Eugène Louis Lami
Paris 1800 – 1890 Paris
A Scene from Manon Lescaut: The Visit to the Hospital
Watercolor and bodycolor.
6 x 5 inches (152 x 127 mm.).
Frederic Lami; Paris, Drouot, 16 June 1933, lot 15, illustrated.
Paris, Galerie Charpentier, 24 March 1939, lot 11, illustrated.
P.A. Lesmoine, L’oeuvre d’Eugène Lami (1800-1890), Paris, 1914, no. 1390.
This drawing is part of a series illustrating Abbé Prévost’s novelL’Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut, drawn by Eugène Lami circa 1868-9. The series includes eight different compositions and a frontispiece, dated 1869. Some compositions exist in two and more versions, but this one, The Visit to the Hospital, is recorded by Paul-André Lesmoine in six versions. It bears variants to the others, and was probably of particular significance to the artist since he left it to his son Frederic when he died in 1890. The first version, slightly smaller than this one, was owned by Lami’s patron Baronne James de Rothschild. From his return from England in 1852, Lami had been working for the Rothschild family overseeing the construction of the castle of Boulogne and the transformation of Ferrières.
L’Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescautwas published by the Abbé Prévost (1697-1763) in 1731. The story recounts the love between a young and naïve aristocrat, aged 17, called the Chevalier des Grieux, and a young common girl named Manon Lescaut, who loves De Grieux. Having fled from their parents, the young, unmarried couple find themselves in constant need of money. Ill advised by Manon’s brother, De Grieux cheats at games, while Manon finds old rich lovers. After stealing a large sum of money from an old lover of Manon, De Grieux is arrested and sent to prison while Manon is sent to the hospital. This drawing illustrates the moment when De Grieux escapes from prison and goes to visit Manon at the hospital: “A hundred times she made me sit down again, catching hold of my clothes and my hands. Alas! What a place to leave me in! she said. Can I be certain of ever seeing you again?” After many adventures Manon is deported to America. De Grieux follows her there only to see her die.
This moralistic novel was immensely successful in the second half of the 18thcentury, and was illustrated by numerous contemporary artists, but was almost forgotten at the time Lami’s illustrated it. Lami’s huge success with the aristocracy is in great part due to the fact he was one of the first artist to revive the 18thcentury themes at a period when they were not fashionable. This drawing, by virtue of its small size, its refinement and its very anecdotic subject is typical of the type of works that made Lami so successful.