Death of Hippolytos
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Carle Vernet
French, 1800
Black chalk stumped and heightened with white; framing line in light brown ink, black chalk and incised
25 1/2 x 38 13/16 in.

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In a balanced composition that controls the subject's violence, Carle Vernet captured the final dramatic moment of an ancient Greek tragedy. Within the scene's frozen motion, Hippolytos's dramatic yet rigid pose typifies the Neoclassical style. Nevertheless the artist emphasized his technical skill by contrasting the varied soft textures of the frothy clouds of sea spray, the horses' swirling manes and tails, and the leopard skin tied around Hippolytos's waist.

Hippolytos's stepmother Phaidra fell in love with him, but he rejected her affections. In revenge, she left a note accusing him of defiling her, and committed suicide. His enraged father Theseus banished Hippolytos and begged the gods to destroy him. As a result, the sight of a sea monster frightened the horses pulling Hippolytos in his chariot. Hippolytos lost control, and the horses dragged the hero to his death. Carle Vernet exhibited this drawing and its pendant, The Return from the Race, at the Salon of 1800, where they received wide acclaim. So popular were the scenes that another artist then produced engravings after them, which were exhibited at the Salon of 1808. The two drawings were auctioned in 1817, and did not reappear on the market until in the early 1990s.

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