Charles Meynier (Paris 1768-1832) Androcles and the lion

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Lot 60
Charles Meynier
(Paris 1768-1832)
Androcles and the lion

£ 30,000 - 50,000
US$ 41,000 - 68,000
Charles Meynier (Paris 1768-1832)
Androcles and the lion
signed and dated 'Meynier. 1795.' (lower left) and bears inscription 'Meynier = 1725 [sic] Androcles =' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
42.7 x 34.2cm (16 13/16 x 13 7/16in).


  • Provenance
    Nelson Cottreau
    His sale, rue de Jeuneurs no 16, (Bonnefons de Lavialle), 27 March 1846, lot 12, listed as 'Androclès reconnu par le lion. Esquisse de son grand tableau. Toile. Haut 43c, larg 35c. Signée 1791 [sic]'.
    Acquired by the present owner's father circa 1940, and thence by descent
    Private Collection, Portugal

    I. Mayer-Michalon, Charles Meynier, 1763-1832, Paris, 2008, p. 119-120, no. *P22, listed as whereabouts unknown.

    This sketch, which has recently come to light, was previously only known from the record in the 1846 sale catalogue of Cottreau's collection which erroneously states that it is dated 1791. It is one of two studies for a very large pair of paintings, now lost, which originally belonged to a collector by the name of Fulchiron, very probably the banker Joseph Fulchiron (1744-1831). Joseph Fulchiron's son, Jean-Claude, studied under the artist François André Vincent (1746-1816) in whose studio Meynier trained, thus bringing the two into close contact. The finished painting of Androcles is known from contemporary records to have measured '7 pieds 8 pouces sur 6 pieds 6 pouces', or 249 x 211 cms.

    Meynier exhibited Androcles at the Paris Salon of 1795, and its companion picture – Milo of Croton – was exhibited in 1796. The study for this second picture recently appeared on the market (Sotheby's, New York, 30 January 2014, lot 301, sold for $60,000). It tells the story of Milo, a renowned athlete, who went to the forest and decided to prove his strength by tearing open the split trunk of a tree. His hand became trapped and he fell prey to wolves, but in Meynier's version a lion takes the place of the wolves. A possible explanation for this alteration is offered by Isabelle Mayer-Michalon in her monograph on the artist: Fulchiron was from Lyon, a city whose symbol is a lion; it may be that having acquired the painting of Androcles from the Salon of 1795 Fulchiron commissioned a pendant from Meynier, who painted Milo with a lion as a nod to Fulchiron's native city. She further suggests that Androcles would have appealed to Fulchiron as the subject refers to liberation – and the city of Lyon had itself been liberated from siege in 1794.

    The tale of Androcles (or Androclus) and the lion is an ancient one that was first recorded in Aulus Gellius's Attic Nights of the 2nd century AD. It tells the story of a runaway Roman slave, Androcles, who comes across a wounded lion. On closer inspection Androcles sees that there is a thorn lodged in the lion's paw which is causing him great pain, and he removes it. He tends the wound and heals the lion, winning the creature's trust. Androcles is subsequently captured and, as a punishment for escaping, he is condemned by the emperor to pit his strength against wild animals in the arena before the crowds of Rome. His adversary turns out to be none other than the lion he cured and far from attacking him, the lion shows his affection for Androcles. This remarkable sight wins both the slave and the lion a pardon and the two are freed. The story is a parable of reciprocal mercy and it later reappears in various literary forms – it was related to St Jerome and also appears in the 13th century Golden Legend of Jacopo di Voragine.

    The moment captured by Meynier shows Androcles, sword in hand, his cape swirling behind him, about to fight for his life but stopped in his tracks by the contrastingly gentle gesture of the lion licking his foot. His pose, with widely-spaced legs and outstretched hand, recalls that of the central figure in the Oath of the Horatii which David painted in 1784 to enormous acclaim, and which became one of the most iconic images in Neoclassical painting. The contemporary critic, Bruun-Neergaard, saw the two large, finished canvases hanging in Fulchiron's home and following his description of Milo of Croton wrote 'l'autre, qui lui sert de pendant, est encore d'une beauté superieure – c'est Androcles'.

    We are grateful to Isabelle Mayer-Michalon for confirming the attribution to Meynier upon first-hand inspection. This sketch will be included in her forthcoming Supplement au catalogue de Charles Meynier.
Charles Meynier (Paris 1768-1832) Androcles and the lion
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