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Antoine Jean-Baptiste Thomas, 1791-1834

Clowns in a Street

Description:Read An Essay On This Drawing

This charming watercolor falls into the category of travel souvenirs, so popular among well-heeled collectors, and records a scene in Rome during carnival, the nine-day festival preceding Lent. Everyone, regardless of age, gender, or class, took part in the many "diversions" that crowded the streets. In Galignani's Traveller's Guide through Italy, the author described the droll masks and cross-dressing that added to the gaiety of the festivities, as well as the jokes that were played on passersby and the parody of a horse race in which the winner claims only a small flag.1 Antoine Jean-Baptiste Thomas shows us just such an image, with a central group of masked characters doting on a cat dressed as a baby, while a man in the costume of a harlequin raises a club to give a surprise blow to one of the members of the group. At the right, Thomas catches one of the revelers off guard, as he or she tries to adjust the large papier-mâché head of the Turkish costume, identifiable by the distinctive headdress with halfmoon. The reveler's hand poking through the neck adds to the humor of the scene and suggests that the costumes were not always very comfortable.

Thomas won the Prix de Rome in 1816 with his painting Oenoné refusant de secourir Pâris blessé au siege de Troie (Ecole nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts). The jury explained its decision, saying, among other things, that Thomas's entry displayed a better understanding of and facility with drawing than those of the other students, one of whom was Théodore Géricault.2 Thomas spent only two years of his five-year pension in Rome, where he most certainly witnessed carnival firsthand, though this particular example is dated three years after his return to Paris. He participated in the Salons from 1818 through 1831 and provided paintings for the churches of Trinité-des-Monts and Saint-Roch.3 In addition to his history and genre paintings, Thomas was also known as a printmaker. In 1823, he published a set of lithographs, Un an à Rome et dans ses environs, a copy of which was found in Géricault's library upon his death.4 Plate 8 in that set is a variant of the present drawing. Cheryl K. Snay

1. Galignani's Traveller's Guide through Italy, second edition (Paris, 1820), 316-18.

2. "Les motifs de ce jugement preparatoire Sont que le tableau Sous le No. 9 [Thomas] annonce plus de Savoir et d'habileté de dessin plus de nobles dans l'ensemble des figures et particulierement dans celle de Paris; un style plus pur et qui rapelle le plus le gout de l'Antique une execution plus complete et généralement plus de Soin dans le tout et dans chaque partie de la composition." As quoted in P. Grunchec, Le Grand Prix de Peinture. Paris: Ecole nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts (Paris, 1983), 160. For additional biographical material, see G. Schurr, Les Petits maîtres de la peinture: 1820-1920, 7 vols. (Paris, 1985), 6:9-10, and C. Gabet, Dictionnaire des artistes de l'école française au xixe siècle (Paris, 1831), 638-39.

3. For a discussion of his reception at the Salon, see C. P. Landon, Salon de 1822, 2 vols. (Paris, 1822), 1:37.

4. For a discussion of the relationship between Thomas and Géricault, see J. Szczepinska-Tramer, "Recherches sur les paysages de Géricault," Bulletin de la Société de l'histoire de l'art français (1973): 299-317, esp. 300-304.

Medium: Pen and brown ink and watercolor over graphite on cream, medium weight, smooth wove paper
Dimensions: Sheet: 122 x 168 mm.
Date: 1821
Category: genre
Subject: Carnival Masquerade Rome
Alternate Title: Sc?ne du carnaval dans le grand Corso ? Rome
Inscriptions and Markings: RECTO: LL, ink, 'Thomas 1821'; VERSO: C, graphite, '18'.
Exhibition History: Baltimore Museum of Art, 'Drawings from the Gilmor Collection', Nov. 16, 1977-Feb. 5, 1978.
Provenance: Maryland State Archives by transfer 1996; Johns Hopkins University by transfer 1979; Peabody Institute, Baltimore, by bequest, 1893; Charles J. M. Eaton (1807-1893), Baltimore, by purchase 1843; Du Sommerard Sale, Paris, Dec. 18-20, 1843, no. 258 (?), p. 21; Alexandre Du Sommerard (1779-1842), Paris.
Collection: State of Maryland Archives: Peabody Collection
Credit Line: The Peabody Art Collection. Courtesy of the Maryland Commission on Artistic Property of the Maryland State Archives, on loan to The Baltimore Museum of Art MSA SC 4680-13-0000
Object Number: R.11826.573