Lot 295
  • 295

Jean-Germain Drouais

80,000 - 120,000 USD
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  • Jean-Germain Drouais
  • Marius at Minturnae
  • signed on the reverse of the canvas: f. Germ. Drouais./à Rome; inscribed on the stretcher: Marius a Minturnes
  • oil on unlined canvas


Memorie per le belle Arti, October 1788, pp. 229-30.


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. The painting is in extremely good condition, but it certainly would respond to restoration. The canvas appears to be unlined. The paint layer is stable and only slightly disturbed with some minor cracking. The paint layer is visibly dirty and dull. If the work were cleaned, the palette would brighten and a good deal more depth would be acquired in the darker colors. Under ultraviolet light, it can be seen that a dozen or so tiny cosmetic retouches have been added, mainly in the background. One thin scratch in the upper right has been retouched. It is unlikely that further restorations will become apparent if and when the picture is cleaned.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

This painting is a small-scale replica by Drouais of his monumental work Marius at Minturnae, in the collection of the Musée du Louvre, and considered the artist’s masterpiece.1  Gaius Marius, a celebrated Roman general, is shown seated in a stark interior, his helmet resting on a table.  The scene takes place at Minturnae in Campania where, in 89 BC, Marius was taken prisoner and sentenced to death following his defeat by his rival Sulla.  Drouais depicts the dramatic moment when a soldier is sent to execute him.  Emphatically gesturing at the young man, the general challenges him asking “Would you dare kill Marius?”  The soldier recoils and, unable to meet the general’s fierce gaze, covers his face with his cloak. According to the story, the soldier then fled crying out “I could never kill Marius!” 

Drouais was only 23 years old and residing in Rome when he completed Marius in 1786.  He was studying and working there, having won first prize in the Prix de Rome in 1784 for his painting of Christ and the Canaanite Woman.  Drouais had entered Jacques-Louis David’s Paris studio around 1781 and, by all accounts, was his favorite pupil.  His close connection with David continued in Rome where the older artist was working on his royal commission, The Oath of the Horatii.  Drouais’ Marius at Minturnae is often compared to The Oath of the Horatii and, like that work, is considered an exemplar of Neo-classical painting.  Drouais used many of his master’s pictorial devices such as a shallow, stage-like setting, expressive figures and strong, but muted, colors combined with a dramatic sense of light.2  Upon seeing the finished Marius, the artist Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre, then the Premier Peintre du Roi, predicted that Drouais would surpass David.  This prediction, however, would not be fulfilled as Drouais died suddenly at age 25 from smallpox.  An article in the Italian journal, Memorie per le belle Arti (see Literature), written shortly following Drouais’ death, makes note of “una replica in piccolo” of Marius at Minturnae, very likely a reference to the present work.


1.  Oil on canvas, 2.71 by 3.65 meters, Inv. no. 4143
2.  S. Lee, in The Dictionary of Art, London 1996, Vol. 9, p. 302.