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Jacques-Laurent Agasse

Jour de marché: l'étalon noir, 1818
oil on canvas
58.3 x 61.4 cm
In Jour de marché : l’étalon noir (Market Day: the Black Stallion), Jacques-Laurent Agasse returns to a number of elements found in an oil painting done in a larger format (71 x 91.5 cm). Entitled The Country Fair, jour de marché (Musée d’art et d’histoire, Geneva), this initial version was painted and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1817, and depicts a market view that brings together different characters in little picturesque scenes. The strong point of the composition, however, is a magnificent black stallion painted with extreme precision. Agasse comes back to this essential element in the 1818 version.

By this time the Geneva-born painter has already lived and worked in England for nearly twenty years. He reinterprets the same subject but in a tighter frame whilst modifying certain details of the setting, both in the architecture and amongst the figures. Unlike the first version, the 1818 painting reduces the area reserved for the sky, and the viewer’s eye can no longer wander off towards the horizon, which is blocked by dense foliage. Now the majestic black stallion commands our complete attention. The animal’s dark coat stands out from the lighter areas and testifies yet again to Agasse’s talent for depicting animals.

The canvas also breaks down into a much more subdued range of ochre tones than what one sees in the earlier years of the painter’s output. As if in counterpoint to the harmonious arrangement, a black dog lying on the right balances these relationships of form and colour. On the lower left the painting bears the monogram of the initials JLA, as is often the case. The picture was given by the artist to General Henri Dufour in Geneva in 1848, probably in recognition of the officer’s humanity, which he had recently shown during Switzerland’s Sonderbund War.
Jacques-Laurent Agasse, Jour de marché: l'étalon noir, 1818