Portrait of the young Trioson

Portrait of the young Trioson

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Portrait of the young Trioson.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Publication date: October 2005

Historical context

Discovery of childhood

In the 18th century, the child becomes a being worthy of interest. TheÉmile or Education by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, published in 1762, advocates a free education guided by Nature. Other artists, such as Chardin in The Child with the Toton, circa 1736, are also interested in the captivating and disturbing world of childhood.

Anne-Louis Girodet de Roucy Trioson (1767-1824) was a brilliant disciple of David, in whose studio he entered in 1785. Author of works of Bonapartist and Napoleonic propaganda (The Shadows of the French Warriors Led by Victory in Odin's Palace, 1801), he turns away from the traditional subjects of neoclassicism to immerse himself in a dreamlike and poetic universe (Endymion's Sleep, 1793 ; Atala's Funeral, 1808). The melancholy of childhood and his faculty of emancipation seduce and intrigue him.

Image Analysis

Reverie of the young Trioson

Son of Doctor Trioson (1735-1815), protector and friend of Girodet, Benoit-Agnès Trioson (c. 1789-1804) has just suspended his study to dream. Scholarly works bore him. He abandons the objects of his education piled up on the armchair: the violin, the rudiments of Latin grammar, the beetle and the butterfly, the sheets of drawing paper and the blood-holder next to a piece of bread and walnut shells. Not very studious, he diverted them from their original use: drawings scribbled on the pages of his book, endless and incomprehensible words written on the leaves, violin and mistreated insects. Then, he completely abandons them to escape into the dream. The spectator is ignored; a stranger to his world, he can only observe and imagine the boy's dreams.

Using chiaroscuro effects, Girodet cuts his painting into two opposite vertical spaces. Right, a half submerged in shadow, in which the various study subjects are concentrated. This dark side of reality and scholarship from which the child turns away. On the contrary, he directs his gaze towards the right half which, entirely empty, is bathed in light. It represents the imaginary and romantic world into which the wandering spirit of the young boy escapes.

The portrait is treated in monochromy of brown, chestnut and ocher that just underline the blue and cold note of the waistcoat and the very luminous white of the shirt. These soft and neutral shades give a great softness to the composition. All the objects are drowned in the brown color; the spectator ends up obscuring their presence just like the child who abandoned them. The blue and white around the head, on the contrary, underline the freshness and liveliness of the child's imagination. The face seems to stand out from the rest of the painting: the dream escapes reality.


The first French romanticism

Girodet, affectionately linked to this child who became his brother posthumously in 1809, endeavors to reflect the state of mind of his model. From its presentation at the Salon of 1800, the portrait, ironically titled Young child studying his rudiments, deeply disturbs the spectators.
Dr Trioson attached great importance to the education of his only son. Girodet also received a perfectly careful education, but, as an admirer of Rousseau and theEmile, he considers playfulness and dissipation to be inherent in childhood, which naturally tends to escape the constraints of imposed discipline (curly, unruly hair evokes the fantasy of the mind). So it is with tender indulgence that he confronts in his work the obvious melancholy of the child and the rudiment of Latin grammar open to the page of the declension of the verb "to be happy".

A pupil of David, Girodet stands out from his master by bringing mystery, sensuality and feeling into his painting. However, the very precise style, very faithful to reality (correctness of the proportions, of the morphology), remains neoclassical. This painting expresses a certain dichotomy between the extreme accuracy of the drawing, the attention to detail, and the ethereal and chimerical purpose of the subject. His evocation of childhood, of great subtlety (A young child looking at figures in a book, 1798 ; Portrait of Doctor Trioson giving a geography lesson to his son, 1804), testifies to a deep sensitivity and the will to assert the subject, the ego, in full harmony with the romantic spirit. However, the dream is only mentioned here. Girodet paints reality (a child abandons his homework to dream) and not the dreamlike and fanciful world as the German romantics will do. A flagship of early French Romanticism, Girodet’s work occupies a special place in early 19th century painting.

  • childhood
  • portrait
  • romanticism


Thomas CROW, David’s Workshop. Emulation and Revolution, Paris, Gallimard, 1997.Pierre ROSENBERG, “The portrait of Romainville Trioson (1800)”, in Louvre review, 4-1991, p. 11.Renaud TEMPERINI, “Neo-classicism”, in French painting, Paris, Éditions Pierre Rosenberg, 2001.

To cite this article

Delphine DUBOIS, "Portrait of the young Trioson"

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