About This Artwork

Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes
French, 1750-1819

Alexander at the Tomb of Cyrus the Great, 1796

Oil on canvas
16 9/16 x 35 7/8 in. (42 x 91.1 cm)

Restricted gift of Mrs. Harold T. Martin, 1983.35

This landscape and its companion piece, Mount Athos Carved as a Monument to Alexander the Great, reflect the late-18th-century enthusiasm for the antique, as well as the cult of sensibility that made the tomb in a landscape a favored subject for art in this period. Here Alexander, who overthrew the Persian Empire, arrives at the tomb of its founder, Cyrus the Great (590/580–c. 529 B.C.), only to find that it has been desecrated. In choosing the subjects of this pair of moralizing landscapes, Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes was doubtless suggesting the transitory nature of empire and of life itself.

— Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Paris, Musée du Louvre, "Egyptomania: L’Egypte dans l’art occidental, 1730–1930," January 20–April 18, 1994; traveled to Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada, June 17–September 18, 1994, and Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, October 16, 1994–January 29, 1995, cat. 86.

Publication History

F. P. Seguier, A Critical and Commercial Dictionary of the Works of Painters (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1870), p. 211.

Ralph N. James, Painters and Their Works (London: L. U. Gill, 1897), vol. 3, p. 154.

Werner Oechslin, “Dinocrates and the Myth of the Megalomaniacal Institution of Architecture,” Daidalos 4 (1982), pp. 12–13, pp. 22, 26 n. 7.

Margaret Smith in Alan Wintermute, ed., Claude to Corot: The Development of Landscape Painting in France, exh. cat. (New York: Colnaghi, 1990), pp. 250, under cat. 52, 258, under cat. 55.

Martin Warnke, Political Landscape: The Art History of Nature (London: Reaktion Books, 1994), pp. 90, 102 (ill.).

Susan Wise and Malcolm Warner, French and British Paintings from 1600 to 1800 in The Art Institute of Chicago: A Catalogue of the Collection (Art Institute of Chicago/Princeton University Press, 1996), pp. 146–52 (ill.).

Ownership History

James Hunt (died 1801), London, offered for sale, Christie’s, London, February 5, 1802, lot 61, bought in [according to Maria Wilson of Christie’s, letter of January 9, 1996, to Larry Feinberg, in curatorial files]; Hunt family, London. Reverend George Augustus Frederick Hart (died 1872), M. A., Vicar of Arundel, Tower House, Arundel, Sussex; by descent to his niece Catherine (Mrs. John Lord); sold at Tower House, Arundel, Sotheby’s, May 20–21, 1873, lot 131, to G. Fry for £25 [British Museum annot. cat.]. Alderman Philip Spowart (died 1945), Berwick-upon-Tweed, from c. 1937 [according to recollection of Alan G. Burns, letter of February 9, 1988 in curatorial file]; his widow, Anne Nicholson Spowart (née Wood); given to her nephew, Alan G. Burns, Berwick-upon-Tweed, 1960 [Alan G. Burns letters of April 4, 1984, and February 9, 1988, in curatorial file]; sold, Henry Spencer and Sons, Retford, Nottinghamshire, November 9, 1978, lot 212, to Crozier acting on behalf of Trafalgar Galleries and P. and D. Colnaghi, London, 1978 [A. G. E. Marriot letter of April 10, 1984, and notes in curatorial file]; transferred to Colnaghi, New York, 1982; sold to the Art Institute, 1983.

View mobile website