Two centuries ago today, the brilliant French landscape painter Achille Etna Michallon (1796–1822) died of pneumonia, at the age of only twenty-five. As I explained in my first article about him yesterday, he was the link between Henri de Valenciennes (1750-1819) and Camille Corot (1796-1875), and enjoyed a meteoric career before his untimely death.
The date given for this painting of Fireworks from Castel Sant’Angelo is 1821, after Michallon’s return from Rome. It shows the spectacular display that became popular with painters in the nineteenth century. This castle in Rome was originally built by the Emperor Hadrian as his family mausoleum, but has seen a wide variety of uses since then.
Following the tradition of Nicolas Poussin, Michallon set mythological figures in some of his finished landscape paintings. His Landscape: Theseus Pursuing the Centaurs from 1821 shows the Greek hero about to throw his spear at a galloping centaur.
Philoctetes on the Island of Lemnos from 1822 shows this legendary master archer who was abandoned on Lemnos by Odysseus after he had been bitten on the foot by a snake. After ten years Odysseus had to recover him in order to win the war against Troy.
The Wretched Woman from 1822 is another of these paintings with narrative figures in a finished landscape. The woman in question appears to be unconscious underneath this damaged tree, where she has been discovered by two travellers.
This Sea View, Salerno from 1822 shows the coast of Italy, to the south-east of Naples. It has an uncanny resemblance to Gustave Courbet’s late paintings of waves, although considerably less painterly in style.
View of a Silician Port from 1822 was clearly painted in front of the motif, somewhere on the coast of Sicily.
When Michallon was in Italy, he must have visited the ruins at Pompeii, where he painted The Triangular Forum in Pompeii, for which I have no date, but suspect this was around 1819-20.
Another painting of Michallon’s is this undated view of The Mill of La Cuve, which could be anywhere in the southern half of France.
It was terrible that Michallon died so early, and tempting to wonder how he might have come to exert even greater influence over the development of landscape painting in Europe. At least his pupil Corot followed in Michallon’s brushstrokes.