Study for La fête donnée à LL. MM. Empereur



Artist: Isidore Alexandre Augustin Pils (French, 1813-1875)
Title: A Large Oil Study for La fête donnée à LL. MM. l'Empereur et l'Impératrice, à Alger, le 19 septembre 1860 (Painted circa 1863-66)
Medium: oil on canvas
Size: 28¼ x 39¼ in. (71.8 x 99.7 cm.)




Pils started his art education with Guillaume Lethière and later entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts to study with François-Edouard Picot. He won the Prix de Rome in 1838 with his painting entitled Saint Peter Healing a Lame Man at the Gate of the Temple and attended the Acadèmie de France in Rome. Although at first he painted mainly historical, religious and contemporary genre scenes, he added military subjects to his oeuvre after 1852. He became a favorite of the imperial regime, and received numerous imperial commissions. Pils followed the French army to Crimea in 1854-55 and recorded the military campaign of Napoleon III.

Some scholars believe that Pils accompanied Napoleon III to Algeria in 1860 but we know that he stayed there until 1862. During this stay, he spent time gathering material for a painting entitled La fête donnée à LL. MM. l'Empereur et l'Impératrice, à Alger, le 18 septembre 1860 (now untraced), which was exhibited at the Exposition universelle in Paris in 1867. The present lot is a study for this untraced painting. The painting depicts Napoleon III and the Empress Eugènie's reception of the Algerian tribal leaders. During his visit to Algeria in 1860, Napoleon was profoundly impressed with the nobility and virtue of the tribal chieftains, who appealed to the emperor's romantic nature. He envisioned a grand design for preserving most of Algeria for the Muslims by founding a royaume arabe (Arab kingdom) with himself as the roi des Arabes (king of the Arabs). In Pils' composition the Berber tribal leaders greet their new King, while their subjects bow down before him. In the Salon catalogue of 1867 the moment depicted in the painting is explained in greater detail: 'During the day LL. MM. went to the entrance of the plain of Mitidja to join in the festivities. Kabyle people and horsemen from all three provinces, the Aghas and Caids in the lead, were united under the clever and ingenious direction of General Jusuf. After the fantasies and the hunts, everyone approached the Imperial tent in which His Eminence stood. And so the chiefs stepped foot on the ground with their stunning burnous and all came to present the golden horse of Gaada as an act of submission to the sovereign of France.

The chief of the Kabyle people, El-Hadj-Ahmed or Ali Iatteren of Taddart Oufella (the village at the top), the Beni Raten, presented the gun, surrounded by the Kabyle people who had crowded into the tent'.

The Empress Eugènie on the other hand has been recorded to have had a splendid time in Algeria during this visit. David Duff in his book entitled Eugènie and Napoleon III states that 'Euugènie loved Algeria and the men of Algeria worshipped her. To them she was a radiant goddess. The Chiefs came in to pay homage and the horsemen raced upon the plain. As General Fleury, who was in the Imperial party, wrote: 'The woman was uppermost in her and she found this homage all the more pleasant for being so artless and unexpected' (D. Duff, Eugènie and Napoleon III, London, 1978, p. 146).

Pils was also awarded commissions for decorations in the churches of Saint-Eustache (1854) and Sainte-Clotilde (1858) in Paris, and he painted murals at the Paris Opera (1865-75).

Source: Sotheby and  Omer Koç



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