Jean Alaux, “Cadmus in Combat with the Dragon”, 1830, Engraving, 38.6 x 29.5 cm, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, France
Born in 1786 in the port city of Bordeaux, Jean Alaux was a French history painter, one of four brothers who all became painters. He received his first art lessons from his father. Alaux’s formal training was under history painter Pierre Lacour and Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, a Parisian painter known for his portraits and melodramatic mythological scenes. In 1807, Alaux was admitted to the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
Beginning in 1808, Jean Alaux began entering his work in the Prix de Rome; however, he took a hiatus from his own work to assist his older brother Jean-François Alaux on a large-scale panorama. Subsequently, Alaux entered his “Briseis Weeping Over the Body of Patroclus” in the 1815 Prix de Rome. This work, inspired by Homer’s “Illiad”, was awarded the major prize at the exhibition. Alaux was elected to the French Academy in Rome and, from 1816 to 1820, received an annual pension.
While at the Academy, Jean Alaux became a friend of Neo-classical painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and associated with such artists as painters François-Édouard Picot and Michel Martin Drolling, and sculptors David d’Angers and Jean-Jacques Pradier. Alaux’s first oil painting at the Academy was “Cadmus Killing the Dragon at the Fountains of Dirce”, purchased by the Duke of Orleans and later destroyed in a a fire at the Royal Palace during the 1848 French Revolution. Alaux painted two other mythology-based scenes during his stay at the Academy: “Episode in Combat with the Centaurs and the Lapithes” and “Diamedes Carrying Off the Palladium”.
Alaux returned to France in 1821 where his reputation grew as his new works were well received. In 1825 he painted the historical work “The Baptism of Clovis”, which depicted the warlord King Clovis’s baptism by Saint Remigius, the Bishop of Rheims, surrounded by a crowd of spectators. This work was followed by “States General of 1838”, “The Assembly of the Notables at Rouen in 1596”, and “States General of 1814”.
During the liberal constitutional reign of Louis Philippe I which began in July of 1830, Alaux worked at the Galerie des Batailles under the auspices of the Chàteau de Versailles. He painted three historical works for the gallery: the 1836 “Battle of Villaviciosa”, “The Capture of Valenciennes” in 1837, and the 1839 “The Battle of Denain”.
In 1846, Jean Alaux was appointed director of the French Academy in Rome. During his directorship, he and his students were forced to temporarily flee to France during the siege of Rome in 1849 when Garibaldi’s defending forces fought the invading French army. Alaux continued his directorship at the Academy until his retirement in 1852. Jean Alaux died twelve years later in Paris on the second of March in 1864.
Jean Alaux’s work can be found in many private and public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of New York which holds his 1817 “Léon Pallière in His Room at the Villa Medici, Rome”, the British Museum in London which houses a collection of Alaux’s etchings, and the Harvard Art Museum, among others.
Top Insert Image: Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, “Portrait of Jean Alaux”, Date Unknown, Engraving
Middle Insert Image: Jean Alaux, “Narcisse”, 1818, Oil on Canvas, 95.3 x 76 cm, Private Collection
Bottom Insert Image: Jean Alaux, “A Man with Gun Seen from Behind”, Date Unknown, Black and White Chalk on Brown Paper, 57.7 x 39.1 cm, Private Collection