1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Decamps, Alexandre Gabriel
DECAMPS, ALEXANDRE GABRIEL (1803–1860), French painter, was born in Paris on the 3rd of March 1803. In his youth he travelled in the East, and reproduced Oriental life and scenery with a bold fidelity to nature that made his works the puzzle of conventional critics. His powers, however, soon came to be recognized, and he was ranked along with Delacroix and Vernet as one of the leaders of the French school. At the Paris Exhibition of 1855 he received the grand or council medal. Most of his life was passed in the neighbourhood of Paris. He was passionately fond of animals, especially dogs, and indulged in all kinds of field sports. He died on the 22nd of August 1860 in consequence of being thrown from a vicious horse while hunting at Fontainebleau. The style of Decamps was characteristically and intensely French. It was marked by vivid dramatic conception, by a manipulation bold and rapid, sometimes even to roughness, and especially by original and startling use of decided contrasts of colour and of light and shade. His subjects embraced an unusually wide range. He availed himself of his travels in the East in dealing with scenes from Scripture history, which he was probably the first of European painters to represent with their true and natural local background. Of this class were his “Joseph sold by his Brethren,” “Moses taken from the Nile,” and his scenes from the life of Samson, nine vigorous sketches in charcoal and white. Perhaps the most impressive of his historical pictures is his “Defeat of the Cimbri,” representing with wonderful skill the conflict between a horde of barbarians and a disciplined army. Decamps produced a number of genre pictures, chiefly of scenes from French and Algerine domestic life, the most marked feature of which is humour. The same characteristic attaches to most of his numerous animal paintings. He painted dogs, horses, &c., with great fidelity and sympathy; but his favourite subject was monkeys, which he depicted in various studies and sketches with a grotesque humour that could scarcely be surpassed. Probably the best known of all his works is “The Monkey Connoisseurs,” a clever satire of the jury of the French Academy of Painting, which had rejected several of his earlier works on account of their divergence from any known standard. The pictures and sketches of Decamps were first made familiar to the English public through the lithographs of Eugène le Roux.
See Moreau’s Decamps et son œuvre (Paris, 1869).