Ary Scheffer (1795 - 1858)
One April day in 1813 a lad named Ary (short for Ariel) Scheffer bounded up the stairs of a studio-home in Paris and tossed into his mother's lap fifty francs. When he had got his breath he explained that he had sold his first picture. Thereafter, his pictures sold - sold for all they were worth - until he quit painting, in 1858. In the interim he enjoyed the favor of the greater part of the aristocracy of France in particular and of Europe in general.
In the beginning the prices he got for his pictures were not large, but there was always enough money so that the gaunt wolf that once scratched and sniffed at the Scheffer studio door was no longer to be seen or heard. Five years later we find General Lafayette writing to a friend in reference to a proposed visit to his Chateau de la Grange: "I do not think you will find it dull here. Among others of our household is a talented young painter by the name of Scheffer." Incidentally, the young painter was making a portrait of Lafayette that is regarded as one of the best of him in existence.
Through his strong Republican tendencies Scheffer had very naturally drifted into the company of those who knew Lafayette. The artist knew the history of the great man and was familiar with his American career. Scheffer, as Elbert Hubbard records, in his "Eminent Painters," was interested in America, "for the radicals with whom he associated were well aware that there might come a time when they would have to seek hastily some hospitable clime where to think was not a crime." Lafayette was sixty-one; Scheffer was twenty-three at the time, but there at once sprang up a warm friendship between them that lasted until the death of the great French patriot.
Christ Weeping over Jerusalem
While sojourning with Lafayette, Scheffer met the Duchess of Orleans, and that future Queen of France was "so impressed by the quiet manliness of the young artist" that he was invited to her estate at Neuilly to copy certain portraits, and incidentally to give lessons in drawing to the Princess Marie. Of this event we read that "the gentle, mild-voiced artist knew his place and did not presume on terms of equality with the Princess who traced a direct pedigree to Louis the Great. He thought to wait and allow her gradually to show her quality. She tried her caustic wit upon him, and he looked at her out of mild blue eyes and made no reply to her who had played tierce and thrust with every man she had met, and had come off without a scar. But here was a man of pride and poise, far beneath her in a social way, yet who had rebuked her haughty spirit by a simple look."
Surreptitiously, it is intimated, they fell in love and "there came a decided evolution in his art; but it was not until she had passed away that one could pick out an unsigned canvas and say positively, 'This is Scheffer's.' In all his work one sees that look of soul, and in his best one beholds a use of the blue background that rivals the blue of heaven. No other painter has gotten such effects from colors so simple.
Born at Dordrecht, Holland, in 1795, Ary Scheffer studied drawing at Lille, and in 1811 went to Paris, where, under Guerin, he had Gericault and Delacroix for fellow students, and with them eventually revolted against the ultra-classicism of Guerin.
The three classes of subjects affected by Scheffer serve in a general way to divide his art life into three periods. The third, characterized by religious subjects, dated from 1837. After his forty-fifth year he was largely occupied with sacred themes, and reached his highest achievement in "Christ Tempted of Satan," "Christ Weeping over Jerusalem" and the "Christ of the Reed."