Alfred De Dreux
- Alfred de Dreux
- L'Entrée au bois
- signed alfred De Dreux lower right
- oil on canvas, in a Fine French Régence Revival frame with moulded and engraved ornament, original to the painting
- 147 by 114cm., 58 by 45in.
In both its scale and quality of execution, L'Entrée au bois is a masterpiece by Alfred De Dreux, and a significant rediscovery. The present work has hung in the home of the present owners for over one hundred and fifty years, apparently unseen by the public. Until now it was known only from a large lithograph measuring 80 by 57cm of circa 1842-45, published by Goupil & Cie. Recorded as a lithographie d’interprétation, the print was therefore presumed to be after an unrecorded oil, which now comes to light.
L'Entrée au bois was painted at the height of De Dreux’s career. In 1842 the artist received his first official commission from the French State, for the Portrait équestre du duc Ferdinand d’Orléans (commissioned for Versailles, now Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux). In the 1850s De Dreux was equally in favour with Napoleon III, of whom he painted three large portraits between 1852-55 (two of which are in the Musée national de Compiègne, and Musée de l’Armée in Paris respectively). In 1844, the artist joined King Louis-Philippe’s state visit to London, executing a composition depicting Queen Victoria and the ‘Roi des Français’ riding side-by-side in the park of Windsor Castle (fig. 1). Although L’Entrée au bois clearly bears comparison to the stature of these official portraits, as a depiction of a romantic tryst of monumental dimensions the work is unique in the artist’s oeuvre.
In the mid-19th Century Alfred De Dreux was synonymous with the depiction of the horse in all its powerful energy and spiritual intensity, just as Gericault had been before him. De Dreux knew Gericault personally through his uncle Pierre-Joseph Dedreux-Dorcy, and was himself portrayed by Gericault in a small number of works which include an intimate oil of circa 1819-20 now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Ever loyal to his gifted friend, Dedreux-Dorcy was the buyer of Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa (Musée du Louvre, Paris) on the artist’s death, when the French state initially refused to raise their offer.
As much a portrait of the horses as of the riders themselves, the present work bristles with the animals’ steely energy, as De Dreux brilliantly captures the light and textures of the horses' coats, the woman’s elegantly flowing dress, and the verdure of the luscious setting.