Charles-François Marchal (French, Paris 1825–1877 Paris)

ca. 1868
Oil on canvas
43 1/2 x 19 1/2 in. (110.5 x 49.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Mrs. Adolf Obrig, in memory of her husband, 1917
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    This painting and its pendant, "Phryne" (location unknown), were an immediate success at the Salon of 1868. They are typical of the scenes of fashionable life in Paris that Marchal painted in the decade prior to his suicide.

    Penelope is not represented as the legendary wife of Odysseus but as a contemporary woman, dutifully engaged in needlework as she dreams about her husband, portrayed in the miniature before her. By contrast, "Phryne" was intended as an analogy to the classical Athenian courtesan of the same name. Marchal depicted her in an evening dress, glancing provocatively into her mirror as she completes her toilette.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Signed (upper right): Charles Marchal.

  • Provenance

    Henry Probasco, Cincinnati (probably 1868–87; probably bought at the Salon of 1868 with its pendant for Fr 28,000 or 30,000; his sale, American Art Association, New York, April 18, 1887, no. 35, for $575); [Knoedler, New York]; Adolf Obrig, New York; Mrs. Adolf Obrig, New York (until 1917)

  • Exhibition History

    Paris. Salon. May 1–June 20, 1868, no. 1666 (as "Pénélope").

    New York. Knoedler. "An Exhibition of Paintings and Prints of Every Description, on the Occasion of Knoedler, One Hundred Years, 1846–1946," April 1–27, 1946, no. 62 (as "Grey Lady").

  • References

    Louis Auvray. Exposition des Beaux-Arts: Salon de 1868. Paris, 1868, pp. 44, 47–48.

    [Jules] Castagnary. "Salon de 1868 (10e article)." Le Siècle (June 26, 1868), p. 2, remarks that this picture and "Phryne" do not appear to represent virtue and vice, adding that the subject matter is only apparent from their titles.

    Marius Chaumelin. "Salon de 1868." La Presse (1868) [reprinted in Chaumelin, "L'Art contemporain," Paris, 1873, pp. 122, 126–27], praises this picture.

    [André Gill]. Gill-revue: Le salon pour rire (1868), p. 5, reproduces caricatures of this painting and its pendant.

    J. Grangedor. "Le Salon de 1868 (2e et dernier article)." Gazette des beaux-arts 25 (July 1868), p. 12, comments that this painting and "Phryne" do not clearly represent moral opposites as intended by the artist.

    Arsène Houssaye. "Salon de 1868, introduction." L'Artiste, sér. 9, 5 (May 1868), p. 247, praises this picture.

    L'Artiste, sér. 9, 5 (June 1868), pp. 304–5, ill. (engraving), publishes an anonymous sonnet called "Penelope" and an engraving after this painting.

    Raoul de Navery. Le Salon de 1868. Paris, 1868, pp. 32–33, notes that this picture and "Phryne" were said to have been purchased on the opening morning of the Salon by an "Américain enthousiaste" for Fr 30,000.

    T. Thoré. Salon de 1868 (1868) [reprinted in T. Thoré, "Salons de W. Bürger, 1861 à 1868," vol. 2, Paris, 1870, pp. 464–66], states that this painting and "Phryne" are said to have been sold for Fr 28,000.

    Marius Chaumelin. "Salon de 1869." L'Indépendance Belge (1869) [reprinted in Chaumelin, "L'Art contemporain," Paris, 1873, p. 240], notes the influence of this picture and "Phryne" on two paintings by Emile Saintin called "Fleurs de fête" and "Fleurs de deuil".

    Philip Gilbert Hamerton. Painting in France After the Decline of Classicism. London, 1869, pp. 35–36, remarks that it "was painted only to give the force of contrast to" its pendant, "Phryne," noting that both sold for £1200.

    Arsène Houssaye. "Les Femmes adultères." Les Parisiennes. 3, Paris, 1869, ill., frontispiece (engraving by Nargeot and Cucinotta).

    Jules Claretie. Peintres et sculpteurs contemporains. Paris, 1873, p. 234.

    Philippe Burty. "Nécrologie." La République française (1877) [reprinted in "L'Art" 9 (1877), p. 48], compares it to a banal illustration.

    The Art Treasures of America. reprint, 1977. New York, 1879, vol. 1, p. 129; vol. 2, pp. 71–72, 74, notes the popularity of the engraving after this painting.

    Eugène Montrosier. "Art contemporain: Marchal." Les Chefs-d'œuvre d'art au Luxembourg. Paris, 1881, p. 107, reproduces a drawing related to our painting and another related to "Phyrne" (both, whereabouts unknown).

    Victor Fournel. Les Artistes français contemporains: Peintres—sculpteurs. Tours, 1884, pp. 413–15, comments that the public's enthusiasm is disproportionate to the painting's artistic value; notes that Marchal never again achieved the success brought to him by this picture and its pendant.

    Clarence Cook. Art and Artists of Our Time. New York, 1888, vol. 1, p. 66.

    Jules Breton. The Life of an Artist: Art and Nature. New York, 1891, p. 273.

    Henry Marcel. La Peinture française au XIXe siècle. Paris, 1905, p. 219.

    Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. "XIX Century." French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2, New York, 1966, pp. 177–78, ill., state that Probasco was probably the American who purchased this work and its pendant from the Salon; mention a smaller painting of Penelope by Marchal, sold in New York in 1882 [see Notes].

    Joachim Heusinger von Waldegg. "Jean-Léon Gérôme's 'Phryne vor den Richtern'." Jahrbuch der Hamburger Kunstsammlungen 17 (1972), p. 141, fig. 19 (caricature).

    Susan Sidlauskas. "Resisting Narrative: The Problem of Edgar Degas's Interior." Art Bulletin 75 (December 1993), p. 689, fig. 18, dates it 1867.

    T. J. Clark. The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers. revised ed. (lst ed. 1984). Princeton, 1999, pp. 113, 294 n. 118.

    Ivan Gaskell. Vermeer's Wager: Speculations on Art History, Theory and Art Museums. London, 2000, p. 134, fig. 51.

    Bernard Vouilloux. Le Tableau vivant: Phyrné, l'orateur et le peintre. Paris, 2002, p. 50.

    Christiane Dotal. "Femmes mythiques et légendaires comme allégories modernes au XIXe siècle." L'artiste et sa muse. Rome, 2006, pp. 47–49, 58, 60 n. 21, fig. 3, observes that Penelope is depicted as a "parisienne moderne" wearing a Worth gown.

  • Notes

    A smaller painting of Penelope by Marchal was formerly in the John Wolfe collection (his sale, Chickering Hall, New York, April 5–6, 1882, no. 65). An engraving after our picture is reproduced in Ref. L'Artiste 1868. A related drawing (present whereabouts unknown) is reproduced in Ref. Montrosier 1881.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History