Jules-Élie Delaunay, “David Triumphant”, circa 1874, Oil on Canvas, 147 x 114 cm, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes, France
Born in 1828 in the city of Nantes, Jules-Élie Delaunay was a French painter of portraits and historical scenes. Educated at an elite local school, he received his initial art education from Joachim Sotta, a local artist. In 1846, Delaunay was introduced to French Neo-classical painter Hippolyte Flandrin, who had been the favorite student of painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Two years later, he enrolled in Flandrin’s workshop at Paris’s École des Beaux-Arts. In addition to his studies with Flandrin, Delaunay also studied under French academic artist Louis Lamothe, principally a painter of portraits and historical scenes who had studied under both Ingress and Flandrin.
Jules-Élie Delaunay regularly entered into competitions for the Prix de Rome without success; his unsuccessful entry for the 1855 Prix de Rome was his historical painting “Caesar and His Fortune, which depicted Caesar attempting to cross the Straits of Brindisi in disguise as a slave. In 1856 Delaunay was awarded the prize jointly with painter Félix Auguste Clément. The next year, his painting “Christ on the Cross in the Midst of Holy Women” was purchased by the French State in 1857. This enabled him to move to the French Academy in Rome in January of 1857.
Living intermittently as a pensioner at the Villa Medici, Delaunay traveled to Sienna, Bologna, Venice, Verona, and Padua, before settling in Rome where he studied Raphael’s works at the Vatican. While in Rome, Delaunay met and befriended Edgar Degas, Léon Bonnat, and the prominent Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau. With only two years difference in age, Moreau and Delaunay shared a rapport and became close life-long friends. Delaunay returned to France at the beginning of 1861 and began to make studies for his painting “The Plague of Rome”.
In 1862, Jules-Élie Delaunay briefly visited London and, upon his return to Paris, began receiving commissions for decorative paintings. These included frescoes for the church of Saint Nicholas in Nantes, the three murals for the foyer of the Paris Opera House, murals for the Chapel of the Virgin at Paris’s Church of the Holy Trinity, and twelve paintings for the grand hall of the State Council at the Palais Royal.
In 1869, Delaunay finished his oil on wood painting “The Plague of Rome”. which was based on an episode in Italian chronicler Jacques de Voragine’s “The Golden Legend”, collected stories of the lives of medieval church saints. Depicting an angel in flight loosening a plague on Rome, the painting was exhibited at the Salon du Palais de l’Industrie in Paris. It was purchased by Napoleon III for public display and now resides in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Delaunay followed this canvas with two historical paintings: the 1870 “Death of Nessus” and the 1872 “Diana”, a full-length nude portrait of the goddess of the hunt.
Jules-Élie Delaunay’s 1874 “David Triumphant” tells the Old Testament story of David and Goliath and portrays the young hero David after he had slain the Philistine giant Goliath. David is shown holding his slingshot aloft and carrying the bloody sword used to behead his slain foe. This painting was exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1874 and attracted considerable attention. Other notable works that followed were the 1876 “Ixion Plunged into Hades”, an 1882 portraiture of the Shakespearean heroine Ophelia, and two different works portraying the classical Greek poet Sappho, which was also a recurrent theme in his friend Moreau’s paintings.
In 1878, Delaunay was awarded a first-class medal at the Paris Exposition and became an officer of the Legion of Honor. He was made a member of the Institute in the following year. In 1889 Delaunay was awarded the Medal of Honor and became director of one of the three official workshops at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. After winning the Grand Prize at the Paris Exposition Universelle, his health started to deteriorate. Delaunay died in September of 1891 in Paris and was buried at the Miséricorde Cemetery in Loire-Atlantique. As one of his closest friends, Gustavave Moreau was appointed the executor of his will. The Musée de Beaux-Arts in Nantes holds the largest collection of Jules-Élie Delaunay’s work
Top Insert Image: Jules-Elie Delaunay, “Self Portrait”, 1850, Etching Second State, Plate Size 11 x 8.1 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
Middle Insert Image: Jules-Élie Delaunay, “In the Military Forge”, Date Unknown, Oil on Canvas, 114 x 146.8 cm, Private Collection
Bottom Insert Image: Jules-Élie Delaunay, Study of a Horse and Rider”, 1869-79, Charcoal with Gouache on Tan China Paper, 210 x 153 cm, Art Institute of Chicago