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Francisque-Joseph Duret

Chactas Meditating on the Grave of Atala


Francisque-Joseph Duret
Paris 1804 – Paris 1865


Chactas Meditating on the Grave of Atala


About 1836


Patinated bronze


43.2 x 21.4 x 23.5 cm


Cast Auguste-Maximilien Delafontaine, Paris


Purchase, Horsley and Annie Townsend Bequest, inv. 2015.285


Western Art

A prisoner at the age of twenty, the literary character Chactas, adopted son of a Christian man, is saved by Atala, a young Indigenous woman who has been brought up in the Christian faith. A missionary promises they will be reunited if Chactas converts to Christianity. Atala, whose mother had vowed unto God that her daughter would remain chaste, poisons herself and, as she lies dying in the arms of Chactas, asks him to convert. Inspired by the 1801 novel Atala, or, the Love and Constancy of Two Savages in the Desert, by François-René de Chateaubriand, this bronze combines the stylistic features of classical sculpture with echoes of Christlike figures, and, through Chactas’ posture, allegorical representations of melancholy. Drawing on the reinterpretation of antiquity in Florentine Renaissance works, Francisque-Joseph Duret expresses the tension resulting from the conflict between body and mind. It was a favourite theme of the Romantics, just like that of the vanquished, the rebels, the desperate and the despondent.

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