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Baron Pierre-Narcisse Guérin

(1774 Paris – 1833 Rome)

Le Vigilant. Chalk lithograph on wove paper. 27.3 x 19.6 cm. 1816. Inventaire du Fonds Français, p. 465; Béraldi vol. 8, p. 6.

Le Vigilant (The Vigilant Artist) is the telling title of this rare lithograph on a classical theme; it shows a young artist in his studio at night, the drawing board on his lap illuminated only by the light of an oil lamp. The cockerel crowing at the window opening heralds the approach of morning, but the assiduous young man denies himself any interruption or distraction from his work. With a dismissive gesture he thrusts aside the phantom figure with butterfly wings floating in clouds behind him who offers the artist opium poppies in his outstretched left hand. Cupid, crouching at his feet, is also forced to remain idle, for the young man has placed his left foot on Cupid’s bow and arrows to prevent him making any attempts at love. This charming sheet is one of just four lithographs made by the neoclassical painter and draughtsman, Pierre-Narcisse Guérin. Trained by Jean-Baptiste Regnault at the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, Guérin’s career eventually saw him rise to become director of the Académie de France in Rome. A member of the Paris Academy from 1816, he was also appointed professor at the École des Beaux-Arts. That same year he joined a commission specially founded by the Academy to study in detail the still fresh technique of lithography and to assess the artistic value of this new process. The investigation was set in motion by the endeavours of Gottfried Engelmann, who had been running a lithographic print shop in Paris for a few months and had recently presented his works at the Institut de France. In order to be able to make a reliable judgement on Engelmann’s work and the advantages of the novel process, Guérin set out to learn the new technique himself, creating the four sheets mentioned above for this purpose. Their refined execution and the pronounced elegance of the figures show Guérin to be a highly accomplished draughtsman and, while these first attempts at lithographic printing reveal a certain restraint in the use of tonal gradations, his rare works are nevertheless among the finest examples from the initial period in the use of this technique in France. Moreover, as important early works of lithography, they are also of great cultural and historical value. The present sheet is an early impression before letters. A very fine, even impression with margins. Small thin paper spot, other minor ageing, otherwise in excellent condition. Literature: Felix H. Man, Artists’ Lithographs. A World History from Senefelder to the Present Day, p. 35.

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