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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Antoine Auguste Ernest Hebert

La Mal'aria, 1850, Ernest Hebert, an Italian peasant family
fleeing to safety from disease (and apparently mosquitos).
Today, due in large part to the fact that virtually all public schools require a basic exposure to the fine arts, seldom does early, prodigious talent in any area go unrecognized and more importantly, un-encouraged. Music seems to be one of the earliest talents to appear in childhood, sometimes reaching near adult proficiency during preschool years. We've all seen and heard on various social media young children whose talent on the piano is limited only by the span of their tiny hands. The same is true in painting at an only slightly later age, though with paint, sometimes it's difficult to differentiate genius from simple bursts of childhood creativity. Parents of such children very often only respect exceptional eye-hand coordination as evidence of unusual childhood talent, which, by definition, involves replicating the real world with some degree of surprising fidelity. 

Ernest Hebert Self-portrait, 1834
painted at the age of seventeen.
The likeness may be somewhat
idealized--more man than boy.
Ernest Hebert, 1834, Benjamin Roland,
captures very well the adolescent
intensity of his young friend and fellow
student at the Ecole des Beaux Arts.
Over the ages nearly all historic artist were child prodigies. Amid the demands for simple survival in past times, only the best of the best were promoted to apprenticeships, later to art academies and universities because of the costs and dedication demanded of such young artists. In most families, pursuing a career as an artist was seen as a sure fire road to poverty. There are still elements of that thinking today (because there's still some truth to it); but seldom do families now actively discourage young artists in the midst. Instead, parents often go so far as to endure substantial sacrifices of time and living standards to push their exceptionally talented progeny to the top (take gymnastics, figure skating, dancing, acting, modeling, etc., for instance).
Le Tasse in Prison, 1839, Ernest Hebert. Though only twenty-two, this
young academician was off and running on a career of sixty-eight years. 
In contrast, the much more well-known
Eugene Delacroix's 1839 attempt at the
same subject seems lifeless and dull.
(He would have been about 50 at the time.)
During the early 1830s, in Grenoble, France, one particular teenage boy was seen as a child prodigy in painting. His name was Antoine Auguste Ernest Hebert (the French love their long names). Born in 1817, he was painting very accomplished portraits by the age of seventeen, largely on the strength of limited classes by local artists in the area. A pupil first of David Augers and then Paul Delaroche, the handsome young man won the coveted Grand Prix de Rome at the age of twenty-two, with the early success of his painting, Le Tasse in Prison (above) exhibited in the 1839 Salon.

Ophelia, 1876, Ernest Hebert, bears the
mark of possible influences from the
Pre-Raphaelites across the channel.
Slave Sleeping under the Portico
of a Temple, 1842,
Ernest Hebert
But it was his painting, La Mal'aria (top), based upon a scene Hebert observed while studying in Rome, which brought him fame and is seen as his most important work. It was exhibited in the 1850 Salon. The suffering young mother and child depicted represented a Romantic ideal of the era. Although Hebert was primarily a Classical painter, there is also the element of the Symbolist school, as he struggled during his entire life to conjure up the sylphs, concubines, and Ophelias, of wistful and desperate female figures in a passionately lyrical setting. At the same time we see in his numerous male nudes a dominating, yet relaxed posture, even in works such as his Slave Sleeping under the Portico of a Temple (left) from 1842.

The Antoine Auguste Ernest Hebert Museum, Paris
Ernest Hebert died in 1908 at the age of ninety-one. Though generally classified as a Classical painter, at least insofar as style, there is also a Romantic quality to most of his work. It could be said that there is much more room for him as a Romantic than as a 19th-century Classicist (which are a dime a dozen). Moreover, few artist in the Classic mode have their own museums. Hebert, on the other hand, has two, one in Paris (above), the other (below) in his home town of Grenoble.

The Hebert Museum, Grenoble, (southeastern) France,
--the house in which he was born and the more Romantic of the two.

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