André Bauchant 1873-1958
T00466 Les Funérailles d'Alexandre-le-Grand (Funeral Procession of Alexander the Great) 1940
Inscribed 'A Bauchant | 1940' b.l. towards centre
Oil on canvas, 44 7/8 x 76 3/4 (114 x 195)
Bequeathed by Arthur Jeffress 1961
Prov: With Galerie Jeanne Bucher, Paris (purchased from the artist 1940); Arthur Jeffress, London
Exh: André Bauchant, Galerie Jeanne Bucher, Paris, June-July 1943 (no catalogue); Moderne primitive Maler, Kunsthalle, Bern, July-August 1949 (31); André Bauchant, Galerie Charpentier, Paris, November 1949-January 1950 (111); Sunday Painters, ICA, London, September-October 1954 (2)
Repr: Maximilien Gauthier, André Bauchant (Paris 1943), pl.43
This is one of Bauchant's largest pictures and was inspired, like many of his works, by classical history. Alexander the Great, King of Macedon and the founder of a mighty empire, died in Babylon in 323 BC at the age of only thirty-three. His body was taken to Alexandria for burial, and he was accorded divine honours in Egypt and elsewhere.
In painting this picture, Bauchant seems to have followed very closely the description of the funeral chariot and the accompanying procession given in Charles Rollin's Histoire Ancienne, which according to Maximilien Gauthier (op. cit., p.43) was one of his favourite bedside books. The English translation The Ancient History of Egyptians, Carthaginians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes and Persians, Grecians and Macedonians
(London c.1830), Vol.3, pp.530-1, gives this passage as follows:
'As soon as these [the tracks along which the procession was to pass] were levelled, that magnificent chariot, the invention and design of which raised as much admiration as the immense riches that glittered all over it, set out from Babylon. The body of the chariot rested upon two axle-trees, that were inserted into four wheels, made after the Persian manner; the naves and spokes of which were covered with gold, and the felloes plated over with iron. The extremities of the axle-trees were made of gold, representing the muzzles of lions biting a dart. The chariot had four draught beams, or poles, to each of which were harnessed four sets of mules, each set consisting of four of these animals; so that this chariot was drawn by sixty-four mules. The strongest of these creatures, and the largest were chosen on this occasion. They were adorned with crowns of gold, and collars enriched with precious stones and golden bells.
'On this chariot was erected a pavilion of entire gold, twelve feet wide, and eighteen in length, supported by columns of the Ionic order, embellished with the leaves of acanthus. The inside was adorned with a blaze of jewels, disposed in the form of shells. The circumference was beautified with a fringe of golden network; the threads that composed the texture were an inch in thickness, and to those were fastened large bells, whose sound was heard at a great distance.
'The external decorations were disposed into four relievos.
'The first represented Alexander seated in a military chariot, with a splendid sceptre in his hand, and surrounded, on one side, with a troop of Macedonians in arms; and on the other, with an equal number of Persians armed in their manner.
'These were preceded by the king's equerries.
'In the second were seen elephants completely harnessed, with a band of Indians seated on the fore-part of their bodies; and on the hinder, another band of Macedonians, armed as in the day of battle.
'The third exhibited to the view several squadrons of horse ranged in military array.
'The fourth represented ships preparing for a battle.
'At the entrance into the pavilion were golden lions, that seemed to guard the passage.
'The four corners were adorned with statues of gold representing Victories, with trophies of arms in their hands. Under the pavilion was placed a throne of gold of a square form, adorned with the heads of animals, whose necks were encompassed with golden circles a foot and a half in breadth: to these were hung crowns that glittered with the liveliest colours, and such as were carried in procession at the celebration of sacred solemnities.
'At the foot of the throne was placed the coffin of Alexander, formed of beaten gold, and half filled with aromatic spices and perfumes, as well to exhale an agreeable odour, as for the preservation of the corpse. A pall of purple wrought with gold covered the coffin.
'Between this and the throne the arms of that monarch were disposed as he wore them while living.
'The outside of the pavilion was likewise covered with purple flowered with gold. The top ended in a very large crown of the same metal, which seemed to be a composition of olive-branches. The rays of the sun, which darted on this diadem, in conjunction with the motion of the chariot, caused it to emit a kind of rays like those of lightning ...
'The chariot was followed by the royal guards, all in arms, and magnificently arrayed.
'The multitude of spectators of this solemnity is hardly credible; but they were drawn together, as well as by their veneration for the memory of Alexander, as by the magnificence of this funeral pomp, which had never been equalled in the world.'
Robin Lane Fox states that Rollin's source was Diodorus Siculus. Several highly scholarly attempts have been made to reconstruct the appearance of the funeral chariot, but Bauchant's picture seems to have been produced quite independently of any of these.
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.34-5, reproduced p.34