Study for a Tomb Relief for the Duchess d’Abrantès

graphite drawing of seated woman wearing garland, with a company of men in European military uniform standing before her

Study for a Tomb Relief for the Duchess d’Abrantès, 1841
Graphite on papier calque laid on mulberry paper
22.1 x 20 cm
Signed, dated, and inscribed in brown ink at bottom in David’s hand, Projet de bas relief pour le monument de Mme. D’Abrantès.
Collection Dr. and Mrs. Michael Schlossberg

Cat. 5

In the nineteenth century, the achievements of women were rarely acknowledged by public monuments. Shown here is David’s unexecuted design for a tomb relief commemorating Laure Junot, Duchess of Abrantès (1784–1838). The duchess, wife of a Napoleonic general and later Balzac’s lover, is shown writing her famous memoirs. Standing before her are Napoleon and a group of his generals, including her husband. David developed an original and expressive relief style. His bas-reliefs, as indicated by this drawing, focus on legibility and reject the elaborate perspectival conceits of painting. Sharply delineated and flattened figures, generally in profile, typically crowd the foreground of his compositions.