Newark, New Jersey (USA), Jonathan Ackerman Coles Collection; Newark, New Jersey (USA), Newark Museum
The important painting discussed in this paper, Jean Alfred Marioton’s Ulysses and Nausicaä from a public collection in the United States, offers us an opportunity to study and analyse little-known or indeed completely unknown documentary sources relating both to the person of this important French artist and to the collecting history of his work, focusing in particular on certain American art collectors who played an extremely interesting role in the history of taste and collecting.
Information concerning the life and works of Jean Alfred Marioton (Paris, 3 September 1863 – 6 April 1903), none of which has yet been published, may be found primarily in the introduction to a book of his drawings editedby his brother, the sculptor Claudius Marioton (Dessins Croquis et Etudes de Figures des Peintures Décoratives de Jean-Alfred Marioton, Publiés par les soins de son Frére, le Sculpteur Claudius Marioton, Librairie d’Art Dècoratif, Armand Guérinet Edoteur, Paris, no date given but c. 1905), and in the archives of the many institutional exhibitions at which he showed his work, especially the Paris salons.
Jean Alfred Marioton was apprenticed to his brother, the engraver and sculptor Claudius Marioton, at an early age. Success was not long in coming: he achieved a mention in the Concours Crozatier with an engraving of a Bacchant, and a portrait of his brother engraved in silver was shown at the Salon.
When he won a prize in the Concours de la Ville de Paris, the painter Maillard, in whose atelier Marioton was working at the time, introduced him to the great Jean-Léon Gérôme, then a professor at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Marioton thus enrolled at the school and consistently won end-of-course medals in every field, year in year out, while also forging close ties at this time with two other great artists of his day, William-Adolphe Bouguerau and Tony Robert-Fleury from the Académie Julian.
1887 marked a highpoint in his career. He won a prestigious second prize in the Grand Prix de Rome with a painting depicting The Death of Themistocles, which was purchased by the state and is now on display in Montpellier, in the Préfecture of Hérault. He also won the Prix Cambacérès, a “travel scholarship” offered by the Département de la Seine, and showed two interesting portraits (n. 1596 Portrait of M***, n. 1597 Portrait of M*** , cat. Salon p. 28) at the Salon which attracted much praise from the critics, and from Albert Wolff in particular.
The following year he chose not to take up the Prix de Rome, with its attendant corollary of a spell at the Villa Medici in Rome, because he felt ready to enter the competitive art arena in Paris. He showed a portrait (n. 1734, cat Salon p. 30) at the Salon, and the artistic quality of his work soon began to draw the attention of collectors, connoisseurs and critics. Marioton not only produced numerous high-quality pictures which he regularly showed at the Salon, but he also made a name for himself as an excellent painter of decorative and painting cycles, for instance for the Palace of the Queen of Spain in Barcelona, the Palace-Hotel de l’Avenue des Champs-Elysées in Paris, the large Gruber brasseries in the Gare de Lyon and numerous private homes includings the Lauer, Lafon, Laniel and Dehénani residences, for all of which commissions he was awarded the Légion d’honneur (no less).
The picture under discussion in this paper, Ulysses and Nausicaä, was painted immediately after The Death of Themistoclesthat won the artist the Prix de Rome. This was one of the most successful phases in Marioton’s career, a phase in which he returned to and developed classical themes, paying meticulous attention to the quality of his draughtsmanship and showing masterly skill in his handling of light and colour. He was clearly au fait with the latest innovations in the depiction of classical scenes, to which his masters Bouguereau and Gérôme were developing a fresh approach, taking their cue from Puvis de Chavannes; but above all, he managed to imbue such scenes with a highly personal tone and tenor, supplementing the monumentality of his composition and draughtsmanship with a personal and more intimate interpretation of the interplay between his figures and of their fomal depiction.
