ARY SCHEFFER (Dordrecht 1795 – 1858 Argenteuil)

Ary Scheffer

Ary Scheffer (Dordrecht 1795 – 1858 Argenteuil)

Christus Consolator (recto); Head of an Angel (verso)

Red and black chalk (recto); pencil (verso), 390 x 305 mm (15.4 x 12 inch)

Signed with monogram ‘A.S.’ (lower right)

Private collection, The Netherlands


Dutch-born and French-educated, Ary Scheffer was one of the pre-eminent Romantic painters active in Paris during the first half of the 19th century.1 Scheffer was born in Dordrecht in 1795, the son of the portrait and history painter Johan Bernard Scheffer (1765-1809) and Cornelia Lamme (1796-1839), a painter of miniatures. After being taught by his father, Scheffer became court painter to Louis Napoleon in Amsterdam. He left for Paris in 1811, where he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts and with P.N. Guérin. He was later influenced by Delacroix and Géricault. Scheffer soon became a hugely popular artist, with high prices being offered for his works at the Paris Salons.
Most of Scheffer’s oeuvre remained with his family until after the death of his daugher, who bequeathed 341 drawings and a number of paintings to the Dordrechts Museum in 1900, and other pictures to the Louvre, Paris.

The present drawing of Christus Consolator (Christ the Comforter) seems to be related to Scheffer’s famous painting of the same subject, the primary version of which caused a sensation at the Paris Salon of 1837, where it was purchased by the French King’s son, the Duc d’Orléans, as a wedding present to his Lutheran fiancée (now in the Amsterdams Historisch Museum). The work was so famous that Scheffer produced several other versions for private collectors until late in his career, including paintings now in the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (fig.), and the Dordrechts Museum.2 Vincent van Gogh, who as a young man in 1877 had worked in a bookshop in Dordrecht opposite the city’s statue celebrating its famous son Scheffer, admired the deep emotion of the work so much that he kept a print of it in his rooms, writing repeatedly about the painting to his brother Theo: ‘It can be compared to nothing else’.

Although the present sheet shows Christ in a more frontal pose than in the d’Orléans painting, the general attitude and physionomy is much the same. The study of the laurel-wreathed crying angel on the verso again seems related to the subsidiary figures at the left in the d’Orléans picture and its copies, although – again – it does not respond literally to one of the figures in the finished painting. This all suggests this delicate and deeply moving sheet is an early draft for the later picture.


1. There is extensive literature on the artist, see for instance M.J. de Groot (ed.), Ary Scheffer 1795-1858: gevierd romanticus, exh. cat. Dordrecht (Dordechts Museum) 1995-96 and L.J.I. Ewals, Ary Scheffer, een Nederlandse Fransman, n.p. 1985.
2. Bulletin Dordrechts Museum, Dordrecht, 1993, nr. 4, p. 22-25.