Pierre Narcisse, Baron Guerin - Encyclopedia




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PIERRE NARCISSE GUERIN, Baron (1774-1833), French painter, was born at Paris on the 13th of May 1774. Becoming a pupil of Jean Baptiste Regnault, he carried off one of the three " grands prix " offered in 1796, in consequence of the competition not having taken place since 1793. The pension was not indeed re-established, but Guerin fulfilled at Paris the conditions imposed upon a pensionnaire, and produced various works, one of which brought him prominently before the public. This work, "Marcus Sextus " (Louvre), exhibited at the Salon of 1799, excited wild enthusiasm, partly due to the subject, - a victim of Sulla's proscription returning to Rome to find his wife dead and his house in mourning - in which an allusion was found to the actual situation of the émigrés. Guerin on this occasion was publicly crowned by the president of the Institute, and before his departure for Rome (on the re-establishment of the Ecole under Suvee) a banquet was given to him by the most distinguished artists of Paris. In 1800, unable to remain in Rome on account of his health, he went to Naples, where he painted the " Grave of Amyntas." In 1802 Guerin produced "Phaedra and Hippolytus" (Louvre); in 1810, after his return to Paris, he again achieved a great success with " Andromache and Pyrrhus " (Louvre); and in the same year also exhibited " Cephalus and Aurora" (Collection Sommariva) and" Bonaparte and the Rebels of Cairo" (Versailles). The Restoration brought to Guerin fresh honours; he had received from the first consul in 1803 the cross of the Legion of Honour, and in 1815 Louis XVIII. named him Academician. The success of Guerin's " Hippolytus " of " Andromache," of " Phaedra " and of " Clytaemnestra" (Louvre) had been ensured by the skilful selection of highly melodramatic situations, treated with the strained and pompous dignity proper to the art of the first empire; in " Aeneas relating to Dido the disasters of Troy " (Louvre), which appeared side by side with " Clytaemnestra " at the Salon of 1817, the influence of the Restoration is plainly to be traced. In this work Guerin sought to captivate the public by an appeal to those sensuous charms which he had previously rejected, and by the introduction of picturesque elements of interest. But with this work Guerin's public successes came to a close. He was, indeed, commissioned to paint for the Madeleine a scene from the history of St Louis, but his health prevented him from accomplishing what he had begun, and in 1822 he accepted the post of director of the Ecole de Rome, which in 1816 he had refused. On returning to Paris in 1828, Guerin, who had previously been made chevalier of the order of St Michel, was ennobled. He now attempted to complete " Pyrrhus and Priam," a work which he had begun at Rome, but in vain; his health had finally broken down, and in the hope of improvement he returned to Italy with Horace Vernet. Shortly after his arrival at Rome Baron Guerin died, on the 6th of July 1833, and was buried in the church of La Trinita de' Monti by the side of Claude Lorraine.

A careful analysis and criticism of his principal works will be found in Nleyer's Geschichte der franzosischen Malerei. 'Guerin Du Cayla, Georges Maurice De' (1810-1839), French poet, descended from a noble but poor family, was born at the chhteau of Le Cayla in Languedoc, on the 4th of August 1810. He was educated for the church at a religious seminary at Toulouse, and then at the College Stanislas, Paris, after which he entered the society at La Chesnaye in Brittany, founded by Lamennais. It was only after great hesitation, and without being satisfied as to his religious vocation, that under the influence of Lamennais he joined the new religious order in the autumn of 1832; and when, in September of the next year, Lamennais, who had come under the displeasure of Rome, severed connexion with the society, Maurice de Guerin soon followed his example. Early in the following year he went to Paris, where he was for a short time a teacher at the College Stanislas. In November 1838 he married a Creole lady of some fortune; but a few months afterwards he was attacked by consumption and died on the 19th of July 1839. In the Revue des deux mondes for May 15th, 1840, there appeared a notice of Maurice de Guerin by George Sand, to which she added two fragments of his writings - one a composition in prose entitled the Centaur, and the other a short poem. His Reliquiae (2 vols., 1861), including the Centaur, his journal, a number of his letters and several poems, was edited by G. S. Trebutien, and accompanied with a biographical and critical notice by Sainte-Beuve; a new edition, with the title Journal, lettres et poemes, followed in 1862; and an English translation of it was published at New York in 1867. Though he was essentially a poet, his prose is more striking and original than his poetry. Its peculiar and unique charm arises from his strong and absorbing passion for nature, a passion whose intensity reached almost to adoration and worship, but in which the pagan was more prominent than the moral element. According to Sainte-Beuve, "no French poet or painter has rendered so well the feeling for nature - the feeling not so much for details as for the ensemble and the divine universality, the feeling for the origin of things and the sovereign principle of life." The name of Eugenie De Guerin (1805-1848), the sister of Maurice, cannot be omitted from any notice of him. Her Journals (1861, Eng. trans., 1865) and her Lettres (1864, Eng. trans., 1865) indicated the possession of gifts of as rare an order as those of her brother, though of a somewhat different kind. In her case mysticism assumed a form more strictly religious, and she continued to mourn her brother's loss of his early Catholic faith. Five years older than he, she cherished a love for him which was blended with a somewhat motherly anxiety. After his death she began the collection and publication of the scattered fragments of his writings. She died, however, on the 31st of May 1848, before her task was completed.

See the notices by George Sand and Sainte-Beuve referred to above; Sainte-Beuve, Causeries du lundi (vol. xii.) and Nouveaux Lundis (vol. iii.) G. Merlet, Causeries sur les femmes et les livres (Paris, 1865) Selden, L'Esprit des femmes de noire temps (Paris,. 1864); Marelle, Eugenie et Maurice de Guerin (Berlin, 1869); Harriet Parr, M. and E. de Guerin, a monograph (London, 5870); and Matthew Arnold's essays on Maurice and Eugenie de Guerin, in his Essays in Criticism.

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