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L’homme accablé par le Malheur (Man Overwhelmed by Misfortune). Engraving. 40.5 x 46.5 cm. (1804). Inventaire du Fonds Français, Après 1800, IV, 12.
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Alexis Chataignier, the author of this atmospheric and profoundly Romantic print, has turned here to the traditional theme of melancholia and achieved an original re-interpretation of this motif. A young man with a strong profile and wavy, tousled hair is sitting under the stump of a weather-beaten, windblown oak, brooding gloomily. His pose is resigned. The man’s gaze is directed at an ancient sarcophagus, whose long side is covered by the dense, luxuriant foliage of a sturdy tree. Amid the surging waves of a stormy sea a sailing ship is sinking, having apparently overlooked the warning signal from a lighthouse on the horizon. A cool, nocturnal light illuminates the face and collar of the melancholy man. The work is executed in a powerful and varied engraving technique, which renders the different textures of terrain and vegetation with almost tactile accuracy. The tempestuous waves and overcast sky, on the other hand, are given a finer treatment, in some cases involving stippling.
The now little known draughtsman and etcher Alexis Chataignier was a pupil of François Marie Isidore Quéverdo in Paris, where he first made his mark as a book illustrator. During the upheavals of the French Revolution he produced leaflets. In the subsequent years Chataignier did several portraits of Bonaparte and produced an extensive cycle of engravings showing the costumes and uniforms from the periods of the Consulate, Directory and First Empire respectively. The present free composition doubtless belongs to the most successful achievements of his printed oeuvre.
A superb impression with traces of burr, with thread margins round the platemark at the bottom, otherwise with even margins. Minor defects, otherwise in very good condition.