Walter P. Chrysler, Jr.
Sale, The Estate of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., Old Master and 19th Century Paintings, New York, June 1, 1989, lot 122, illustrated
Sold, Sotheby's, New York, June 28, 2001, lot 303, illustrated
Acquired from the above, 2001
French by birth, Le Roy was raised in Russia (his father's business was in Odessa), where he lived until he was 17. Returning to Paris he met Georges Landelle at the École des Beaux-Arts, and later traveled to Algeria accompanied by Georges' father, Charles, also an Orientalist painter. In 1884, Le Roy visited Turkey and Egypt, and the following year journeyed to Tunisia and Algeria, returning to the country's southern region several times during the 1880s and 1890s. Le Roy was never a passive tourist, and his travels inspired a lifelong interest in the region's people. He learned Arabic with fellow painter Etienne Dinet and filled his Paris studio with North African art, objects, and costumes (Lynn Thorton, Women as Portrayed in Orientalist Painting, Paris, 1985, p. 242). While Le Roy was a frequent presence at the Paris Salon with the submissions of religious, historic, mythological, and portrait paintings, such works as Les Filles d'Atlas, (Atlas' Daughters) often incorporated distinctly Orientalist elements.
Traditionally known as the Pleiades, the seven daughters of the titan Atlas and the sea nymph Pleione were nymphs in Artemis' train and, together with the seven Hyades, were the caretakers of the infant Bacchus. When Atlas was forced to hold the heavens on his shoulders, Zeus transformed the Pleiades into doves, then stars, to keep their father company in the sky (and to keep the daughters away from desiring men). Beyond the evident beauty of the maidens, Le Roy's work lacks a direct narrative connection with the mythological tale—or the work of Le Roy's fellow artists, such as William Bouguereau, who painted the daughters in more expected ways, floating in a star-filled sky, their loose tresses covering their supple bodies. Rather than employing Greco-Roman overtones, Le Roy's Pleiades are dark-haired huntresses, wearing cloth woven with tribal patterns, keenly watching for prey, waiting to release sharp arrows and long spears to add to their kill of a young gazelle. Contemporary audiences appreciated this mixture of exotic beauty and wild strength and how the work's Orientalist elements innovated the well-known tale and its visual tropes. The writer Thiébault-Sisson thrilled over Les Filles d'Atlas, "girls who dominate the plains" set against a realistically depicted arid, desert, "orientalist landscape" that demonstrated Le Roy's "understanding of the Algerian environment that he loved. All is executed in a harmonious and soft quality, and one wonders at the marvel of the nudes with their fresh and pink complexions" (p. 26).
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