Napolitan woman crying in the ruins of her house after an earthquake
Painting, 1830, 97×126 cm
Description of the artwork «Napolitan woman crying in the ruins of her house after an earthquake»
This painting by Léopold Robert is as dramatic as a great history painting, despite its average size, and reflects the ambitions of the artist, a genre painter who wants to be a history painter. A young Neapolitan peasant woman cries, sitting on the ruins of her earthquake-destroyed house, while her young child, obviously the only survivor of the family with her, plays in a basket behind her. We can imagine that his whole family perished in the ruins in the background from which bursts of shattered frames; in the background, Vesuvius is smoking and we can make out the Bay of Naples, allowing us to situate the tragic anecdote. Léopold Robert, happy with his composition, wanted to show it to Chateaubriand as soon as it was finished. He exhibited it in April 1830 at the Capitol where it was claimed by several amateurs, but the picture was painted for the collector Marcotte. In September 1830 Léopold Robert reported the excellent reception given to the work by Marcotte, while stressing that the subject had made the two-year-old Parisian amateur's granddaughter cry. The work was exhibited at the Salon of 1831 with Les Moissonneurs dans les Marais Pontins and another tragic scene, Woman of Ischia in despair of the shipwreck of her husband (¬Neuchâtel, Museum of Art and History). It was a success, and Marcotte had to sell the painting to King Louis-Philippe, whose wife Marie-Amélie was Neapolitan, but the artist was at the center of the debate on the relevance of the hierarchy of genres, some critics seeing in these tragic but contemporary subjects an alternative to romantic painting. Léopold Robert was therefore on the verge of renewing modern painting in search of subjects, and in 1834 he decided to turn to history painting with a religious subject, confident in a letter that he had not chosen the genre. out of taste, but that historical painting was for him the supreme goal of art. This frustration of the painter is at the origin of his suicide.