The painting portrays a well-known episode from Homer’s Odyssey (Bk. VI: 110–210) in which, after a storm lasting days, Ulysses finally reaches dry land in Phaeacia, a region unknown to him, and collapses exhausted on a bed of leaves. While he is resting, his protectress Athena visits the palace of Alcinous, king of the Phaeacians, and appears in a dream to the king’s daughter, the beautiful Nausicaä, urging her to go down to the river to wash the garments in her dowry because it will soon be time for her to wed. The next morning Nausicaä goes down to the river with her handmaidens and orders that the garments be washed. While they are being hung out to dry, the girls begin to play with a ball. A poorly aimed throw puts the ball in the river, startling Ulysses who is sleeping nearby. He awakens, cries out and appears half-naked before the group of young girls. In portraying the moment in which the half-naked Ulysses is discovered by Nausicaä and her handmaidens, Marioton displays his thorough mastery in handling the female figure not just in terms of their complexion but also in terms of the fabric of his draughtsmanship – indeed, these qualities were broadly acknowledged by contemporary critics and Claudius Marioton highlights them forcefully in his introduction to the volume of his brother’s drawings: “Nul n’a mieux compris et plus poétiquement rendu le charme esthétique de la femme… par la sureté du trait, par le charme du modelé, par la grace des attitudes, par la diversité des sujets, par l’interpretation toujours poétique de la nature”.
Marioton showed a Portrait (n. 1797, cat. Salon p. 29 ) at the Paris Salon in 1889; Abel (n.1118) and a Portrait of M. le Dr. Maret (n. 1119) in 1891; and Daphnis and Lycenion (n. 1155) in 1892, the latter another classical scene reflecting the sensual and unusual choice of a little-known episode in the story of Daphnis and Chloë as recounted by Longus the Sophist in the 3rd century BC, in which the sensual female figure of Lycenion, who initiates Daphnis to the art of love, simply enhances all of the painterly qualities relating to the formal rendering of his figures which we have highlighted in his Ulysses and Nausicaä.
Jean Alfred Marioton married twenty-eight-year-old Hélène de Zamacoïs, the daughter of celebrated Spanish paintero Eduardo Zamacoïs y Zabala, in Paris on 4 July 1899. It was unquestionably thanks to the latter’s influence that Marioton forged ties with some of the leading Paris dealers who were highly active also on the international and transatlantic markets. The role of Eduardo Zamacoïs, particularly in his relations with the Maison Goupil, has only recently been explored (see “La Maison Goupil et l’Italie” edited by P. Serafini, exhibition catalogue, Rovigo–Bordeaux 2012), and the importance of his catalyst role as a mediator between the artistic community in Paris, such leading dealers as Reitlinger, Goupil and Tedesco, and numerous Italian and Spanish artists is now clear. It is also worth recalling that Marioton’s daughter Catherine (1901–95) was to become a celebrity in her own right as an illustrator of fashion magazines.
Jean Alfred Marioton died in Paris on 6 April 1903 and all of his works and the material in his atelier were sold off in the course of an extremely well-attended auction in Room 2 at the Hotel Drouot on 22 December of that same year.
Ulysses and Nausicaä, whose overall design, the artistic quality of whose composition, and whose size all point to its having been intended for an exhibition, coms from the Newark Museum in New Jersey, which has decided to sell it as part of a rekeying of its exhibition strategy in the direction of contemporary art. The picture was donated by Jonathan Ackerman Coles, most probably as part of a donation of numerous works of art in 1926, shortly after his death, although some works were donated earlier, in 1920, during the lifetime of this major collector and patron of the arts.
Jonathan Ackerman Coles’ collection was considered to be one of the most important late 19th century collections in America in terms of both quality and quantity, and it was certainly the most important collection in New Jersey at the time. We can piece together a small part of it on the basis of the works still held by the Newark Museum. We know from the archives that Jonathan Ackerman Coles’ collection must have been of outstanding importance because fully two exhibitions were devoted to it in 1920, both of them organised by the Newark Museum Association and hosted in Newark’s Public Library: the“First Coles Exhibition” and “The Dr. J. Ackerman Coles Collections: Supplementary Exhibition” held in April and November 1920 respectively.