• ill. 1. Henri-Joseph de Forestier, Christ Helaing the Demoniac, 1818, Oli on canvas, 308 x 215 cm, Cahors, musée Henri-Martin.

    ill. 2 Léon Pallière, The Flagellation of Christ, 1817, oil on canvas, 45,7 x 30,5 cm, New York, The Metropolitan Museum.

    ill. 3 Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Christ Giving the Keys to St Peter, 1820, oil on canvas, 280 x 217 cm, Montauban, musée Ingres.

The highly unreliable civil status information catalogue entries and dictionaries have provided about this artist until recently betrays a lack of knowledge on the part of historians; his date of birth is variously given as 1787, 1790 and 1797, while he is alleged to have died in 1868, 1872, 1874 and 1892, either in Paris or Guadeloupe. Philippe Grunchec was the first to accurately pin down his birthdate, using the official accounts of the École des beaux-arts competitions, which all indicate that he was born in 1787. His burial certificate, dated December 1872, has cleared up all confusion as to the year of his death.1


Born into a well-off family of planters, Henri-Joseph de Forestier came to France before 1803, the year of his enrolment at the École des beaux-arts. A pupil of Vincent, and to a lesser extent of David, he won the first prize for history painting in 1813 and so became a resident at the French Academy in Rome the following year. He retained close links with Rome well after the end of his residency: in 1824 we find him in the company of self-taught artists living there, among them the painters Victor Schnetz and Léopold Robert, and the sculptors Paul Lemoyne et Jean- Baptiste Roman.2 His academic training completed, he obtained a number of public commissions and was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour in 1832. His output, however, was sparse and his appearances at the Salon irregular; indeed they ceased entirely in 1835 after he had been cited as a suspect in Fieschi’s attempted assassination of the king on 28 July, on the grounds that he had publicly expressed Republican opinions the same day.3 Politics brought him back into the public eye under the Second Republic: promoted to the rank of colonel in the 6th Legion of the National Guard in 1848, he nonetheless took part in the revolutionary demonstration of 13 June 1849, organised by the far left under Ledru-Rollin. He was arrested, but was subsequently acquitted by the High Court in Versailles,4 as he had been thirteen years earlier by the Chamber of Peers. Art’s low profile in this second part of his career – Forestier ended his life as mayor of Paris’s 6th arrondissement – suggests that the family fortune had put him out of harm’s way financially.

This sketch for Christ Healing the Demoniac is a reminder that early in his career he was considered one of the younger generation’s promising painters. While a resident at the Villa Médicis in Rome, however, he was tempted to distance himself from the academic norms, as can be seen in the over-reaction by members of the Academy in their analysis of his work: he showed “great vigour of feeling and execution”, but although his “eagerness to work well is powerfully apparent in every respect”,5 he needed to “quell the ardour that takes him beyond the boundaries of tasteful simplicity.”6 The subject of these commentaries was A Man Killing a Serpent, whose alleged surfeit of romanticism we cannot judge since its whereabouts are now unknown. However, in their contrasts of white gouache washes and brown ink the few drawings by Forestier that have come down to us suggest a community of vision with Géricault, Schnetz and Cogniet as these young artists sought to inject new energy into the classical vocabulary in the 1810s.7

In 1817, at the instigation of Charles Thévenin, the liberal-minded head of the French Academy, Forestier, together with his fellow resident Léon Pallière and the more senior Ingres, was invited to help decorate a chapel in the church of Trinità dei Monti, then in the course of restoration by the French ambassador, the Comte de Blacas. The theme – the life of Christ – left them free to choose their subjects, which were, respectively, the healing of a man possessed by the Devil, the Flagellation and Christ giving the keys to St Peter. Comparison of the three works – one in the museum in Cahors (ill. 1), the se cond in situ (see the sketch, ill. 2) and the third in the Ingres Museum (ill. 3) – highlights the originality of the Ingres, whose Nazarene sensibility was something totally new in French art; but Forestier’s picture stands out with an energetic severity recalling the early workshop of David and in particular the work of Jean-Germain Drouais.

Forestier’s small sketch presents many secondary variations in relation to the final picture: in the poses and in a background that was initially a landscape rather than an urban view. The most significant differences, though, are chromatic: the move from a nuanced palette to the brighter colours also to be found in Ingres’ and Pallière’s draperies suggests a deliberate harmonisation intended to give the chapel a radiance expressive of the pious French establishment’s urge towards restoration both material and spiritual.

Presented in Rome with the works of the other residents from 15 to 31 May 1818, Christ Healing the Demoniac was not shown in Paris until 1827, when it was given a favourable reception. Auguste Jal, among others, judged it “estimable, in the austere, simple genre of some of the Italian old masters in whose presence he composed and painted it.”8




1. Bellier and Auvray’s frequently incorrect dictionary gives his dates as 1790–1868. When the painting prizes were awarded at the École des beaux-arts in Paris on 21 August 1807, Forestier, who came in second, was stated to be twenty-one (Procès-verbal de la distribution générale des prix aux élèves des écoles spéciales du 21 août 1807 [Paris: Imprimerie impériale, 1807], p. 21); and at the ceremony in 1813, when he took out the First Rome Prize, his age was given as twenty-six (Revue encyclopédique: ou Analyse raisonnée des productions les plus remarquables dans la littérature, les sciences et les arts, [Paris: Imprimerie de J. B. Sajou, 1813], p. 417). For his date of burial, see État civil d’artistes francais; billets d’enterrement ou de décès depuis 1823 jusqu’à nos jours (Paris: Société de l’Histoire de l’art français, 1881), p. 112.

2. Étienne-Jean Delécluze, Carnet de route d’Italie (1823-1824). Impressions romaines, introduction and notes by Robert Baschet (Paris: Boivin, 1942), p. 102.

3. Comte de Portalis, Rapport fait à la Cour des Pairs - Attentat du 28 juillet 1835 (Paris: Imprimerie royale, 1835), p. 422.

4. Procès des accusés du 13 juin 1849 devant la Haute-Cour de justice (Paris: Ballard, 1849), passim.

5. Report by Guérin and Gros on the compulsory samples of work he sent to the Academy from Rome in 1817. See Catherine Giraudon (ed.), Procès-verbaux de l’Académie des Beaux-Arts, II: 1816-1820 (Paris: École des Chartes, 2002) p.179.

6. Report by Dupaty on the same samples, ibid. p. 516.

7. See, for example, The Wrath of Saul, Baltimore Museum of Fine Art, repr. in Jay Fisher and William Johnston (eds.), The Es sence of Line: French Drawings from Ingres to Degas, exh. cat. (Uni versity Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2005) no. 55, pp. 226-228 (entry by Philippe Bordes).

8. Auguste Jal, Esquisses, croquis, pochades, ou Tout ce qu’on voudra, sur le Salon de 1827 (Paris: Dupont; 1828), p. 494.


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