Sébastien Bourdon (French, Montpellier 1616 - 1671 Paris)
The Encampment, ca. 1636-38
Oil on canvas
22 5/16 in. (56.6 cm) diameter
Gift of John J. Burling in memory of his wife, Marguerite Bensinger Burling (OC 1913), 1957
This early work by Bourdon, probably painted in Rome, represents a group of travelers camped in the shadow of ancient ruins in the Italian countryside. Such picturesque views juxtaposing everyday activities and imposing monuments were especially popular subjects among Northern artists active in Rome in the seventeenth century.
Only about a dozen bambocciante by Bourdon are known; most depict military bivouacs or itinerant figures at rest beside Italianate ruins. In the present work, two men play the ancient game of mora before a makeshift tent while their companions relax nearby. As the game involved only the hands (certain gestures beat others), mora could be played by even the poorest people.1
The Oberlin painting is assumed to date from Bourdon's Roman period (ca. 1636-38), because of its conspicuous closeness to works by other bamboccianti then active in Rome, particularly the Netherlandish painters Pieter van Laer ("Il Bambocccio") (1599-1642) and Jan Miel (1599-1664). 2 The similarity to paintings by Miel was already noticed in the eighteenth century, as revealed in a remark in the catalogue of the 1779 Conti sale (see Provenance). In 1964, Rosenberg suggested that the painting might even have been painted by van Laer.3 The Encampment is certainly close to works by van Laer in its general conception and subject matter, as well as in such individual motifs as the urinating horse. Bourdon in fact copied his horse directly from van Laer's roughly contemporary etching, Pissing Horse. 4 Nonetheless, the cool, harmonious palette of the Oberlin painting, the use of sweeping diagonals, the gracefully torqued bare tree, and the distinctive rock formations are uniquely characteristic of Bourdon's work of this period. The man with the bare torso, standing at the left, is repeated almost exactly in Bourdon's Repose of the Gypsies,5 which probably also dates to the artist's Roman period.
The only dated bamboccianta by Bourdon, Soldiers Playing Cards (1643),6 was executed after his return to Paris. That painting and related works 7 demonstrate how the artist had begun to adapt Italianate motifs to a more typically French stylistic vocabulary.
M. E. Wieseman
Sébastien Bourdon was born in 1616 to Protestant parents living in Montpellier. He was apprenticed to a painter in Paris from age seven to fourteen (1623-30), and worked in France until his arrival in Rome in 1636, 8 where he gained a reputation as a painter of bambocciante. Bourdon was forced to flee Rome in 1638 to escape denunciation by the Inquisition for his Protestant faith. Following his return to Paris Bourdon continued to paint Italianate genre scenes, but after about 1640 the influence of Nicolas Poussin (1593/4-1665) became more pronounced in his works, as evidenced in their geometric compositions, clearly-defined planes, and brighter palette. In 1648 Bourdon was one of the founding members of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, and was named rector of the Académie in 1654. Bourdon painted primarily history scenes, but also executed landscapes, portraits, and numerous large-scale decorative works, as well as a few genre scenes.
Laureati, Laura. In Giuliano Briganti, Ludovica Trezzani, and Laura Laureati. The Bamboccianti: The Painters of Everyday Life in Seventeenth Century Rome. Rome, 1983, pp. 238-45.
