GROS, Antoine-Jean, baron
Hercules and Diomedes
Gros’ last work, exhibited at the Salon in 1835, Hercules and Diomedes aims to reinstate David’s orthodox neoclassicism, faced with the dangerous novelties of Romanticism. Gros follows the advice of his ageing master who writes to him from exile, telling him to no longer waste time on futile subjects, pompous paintings, embroidered clothes, boots…
Critics however disapprove this reversal and read it as a formal denial of Gros’ entire career which had until then been clearly pre-Romantic with his lively style, unctuous touch and rich colours.
Two larger than life figures act out here the eighth labour of Hercules. Diomedes, king of the Bistones, a Thracian people, fed any strangers he came across to his horses. Hercules, seen face on, his head at a three quarter profile, seizes this monster on his chariot, which he pushes over and breaks, and feeds him to the starving horses, thus punishing him for his cruelty.
In despair following this resounding failure, abandoned by his pupils and prey to serious health problems, Gros took his own life.