Charles Joseph Dominique Eisen

Perseus & Andromeda

Charles Joseph Dominique Eisen was born in 1720 in Valenciennes (in the north of France), in a region now known as ‘French Flanders’, as it was part of Flanders until it was taken over by the French in the late 17th century. His father, Frans Eisen, was a painter from Brussels, who had moved to Valenciennes to execute a series of commissions for local religious institutions. Frans also painted small genre scenes for local art dealers. He instructed his son as best he could in the arts, having him meticulously copy works by the great masters. After moving to Paris in 1741, Charles Joseph, aged 22, joined the workshop of the famous engraver Jean-Philippe Le Bas, where the best French draughtsmen and engravers of the period were taught.

After marrying Anne Aubert, the daughter of an apothecary, he started out as an independent engraver and draughtsman, engraving several religious works as well as pieces in the style of François Boucher, who was very much in fashion at the time. His obvious talent did not go unnoticed, and he was soon asked for various commissions for frontispieces and book illustrations. Together with his friend Noël Le Mire (who he frequently fell out with), Eisen furnished the illustrations for an edition of Voltaire’s Henriade (1772), which pleased the latter so that he wrote to Eisen: “Seeing the engravings with which you’re embellishing it, I’m starting to think the Henriade will be preserved for posterity.”

Eisen’s talent and wit soon gained him admission to the royal court, where he became painter and draughtsman to the king, and drawing-master to Madame de Pompadour. However, his often childish and boorish behaviour soon forced him to abandon this position. (It is even told that once, having designed an outfit for the king, the artist managed to appear in court wearing the same design on the very day the king tried on his!) Moreover, although Eisen was a brilliant draughtsman, who worked quickly and inventively, he did not like working more than strictly necessary. This, combined with his chaotic private life – which prevented him from being accepted into the Academy – meant that the artist was perpetually in debt. Perhaps this is why, rather abruptly, the long-divorced artist left Paris in 1777 to settle in Brussels, only to die just a year later.

The present work, a small yet intricate and meticulously drawn scene from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (book IV)is a very nice example of Eisen’s production when he was at his very best. Andromeda, daughter of the Aethiopian king Cepheus, is chained to a rock, stripped naked, as a sacrifice to the sea monster Cetus, which was sent by Poseidon to ravage Aethiopia. When Perseus, having just defeated Medusa (her head can be seen on his shield, where it was placed by Athena), happens upon the scene, he slays Cetus and goes on to marry Andromeda.

Artist: Charles Joseph Dominique Eisen (Valenciennes 1720 - 1778 Brussels)
Medium: graphite on vellum
Dimensions: 134 x 88 mm
Signed: 'charles Eisen inv. et fe. / 1750'