The First of Their Century
Original title: Les Premiers de leur siècle
- 2 Seas Represents: World Excl French.
In the shadow of the Romantic geniuses
Did Henri Lehmann (1814-1882), a young German painter, sell his soul when he followed his uncle’s advice and joined Ingres’s studio? When the tyrannical genius was appointed to head the French Academy in Rome, Henri, still in Ingres’s thrall, chose to go with him. In the enchanted salons of the Villa Medicis, an event took place that would change the course of Lehmann’s entire life: meeting Marie d’Agoult and Franz Liszt. From a fascinated eyewitness to the bitter end of their famous affair, to the godfather of the couple’s last love child, Lehmann would soon turn into the awe-inspiring countess’s errand boy; he gradually sacrificed his own artistic and personal ambitions, and devoted himself to the glory of “the first of their century.”
Through the memoirs of this choloric painter, who wound up as a failed and bitter academic painter, an entire era is brought back to life, with its splendor and its pettiness, its mystical debates and its gossip, its aesthetic quarrels and its revolutions nipped in the bud. Lehmann’s path will cross those of Delacroix, Sainte-Beuve, Chassériau, Stendhal and more. But those great men’s vitality borders on the monstrous, and by getting too close to them, Henri gets sucked dry. This novel is both a saga of the private life of the Romantics and an insightful reflection on the difficulties of combining artistic genius and moral rectitude.
From Parisian salons to the luminous landscapes of the Italian countryside, this knowledgeable novel brings us into the privacy of 19th-century Romanticism’s greatest artists.