Robert the devil, an iconic hero

Robert the devil, an iconic hero

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  • Scene from Robert the Devil.

    LEPAULLE François Gabriel (1804 - 1886)

  • Louis Gueymard in the role of Robert le Diable.

    COURBET Gustave (1819 - 1877)

To close

Title: Scene from Robert the Devil.

Author : LEPAULLE François Gabriel (1804 - 1886)

Creation date : 1835

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 24 - Width 32

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.

Storage location: Music museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Picture reference: 76-000304

Scene from Robert the Devil.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

To close

Title: Louis Gueymard in the role of Robert le Diable.

Author : COURBET Gustave (1819 - 1877)

Creation date : 1857

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 148.6 - Width 106.7

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.

Storage location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

Contact copyright: © Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Image of the MMA

Picture reference: 08-512193 / 19.84

Louis Gueymard in the role of Robert le Diable.

© Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Image of the MMA

Publication date: June 2009

Historical context

The theater in the XIXe century, a cultural and social practice

The world of theater did not cease, throughout the XIXe century, to inspire painters, photographers and writers. Likewise, remarkable creations and the most eminent artists provide many subjects for different modes of illustration: painting, printmaking and, later, photography. Among these striking creations, Robert the devil, by Meyerbeer, on a libretto by Scribe and Delavigne, inaugurates in 1831 the genre of grand opera, which will span the entire century. He then goes to Sicily, where he falls in love with Isabelle.

Image Analysis

Gaze and function of the painter vis-à-vis the show and the performer

The two representations of Robert le Diable offered by Lépaulle and Courbet are indicative of the cultural, social and even political changes that have taken place during the twenty years that separate these two works. The canvas by François Gabriel Lépaulle, a draft of the painting dealing with the same subject and kept in the library-museum of the Paris Opera, dates from 1835, while the work by Meyerbeer, Scribe and Delavigne assures the Royal Academy of music of the recipes which will make the fortune of Doctor Véron, the director of the Opera. It features the three main protagonists of the drama: Robert, Norman knight, Alice, his foster sister, and Bertram, father of Robert and the real "devil" of the book. He represents them in the famous trio of the fifth act in which Robert feels torn between his father, who wants to lead him permanently to hell, and Alice, who wishes his salvation.

Courbet painted in 1857 Louis Gueymard, who held the role from his debut at the Opera in 1848, when he sang the aria of the first act "L’or est une chimère". In this work, he emphasizes the character, individualizing him as strongly in the composition as in the treatment of the drawing itself: while the figures in the background seem to blend with the decor, Louis Gueymard in Robert stands out with realism. In this portrait, Courbet adopts the fashion recently imposed by photographers who gaze at artists in situation and in costume.


Grand opera, a cultural product, a genre in line with an era and an audience

Lépaulle is a painter whose activity will coincide mainly with the July Monarchy. Passionate about opera, he signs costumes for the creation of Robert the devil in 1831. While the final painting, painted for the tombola at the Opera balls, presents very stiff characters, its outline highlights a fierce battle between good and evil: holding Robert in his arms to drag him by force, Bertram throws a hateful look at Alice who points the finger to the sky and reminds him of the last wishes of his mother "whose [the] assiduous tenderness watches over [him] from the top of the skies". Robert, his eyes in the sky, seems to implore his help.

Courbet for his part makes a portrait that deliberately resembles the photographs then in vogue: he represents the artist, the divo, playing a great role, a role he holds. Beyond the realistic portrait he made of a friend, to whom he became friends in the 1850s, he depicted the character of Robert in all his humanity, playing dice, attracted by pleasures, gambling, money. . Hell (Bertram is pictured but out of the way, as part of the scenery) is relegated to the background.

With its clever mix of romance, romantic feelings, religious or political elements depicted on a historical backdrop, the grand opera keeps in 1857, the date of Courbet's portrait, all its effectiveness as a cultural product in line with an audience and designed for the greatest number. In the first years of the Second Empire, the painter manifested in his own way that the world of lyrical art and lyrical art was animated by the cult of great performers.

The two works also record the evolution of pictorial art: if Lépaulle is still in the movement of romanticism, Courbet has been the leader of realism since his personal exhibition in 1855.

  • Middle Ages
  • opera
  • portrait
  • realism
  • romanticism
  • Scribe (Eugene)


Gustave Courbet, exhibition catalog at the National Galleries of the Grand Palais, Grand Palais, October 13, 2007 - January 28, 2008, Paris, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2007 Robert FERNIER, The life and work of Gustave Courbet, catalog raisonné , Volume 1, Bibliothèque des arts, Lausanne, Paris 1978.Martine KAHANE, Robert le Diable, Bibliothèque nationale, Paris, 1985.Robert le Diable, Avant Scène Opéra, n ° 76, Paris, 1985.

To cite this article

Catherine LEBOULEUX, "Robert the devil, an emblematic hero"

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