Lot 63
  • 63

Jean-Jacques-François Lebarbier

300,000 - 400,000 USD
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  • Jean-Jacques-François Lebarbier
  • "La Chasse aux Papillons," an allegory of Beauty attempting to restrain Inconstancy
  • signed and dated center right on the base of the pedestal: Le Barbier/l'ainé 1810.
  • oil on canvas


Sale of Lebarbier's atelier following his death, Paris, 27 November 1826, lot 4 (Paysage historique avec des nymphes s'amusant à chasser des papillions [composition très gracieuse]. 3 pieds, 6 pouces; 4 pieds, 3 pouces).


Paris, Salon, 1810, no. 475.


C.P. Landon, Salon de 1810, Paris 1810, pp. 101-102;
A.-L. Castellan, "Exposition au Musée Napoléon des ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, architecture et gravure des artistes vivans, 1810," in Le Moniteur Universel, 16 January 1811, p. 61;
P.-F. Gueffier, Entretiens sur les ouvrages de peinture, sculpture et gravure, exposés au Musée Napoléon en 1810, Paris 1811, p. 40;
C. Thiébault, Recherches sur Le Barbier L'Ainé, Essai de catalogue de son oeuvre peint, dissertation, University of Paris, Sorbonne, 1987, cat. no. 60.


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. This work is in superb condition. One can clearly see that the carefully crafted paint layer and surface is beautifully preserved. The canvas does not appear to be lined. The stretcher and frame may well be original. The varnish is slightly dull. The paint layer seems to be slightly dirty, but not unattractively so. It is highly unlikely that the work has been retouched at all, and the condition is clearly remarkably good.
"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 charming and curious painting was exhibited at the Salon of 1810 where it was titled La chasse aux papillons, ou allégorie de la beauté qui veut fixer l’inconstance.  Lebarbier was accepted as a member of the Academy in 1785 and exhibited there regularly until 1814.  He showed classical and heroic subjects and, especially, scenes from French history which earned him an important place in the Neo-classical movement.1  In their discussion of the present work at the time of the 1810 exhibition, most contemporary critics praised Lebarbier’s fluid technique and use of color.  However, they offered little comment on the rather unusual subject matter.  The painting depicts a beautiful walled garden, filled with blooming roses, in which young maidens pursue butterflies, some trying to catch them by hand while others attempt to shoot them with arrows.  Hidden in an oak tree at upper right is the figure of Cupid in the act of hurling his arrows at the maidens.  One of the young women, seated on the ground at lower right, has been wounded in the breast while another applies a rose to the wound as a compress.  Lebarbier's choice of "inconstancy" as a subject may have been a not-so-veiled commentary on a particular recent event.  Shortly before the opening of the 1810 Salon, Napoleon had married Marie-Louise of Austria, only a few months after divorcing Empress Josephine who was unable to bear him an heir.  The “inconstancy” might be that of the Emperor himself, and the wounded maiden an allusion to Josephine’s suffering.  Lebarbier made a point of depicting roses which, it was well known, were a favorite of Josephine’s.  The allusion would not likely have been lost on the critics who, perhaps, thought it wise to exercise discretion in their comments on the picture.  The painting apparently remained in the artist’s possession and was included in his atelier sale following his death in 1826 (see Provenance).


1.  See J. Vilain, in French Painting: The Revolutionary Decade 1760-1830, exhibition catalogue, Sydney 1980, p. 170.