Chasseriau was one of the most sensual and intellectual painters of his
time. A pupil and precocious disciple of
Ingres, he also fell under the
influence of Delacroix, and he left his mark on both the second
Romantic artists and their
Theodore Chasseriau's artwork includes Orientalist and religious paintings, scenes from Antiquity, and portraits, but he is best known for his ambitious decorative compositions for the churches of Paris and for the Cour des Comptes in the Palais d'Orsay.
Theodore Chassériau was born in Samaná, in Saint Domingue , which is now the Dominican Republic. His father was a French adventurer who, at the time of Theodore's birth, held an administrative position in what was then a French colony.
Theodore Chasseriau was born in Santa Domingo in 1819. His father moved the family from the West Indies to Paris in 1822. Chasseriau's father then left for South America alone, leaving the children to be raised by the eldest son. Theodore Chassériau's mother was the daughter of a Creole landowner. While in Paris, the young Theodore Chassériau soon showed precocious drawing skill.
Theodore Chasseriau was accepted into the studio of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres in 1830, at the age of eleven, becoming the favorite pupil of the great classicist, who came to regard him as his truest disciple. Before reaching seventeen, Theodore Chassériau had already won a third place medal at the Paris Salon with his early images of female nudes.
Chassériau stayed in Ingres' atelier for twelve years. Ingres was impressed with his pupil's talent and invited Theodore Chasseriau to Rome to further his studies. Chasseriau declined, preferring to work on his own. Ingres would greatly influence sseriau's work which can be seen both in the clarity of his painting and emphasis on strong outline. Theodore Chasseriau exhibited at the 1836 Salon and soon proved to be an excellent portrait painter, a specialty he demonstrated in the painting of his sister, 'Adele Chassériau'.
After Ingres left Paris in 1834 to become director of the French Academy in Rome, Theodore Chasseriau fell under the influence of ugène Delacroix, whose brand of painterly colorism was anathema to Ingres. Chassériau's art has often been characterized as an attempt to reconcile the classicism of Ingres with the romanticism of Delacroix.
Theodore Chasseriau first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1836, and was awarded a third-place medal in the category of history painting. In 1840 Chassériau travelled to Rome and met with Ingres, whose bitterness at the direction his student's work was taking led to a decisive break.
In 1840, Theodore Chassériau painted the portrait 'Père Lacordaire', while in Rome. Theodore Chasseriau used the clarity of composition that characterized Neoclassical painting, with accentuated contours, heavily drawn outlines, and strong chiaroscuro. The severity of his work is softened, however, by the psychological traits it depicts, which are more typical of Romanticism, and by the gradual influence of Delacroix, whom he admired for the richness of his colors.
Interested in female nudes, Chasseriau moderated the severity of Neoclassicism to create his own style, which is obvious in 'The Chaste Susanna' (1839) and in the renowned 'La toilette d'Esther' (shown here) which was painted in 1842.
In 1846 Theodore Chasseriau made a trip to Algeria where he became interested in orientalism and his work began to consist of orientalist scenes though he was also well respected as a portraitist. From sketches made on this and subsequent trips he painted such subjects as Arab Chiefs Visiting Their Vassals and Jewish Women on a Balcony (shown here).
A major late work, The epidarium (1853, in the Musée d'Orsay), depicts a large group of women drying themselves after bathing, in an architectural setting inspired by the artist's trip in 1840 to Pompeii. Theodore Chasseriau's most monumental work was his decoration of the grand staircase of the Cour des Comptes, commissioned by the state in 1844 and completed in 1848. This work was heavily damaged in May 1871 by a fire set during the Commune, and only fragments could be recovered; these are preserved in the Louvre.
Throughout his life Theodore Chasseriau was a prolific draftsman; his many portrait drawings executed with a finely pointed graphite pencil are close in style to those of Ingres. Theodore Chasseriau also created a body of 29 prints, including a group of eighteen etchings of subjects from Shakespeare's "Othello" in 1844.
After a period of ill health, exacerbated by his exhausting work on commissions for murals to decorate the Churches of Saint-Roch and Saint-Philippe-du-Roule, Chassériau died at the age of 37 in Paris, on October 8, 1856. Theodore Chasseriau's work had a significant impact on the style of Puvis de Chavannes and Gustave Moreau, and, through those artists' influence, reverberations in the work of Paul Gauguin and Henri Matisse.