Philippe-Jacques Van Bree
Anvers 1786 – Bruxelles, 1871
Corinne at Cap Misenum (Study of a nude woman with a dog on the back)
Pastel over black chalk on beige prepared laid paper
375 x 470 mm – 14 3/4 x 18 1/2 in.
Inscribed P. VAN BRÉE lower left
Philippe-Jacques van Bree was born in Antwerp in 1786. He studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, where he was taught by – amongst others – his older brother, Matthieu, who was also a painter. In 1811 van Bree moved to Paris, where he studied with the famous French painter and draughtsman Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson (1767 – 1824). In 1816 he was granted a scholarship, which allowed him to travel to Rome, where he joined a small expat community of Dutch and Belgian artists. He would remain there until 1834, when he returned definitively to Brussels producing small Italian and orientalist genre paintings.
As an artist, van Bree started out painting mostly historical works in a Romanticist style. Later he was influenced by orientalism, which can be clearly seen in the present, very luminous work, which depicts Corinne at Cape Misenum, a scene taken from the novel Corinne ou l’Italie, written by Madame de Stael in 1808. In the novel, the heroine Corinne is a widely admired and fiercely independent Italian poetess, who nevertheless falls for the charming Oswald, a young British lord. The couple falls in love, yet they know they cannot be together, for Oswald has promised his dying father to marry an Englishwoman. The scene at Cape Misenum is where Corinne realizes that her love for Oswald is impossible; there and then she writes him a letter telling him her story. This pivotal scene was depicted by several contemporary artists, most famously by François Gérard (1770 – 1837), a pupil of Jacques-Louis David, who painted his Corinne au Cap Misène in 1818-22 for Prince August of Prussia and Juliette Récamier, who were good friends with Madame de Stael. Here, van Bree has depicted the very elegant Corinne, accompanied by a maidservant, contemplating her sad fate, while the rumbling Vesuvius spewing ashes into the air in the background symbolizes her internal struggles.
Condition report – Good condition. Lined on Japan paper, old tear on the top right and on the left edge