Work Hercules Clubbing Cacus
Department of Prints and Drawings: 18th century
Hercule assommant Cacus
Prints and Drawings
Hercules is about to club Cacus, who has stolen some of the cattle he had confiscated from the three-headed monster, Geryon. Geryon lived on a lonely island beyond the Mediterranean and the pillars of Hercules, which symbolized the western limit of the world known to the Greeks; capturing his valuable oxen was one of the Twelve Labors of Hercules. Cacus does not figure in Greek mythology and was probably invented by the Latin poet, Virgil.
This drawing is a composition study for the work that Lemoyne submitted for admission to the Academy in 1718 (Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts, Paris), engraved by Cars. According to Mariette, it prefigured an allegory of the Court of Justice established in 1716 to try tax farmers. Although the subject matter links the work to the seventeenth century, the supple lines and the handling of the details anticipate the style of two of Lemoyne's pupils, Charles Natoire and François Boucher. The bodies have been studied from a model, and the landscape takes up a significant proportion of a composition which harmoniously combines the rustic features of peasant life (such as the woman on the left trying to hold a cow by the horn) with the domestic antiquity of the group of the river god and naiads, a favorite theme in the second half of the century. These three elements show Lemoyne's keen powers of observation of the natural world - people, plants, and animals.
A long labor
Caylus wrote of this drawing: "One can easily find here perhaps greater correctness than in any other of his paintings, the harmony, the tone of the color, and the facility that he knew how to coax from it. I say he knew, because his works have always cost him infinitely dear". Lemoyne made a great many sketches of details, which show how he labored over his composition: a study of Hercules' head (Berlin, Staatliche Museum), two of the hero brandishing his club (Louvre and private collection), one of the woman (Louvre), and two of a river god (private collection). The technique combining grey wash, red chalk, and highlighting gives the pictorial qualities of a sketch. This youthful work show that Lemoyne was a gifted colorist and decorator: the figures in the foreground, handled with vigor and precision, contrast with the decorative, pictorial qualities due to the technique, which accentuates luminous planes in the landscape and scenes in the middle ground.
A new style
In a second study (in the Louvre), Lemoyne continued his work on Hercules alone, with his club raised ready to strike Cacus. The movement is not as sudden, but it is more effective than in the sketch. The hero's arm is lower and holds the club further back on his shoulder, which is contracted with the effort. A twisting movement of the club has replaced the direct blow: the club will thus have greater striking power when it hits the thief. A few lines indicating Hercules' shadow over Cacus' body show how he dominates his opponent; he leans heavily on the bent left leg that pins Cacus to the ground. The gesture and posture are found in both the sketch and the painting. The apparent elegance of the model's pose, which the artist accentuates with twisting and stretching movements, attenuates Hercules' power and violence. His studied, sinuous line is part of a new aesthetic he developed between 1715 and 1720, and later known as the Rococo.
Bibliography.-Fr. Méjanès, in Dessins français du XVIIIe siècle, de Watteau à Lemoyne , cat. exp. Paris, Musée du Louvre, 19 février-1er juin 1987, n 120.
J.-Fr. Méjanès, in Arte de las Academias. Francia y México, Siglos XVII-XIX, cat. exp. Mexico, Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso - 28 Octobre 1999 - 30 Janvier 2000, pp. 116-123.
En savoir plus :
J.-L. Bordeaux, François Le Moyne and his generation 1688-1737, Arthena, 1984.
X. Salmon, E. Ducamp, François Lemoyne à Versailles, cat. exp. Versailles, musée national des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, 2001.
François Lemoyne (Paris, 1688-1737)
Hercules Clubbing Cacus
Pen and black ink, grey wash, white gouache highlights over a red chalk sketch on buff-colored paper. Pen and black ink framing lines.
H. 26.9 cm; W. 37.5 cm
Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne collection; sale, 10 August 1778, no. 39; Saint Morys collection; confiscation of émigré property, 1793; given to the Louvre in 1796-1797
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