The French painter Louis Dupré (1789-1837) was born in Versailles and died in Paris. Little is known about his family or his childhood. Dupré had a powerful patron, Count Clément de Ris, thanks to whom he was able to study in the School of the renowned painter Jacques-Louis David, an apprenticeship that had a decisive impact on his personality as well as his art. In 1811, Cardinal Joseph Fesch, Bishop of Lyon, connoisseur and statesman, sent Dupré to Kassel, where he was named court painter to the king of Westphalia, Jérôme Bonaparte, who also facilitated Dupré’s journey to Rome to study, in 1813.
In Italy, Dupré travelled, studied and drew antiquities, in particular vases, while developing his skills in landscape and portrait painting. He became acquainted with artists such as the sculptor David d’Angers, the painter J.A.D. Ingres, the composer J. Rossini and the architect C.R. Cockerell. He met three British art lovers, Heyet, Hay and Viwian, who suggested that he accompany them on their journey to Greece, in February 1819.
This journey, which lasted until April 1820, completely met Dupré’s expectations. He saw the ideal world of ancient Greece reveal itself before his eyes, the scope of his subjects became broader and his art was animated by a fresh "élan". The party of four travelled to Corfu, Epirus, Thessaly, Central Greece, Attica, and the Saronic islands. Dupré himself continued on to Constantinople and Bucharest, invited by Michael Soutsos (1784-1864), great dragoman of the Sublime Porte and prince of Moldavia.
Polite, sociable, energetic, forthright, courageous and honest, with his love of freedom and homeland, Dupré immediately became well-liked by the Greeks. In 1825, after his return home, he published his travel album with forty lithographs in colour, etched by the best lithographers in France. From 1827 onwards he exhibited his Greek-themed paintings in the yearly Paris "Salon". Another album, in small format with twelve lithographs, circulated after his death.
Man, nature, religious sentiment, the reminiscence of antiquity and the charm of the East are Dupré’s favourite subjects. However, the journey to Greece was a landmark in the evolution of his thematic repertoire. Although nature has the power to give new wings to memory and imagination, Dupré gave priority to portraits and costumes. He depicts human types with precision, devoid of passion, exempt of exoticism, he makes an appraisal of countenance, posture and dress, while each detail refers the viewer to the whole and vice versa. In all of Dupré’s works there is a clarity of subject, while the ethos of the representation is enhanced in a balanced composition. His fluid, flexible lines achieve a harmonious union of drawing and colour. He succeeds in highlighting the cultural differences between East and West.
Written by Ioli Vingopoulou