Fin - La veuve et l'orpheline
Alphonse Legros (1837 - 1911)
RA Collection: Art
This pen and ink drawing depicts a weeping woman in smock and hat brought to her knees with grief, her right hand raised to shield her face. On her left a child, in similar costume, sits staring blankly at the ground. Between them is a stone with the word 'FIN' ('end') written on it. In front of the stone, in the close foreground of the drawing, is a scythe, symbolising death. The subtitle of the work, 'La veuve et l'orpheline' ('the widow and the orphan'), suggests that both woman and child have lost their family. In the background to the left of the drawing a plume of smoke rises, indicating that a fire has caused the deaths. A dead tree, possibly split by lightning, behind the child on the right of the image, is suggestive of the suddenness and finality of death.
The draughtsman, printmaker and painter, Alphonse Legros, was born in Dijon, France in 1837. He studied in Paris where he met Henri de Fantin-Latour and James Abbott McNeill Whistler, with whom he shared a dedication to the realist work of Gustave Courbet as well as a commitment to etching (particularly in the case of Legros and Whistler). Together they formed the Société des Trois. The style of draughtsmanship of this work suggests Legros may have intended to make it into an etching.
Whistler first took Legros to London in 1861 and he soon moved there and began regularly exhibiting at such galleries as the Royal Academy. In 1876 he became professor at the Slade School of Fine Art where he emphasised good draughtsmanship (he left in 1893). Legros became a naturalised British citizen in 1880 and that year he was also a founder-member of the Society of Painter-Etchers.
The theme of death is prevalent in Legros's work. He was inspired by artists such as Albrecht Dürer and Hans Holbein to produce two series of etchings on the macabre theme, Death and the Woodcutter (ca. 1875–1906) and The Triumph of Death (ca. 1892–1900).
The work is one of several by Legros that Carel Weight RA owned, three of which were left to the Royal Academy as part of his bequest (the current work, 03/2010 and 12/112).
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