Sale Prince de Conti, Paris, 15 March 1779, lot 52 ("Un petit tableau de forme ronde dans la manière de Jean Miel. Il représente plusieurs figures, jouants sous une tente à la porte d'un Cabaret, et près de là un homme descendant de son cheval et qui raccommode son soulier. Diamètre 12 [sic] pouces. Toile"; frs. 144, to Dulac)
Sale [Verrier le Rouge?], Paris (Lebrun), 12 March 1782, lot 112 ("Des Bohemians: dans la partie gauche de Tableau l'on voit deux hommes jouans au dez; un autre debout, le corps nu, les regarde. Sur le devant l'on en voit un autre couché par terre, tournant la tête pour les voir; plus loin est un homme tenant son cheval par la bride pendant qu'il rejuste son soulier. Dans le fond l'on voit encore six figures. Le reste est terminé par une voûte de montagnes & autres accessoires;" frs. 110, to Dufour)
Collection A. Barclay, Compton Manor, England (as by Karel Dujardin, according to photo in Witt Library, London)
Collection Eduard Napoléon Edmond Nortier, Duc de Trevise
With Julius H. Weitzner, New York, from whom purchased in 1957
Paris, Galeries Nationales d'Exposition du Grand Palais, 1982. La Peinture française du XVIIe siècle dans les collections américaines. 29 January - 26 April (also shown at New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The Art Institute of Chicago, as France in the Golden Age: Seventeenth-century French Paintings in American Collections). Cat. no. 7.
Rosenberg, Pierre. "Quelques Tableaux inédits du dix-septième siècle français...," Art de France 4 (1964), p. 299, n. 15.
Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, pp. 21-22, fig. 72.
Stechow, Wolfgang. "Varieties of Landscape." Apollo 103, no. 168 (February 1976), p. 115.
Rosenberg, Pierre. France in the Golden Age: Seventeenth-century French Paintings in American Collections. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1982, pp. 226-27, ill. p. 105. (English version of La Peinture française du XVIIe siècle dans les collections américaines. Exh. cat., Galeries Nationales d'Exposition du Grand Palais, Paris, 1982.)
Laureati, Laura. In Briganti, Giuliano, Ludovica Trezzani, and Laura Laureati. The Bamboccianti: The Painters of Everyday Life in Seventeenth Century Rome. Rome, 1983, pp. 240-41, n. 11.
Hilaire, Michel. Century of Splendour: Seventeenth-century French Painting in French Public Collections. Exh. cat., The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1993, p. 160.
The Encampment is painted on loosely-woven canvas; the original tacking margins have been removed and the painting lined with glue onto a heavier but more finely-woven linen canvas. In some areas a cream-colored imprimatura layer has been added over the red earth ground. There are small areas of overpainting in the sky, along the left edge of the shed, in the foreground and (most noticeably) in the area of the horse's rear legs, rump and tail; examination under UV light indicates that this overpaint is quite old. The overpaint masks the detail of the horse urinating on the ground; some damage was incurred in this area, probably in the attempt to scrape the area prior to overpainting. Pentimenti indicate changes to the head of the boy at far right, and the shadowy figure standing behind the mora players seems to have been added after the tent was painted.
1. See Christopher Brown's discussion of Pieter van Laer's depiction of the game, in Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting (exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1984), p. 232.
2. Compare, for example, Miel's Halt at the Inn (Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv. 1451); or the pendant paintings The Cobbler (Besançon, Musée des Beaux-Arts, inv. R.F. 1949-26) and The Boccia Players (Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv. R.F. 1949-25), both dated 1633, which are themselves very close to van Laer.
3. Pierre Rosenberg, "Quelques Tableaux inédits du dix-septième siècle français...," Art de France 4 (1964), p. 299.
4. Etching, 8.3 x 9.8 cm; Bartsch 11, no. 3 from the Horse Series, which can be dated ca. 1635-40.
5. Oil on panel, 36.5 x 50 cm, Kassel, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, inv. GK471.
6. Oil on canvas, 67 x 88 cm, Caen, Musée des Beaux-Arts.
7. Soldiers at Rest, oil on panel, 43 x 58 cm, Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv. 2818; and Halt of the Bohemians and Soldiers, oil on panel, 37 x 52 cm, Montpellier, Musée Fabre, inv. 836-4-5.
8. Although the artist was previously thought to have been in Rome from 1634 to 1637, J. Bosquet has been able to document Bourdon's presence in France until 1636, and his residence in Rome later in the year. See J. Bosquet, Recherches sur le séjour des peintres français à Rome au XVII siècle (Montpellier, 1980), p. 198.