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By Boulanger, Gustave Clarence Rodolphe (French, 1824-1888)
This exceptional academic style painting depicts a beautiful female dancer performing for the ancient Roman politician, Lucullus, and the guests of his banquet.
This oil painting is the work of the important French 19th Century painter, Gustave Clarence Rodolphe Boulanger. Boulanger was well-respected in his lifetime. He was good friends with the famous Orientalist painter, Jean-Léon Gérome, and was the master of the Ottoman artist, Osman Hamdi-Bey.
Boulanger’s travels to Italy, Greece and North Africa had an influence on the style of his art. This piece, for instance, combines a classical approach with Orientalist overtones.
The painting — the full title of which is, ‘A Summer Repast at the House of Lucullus at Tusculum’ — depicts six figures, five male and one female, reclining on their fronts, and enjoying the great feast that is placed before them. One man, at the end of the table, holds out his goblet for more wine, which is poured by a young boy. Other figures, holding wine vessels and fans, stand nearby. This scene takes place beneath a gold-coloured, tasseled fabric canopy, which projects out from a grand, classical white-stone house. The canopy is held up, in the one corner that is visible, by a veined grey marble Ionic column, which is topped by a gold sculpture of a woman.
A young woman performs a dance for the group, while holding a wooden percussion instrument in her right hand. She wears a diaphanous white dress, which reveals the beautiful curves of her nude body. In the right foreground, six musicians stand with their backs to the viewer, and play the tambourine, an aulos, a pipe, pan flute, and the cymbals, to accompany the woman’s dancing. It seems the woman is there to provide entertainment between courses, since a group of men — in the right-hand background, partially obscured by the lion-shaped topiary hedge — stand and wait to bring out a table laden with more food.
Two jay birds fly in the sky in the upper-left part of the composition, and, to the left, a golden pheasant and peacock perch on the building’s parapet.
The host of this feast, Lucius Licinius Lucullus (118-56BC), was a politician and military figure of the late Roman Republic. Lucullus famously retired to a life of luxury and ease, facilitated by the money he had gained from war in the East. The philosopher, Plutarch described how ‘…in the life of Lucullus…one reads in the first part of political measures and military commands, and in the latter part of drinking bouts, and banquets, and what might pass as revel-routs, and torch-races, and all manner of frivolity.’ Indeed, the adjective ‘Lucullan’ derives from his name and means ‘lavish’ or ‘luxurious’.
The painting is signed and dated in the lower-right corner of the canvas, 'G. Boulanger 1877’. The image is displayed in a giltwood frame, carved with laurel leaves.
Frame: Height 113cm, width 158cm, depth 6cm
Canvas: Height 99.5cm, width 145cm
Richard Green, London.
C. C. Perkins & J. D. Champlin Jnr, Cyclopedia of painters and paintings, vol. 1, 1888, p. 190 (titled Repast in House of Lucullus, dated 1878).
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