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Jesus with Martha and Mary

Paul-Alexandre-Alfred Leroy

(1860 - 1942) | D.884.3.1

Date : 1882 | Medium : Oil on canvas

Paul Leroy's painting of Jesus with Martha and Mary marked the painter's uncontested entrance into public life in 1882. At the age of twenty-two, Paul Leroy produced his first large format work, to great acclaim. His teacher, Alexandre Cabanel, hugely admired the picture, exhibited at the Salon of 1882. Here Leroy received his second gold medal and a travel grant of 4,000 francs. At the time, the Musée de Rouen was truly inspired in buying the work of a painter later famous for his Orientalist subjects, and who would help to found the Société des Orientalistes Français in 1893.

As the Rouen picture already suggests, Paul Leroy depicted a very real Orient in genre paintings and scenes of religious life re-interpreted in the setting and atmosphere of the period.

His first journey was to Italy. In 1882 he set out on a veritable Grand Tour from Genoa to Rome via Milan and Venice, which made a particularly deep impression on him. But Jesus with Martha and Mary already evinces a highly Venetian exploration of the lively, warm colouring that sets Paul Leroy apart from his teacher, Alexandre Cabanel.

In Leroy's painting, we find a genuine ambiance, a particular atmosphere and a simple truth in the gestures and attitudes: he painted what was familiar. And even here in this religious scene, as in The Return from Mecca of 1906 or The Pilgrims of Emmaus of 1926, the subject is taken from life in its ordinary, everyday simplicity, and depicted with striking sincerity and straightforwardness.

The painter visited the Middle East frequently. He spent two years in Egypt between 1885 and 1887, and later went on regular trips to Constantinople, Persia and Algeria.