyer's Geschichte der französischen Malerei.


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