Barely hatched, the silver stars are trembling,
At the foot of the golden mountains the lake becomes obscure,
And, through thin pink clouds, she is sailing,
The blonde Séléné is awaking into the azure;
Like a rounded arch, she is floating and rising,
Slowly stretching her beautiful rejuvenated body,
Eyes closed, and savoring at the heart of the infinity,
All the delights from the night and the dreaming.
As suggested by the poem, Aublet’s pearlescent-skinned Selene soars through the star-dappled sky, high above a landscape of purple mountains and ice blue waters. His version stands in evocative contrast to depictions in Classical antiquity of the moon goddess as a young woman with a pale white face, wearing the moon as a crown, traveling on a chariot drawn by two horses. The Homeric Hymn in her honor describes her as “a radiance from heaven [that] embraces the earth, and great is the beauty that comes from her shining light. The dark air grows bright.. and her rays fill the sky, when her fair skin is fresh from the waters of the Ocean, and divine Selene… [is] in the middle of the month, when her great orbit is full and her light is brightest” (as quoted in Jenny March, Dictionary of Classical Mythology, 1998, p. 353). As suggested by Grandmougin’s poem, Aublet’s Séléné may be stretching awake for her nightly journey, her back arched, legs and arms wrapped around the slight silhouette of the moon. Alternatively, she may be concluding her travel, the sky brightening with the pink hues of the oncoming dawn (brought by her brother Helios). The details of Selene’s romantic exploits with Zeus, Pan, and most famously the shepherd Endymion, fated to sleep forever so his beauty would never fade from her sight, were well known from countless retellings; these informed visual representations by generations of artists from Hans van Aachen (1552-1615) to Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson (1761-1824) to Charles Edward Hallé (1846-1914). Yet in his work Aublet seems disinterested with narrative conventions, placing his figure in an indiscriminate fantasy realm, allowing the goddess’s well-modeled and finely painted form to inspire the imagination.
From the time Aublet made his debut at the Paris Salon of 1873, his career was celebrated for its diversity and inclusion of nearly every genre type popular in the late nineteenth century. Influenced early by his teacher, Claudius Jacquand, a noted history and genre painter, the young Aublet’s work focused on the seaside French town of Tréport, detailing holiday-goers on sun-splashed beaches. His later Orientalist compositions were inspired by his frequent travels, some shared with Jean-Léon Gérôme and Alberto Pasini in southern Spain, Turkey, North Africa, and Tunisia. The artist was also deeply influenced by the literary circles in which he socialized (Alexandre Dumas was an important patron); most famously, he illustrated stories by Guy de Maupassant, which blended literary realism and elements of the supernatural.
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