The art of Léon Bonnat, 1833–1922


The Martyrdom of St Denis (1885).

Léon Bonnat’s depiction of St Denis reaching for his detached head might be included with St Lucy (always shown with her dish of eyeballs) and St Peter of Verona (seldom without an axe stuck in his skull) in a facetious list of Saints Do The Funniest Things. Bonnat’s gory painting can be found on a wall in the Panthéon in Paris, and is the kind of image I often keep in mind for those moments when someone wants to argue that violent imagery is a very recent thing. Academic painting at the end of the 19th century reached a pitch of photo-realism which demanded that acts of murder be shown with all the relevant blood splashes, hence St Denis and the characteristic excess of Georges Rochegrosse’s Andromaque, painted two years earlier. The 50 Watts Flickr pages have a large monochrome reproduction of Bonnat’s picture.


Jacob Wrestling with the Angel (1876).

It was this drawing of Jacob wrestling the angel that set me looking for more of Bonnart’s work. With the exception of a Tarzanesque painting of Samson fighting a lion there isn’t much else like this, a disappointment to those of us who can’t help but notice the Simeon Solomon-like homoerotic quality of the clinch.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Nirvana and The Conquerors

6 thoughts on “The art of Léon Bonnat, 1833–1922”

  1. I had been wondering what the title of that lovely Rochegrosse painting was ever since I saw it at the nocnitsa blog, thank you for solving that little mystery for me.

  2. Nick: I’ve never seen Rochegrosse’s name mentioned in a Frazetta book but I’m sure FF must have looked at his work. Rochegrosse had the same blood & thunder style, all Frazetta needed to add was the fantasy content.

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