Jacques François Fernand Lematte (1850 – 1929)
Rooftops of Cairo
Oil on Canvas
23 ½ x 17 ½in (60 x 45 cm)
Jacques François Fernand Lematte enjoyed a glittering career that reflected the superb quality of his paintings. His oeuvre encompassed historical, classical and religious scenes as well as mythological subjects and portraiture. He was also commissioned to execute a number of murals but is best known for his Oriental views that included Eastern beauties, grand Odalisques and on rare occasions, as we see here, superb panoramas overlooking the rooftops of Cairo. Lematte was born on 26th July 1850 at Saint Quentin, Aisne. Like many of his successful contemporaries he studied in Paris, where like the slightly older artist Pierre Outin (1840-1899), he trained under the renowned classical and historical painter Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889).
1870 was a momentous year for Lematte when he made his debut at the Paris Salon and won the esteemed Prix de Rome for his painting Mort de Messaline, a grand classical scene of complex composition which owed much to his training under Cabanel. Having been awarded the Prix de Rome, Lematte spent the years 1871 to 1874 at the Villa Medici and continued to portray a number of historical and classical scenes. From this period came such works as Une Dryade of 1871 (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes) and L’Enlèvement de Déjanire, which he exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1874. Distinguishing himself at the Salon, Lematte was awarded a third class medal there in 1873 and a first class medal in 1876 for his Oreste et les Furies, (New York Public Library). The following year he showed two works at the Salon, one entitled La Veuve or widow (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Caen) and the other a portrait of Madame Comtesse de B. Lematte also showed at the Universal Exhibition of Vienna, 1873, at the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1882 and again at the Exposition Universelle of 1889, where he was awarded a bronze medal. In addition, Lematte executed numerous decorative murals at the Conseil d’État and at the town hall in Paris’s 13th arrondissement.
Lematte had a great ability in combining his academic training and understanding of the human form with the sumptuous use of colour and strong brushwork that gave monumentality to his subjects, of which this is a prime example. As here, his paintings were full of interest and intricate detail to include the woman’s exotic costume, the sumptuous Arabic rug and the light canopy set against the wonderful backdrop of Cairo, where minarettes and spires rise above the rooftops as the sun begins to set.
Owing to Lematte’s outstanding artistic prowess, patrons and collectors as well as public collections readily acquired his art. In addition to those already mentioned they include Judith (1886, Musée Antoine Lécuyer, Saint-Quentin); Hadiga, de Retour du Marché du Caire (1888, Musée Antoine Lécuyer, Saint-Quentin); Rheims (Les Bourgeois de Rheims Recevant une Charte du Régent de France, shown at the Salon in 1882, as well as Return of Pierre of Rheims after Bouvines, 1214; The Volunteers of 1792); Mulhouse (Son of the Virgin); Nice (Abduction of Deianeira) and Algiers (Head of Woman).