Ker Xavier Roussel. The Cape of Antibes, c. 1928. Pastel, distemper, and charcoal on paper, mounted on canvas. Private collection, Paris (cat. no. 69)

Like many other works depicting the classical themes and idyllic countryside on which Ker Xavier Roussel concentrated after 1900, The Cape of Antibes shows an actual location peopled by figures drawn from ancient myth or legend. No specific source for the painting’s subject has been identified, although it bears certain similarities to The Afternoon of a Faun, a poem by Stéphane Mallarmé about the encounter between a faun (in Roman mythology, a goatlike man) and two nymphs. Roussel’s unusual medium, pastel overlaid with distemper (dry pigments dissolved in hot glue), yielded a rough, textured surface that may have been created to resemble the appearance of fresco. Although Roussel painted this work from a specific and identifiable vantage point on the Cape of Antibes on the French Riviera, a fashionable resort in the 1920s, he disassociated his figures with the present to create a timeless, ideal scene.

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