Jules-Elie Delaunay

Jules-Elie Delaunay's career as a painter was a brilliant one: leaving Nantes for Paris, he ultimately became one of the most famous artists of his time.

A skilled technician, unrivalled draughtsman and sensitive colourist, Delaunay gradually made a name for himself in all the major fields: portrait, landscape and history painting.

His legacy, mainly to be found in the Nantes Museum of Fine Arts, is a substantial one, including 2673 drawings he bequeathed to the Museum and other left to it by his heirs in 1892 and 1897.

Oil on canvas
64,5 x 24,5 cm
Chauvelon Donation, 1899
Inv. 923

Son of a wax chandler, Delaunay showed an early aptitude for drawing, but his father opposed a career in art: in his opinion painting could not bring in a living.

Delaunay was a day pupil at the Externat des Enfants Nantais, an elite establishment where he met local painting celebrity Joachim Sotta. Sufficiently sure of Delaunay's talent to take him under his wing, Sotta taught him for a year, and during a trip to Paris in 1846 introduced him to Hippolyte Flandrin, a famous painter and Ingres'favorite student. Flandrin tutored him and on 7 April 1848 Delaunay enrolled in his atelier at the Ecole des Beaux-arts in Paris.

It was, however, not until 1856 that he succeeded in winning the Rome Prize. Once in Italy he studied the art of antiquity, together with Raphael and the masters of the Quattrocento.

In his own work he specialised in portraits and history painting and began to show successfully at the Salon in Paris.
Returning from Rome in 1861, he was offered numerous commissions for decorative work in Paris and elsewhere, most notably Charles Garnier's new Opera House and the Pantheon, where he worked with his friend Puvis de Chavannes.

Self-portrait as St Luke
Graphite on paper
30, 7 x 20,3 cm
Delaunay Estate Bequest, 1897
Inv. 5706

A friend of Gustave Moreau, member of the Institut de France, teacher at the Beaux-Arts in Paris and officer of the Legion of Honour, Delaunay, like Paul Baudry, also turned out to be a gifted official artist, displaying a subtle touch both as a portraitist and a history painter in the classical tradition of Ingres and such Seicento Italians as the Carracci and Pietro da Cortona.

In the course of his career he achieved recognition in Nantes, Rome and Paris, and spent time with the most respected artists of his period, many of whom he had first met in Rome: Edgar Degas, Henri Chapu, Jean-Jacques Henner, Gustave Bourgerel, Alexandre Falguière, Paul Dubois and most of all his lifelong friend Gustave Moreau, who was also the executor of his will.

Dying young in 1891, he left an oeuvre that was at once sensitive, demanding and erudite.

Self-portrait with a Cap
c. 1855
Oil on canvas
35 x 27 cm
Bonnat Donation, 1912


12 June: Born in Nantes of Jules-Elie Delaunay, son of Elie-Vincent Delaunay (wax chandler) and Arsène Leroy.

1838 1842

Jules-Elie is a day pupil at the Externat des Enfants Nantais. He shows a marked ability for drawing.


Enters the atelier of locally famed artist Joachim Sotta.
During a visit to Paris in 1846, Sotta introduces him to the painter Hippolyte Flandrin.


Death of his father.


Fails to win the Prix de Rome.


Second place in the Prix de Rome:
(Christ Drives the Money-Changers from the Temple, Nantes, Private Coll.).


Fails to win the Prix de Rome.


Second place in the Prix de Rome:
(Caesar and His Fortune, Nantes, Museum of Fine Arts).


Second place in the Prix de Rome:
(Return of the Young Tobias, Paris, ENSBA).


January: Arrives in Rome for a residency at the French Academy.
Summer, autumn: travels in northern Italy – Orvieto, Siena, Bologna, Venice, etc.


Submits his first "envoi": The Flute Lesson (Nantes, MOFN).


Second "envoi" from Rome:

  • The Death of the Nymph Hesperia (Copenhagen, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek)
  • The Dove and the Ant
  • Self-Portrait with a Black Cap (Nantes, Museum of Fine Arts)


In late December Delaunay officially leaves the French Academy in Rome.


Fifth "envoi" from Rome:

  • The Oath of Brutus (Tours, Museum of Fine Arts).
  • Plague in Rome (sketch, Brest, Municipal Museum).

September: Returns to France.


Travels to London.


Commissioned to decorate the foyer of the Paris Opera:( Immortality; Parnassus ; Orpheus and Eurydice ; Amphion Building Cities).


Completes the decoration of the Chapel of the Virgin in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Paris (Diane de Poitiers presenting Philibert Delorme to Henri II). Second class medal at the Salon. Knight of the Legion of Honour.


Plague in Rome(Salon n°684, Paris.


Returns to Nantes and spends time at Blanche-Couronne Abbey, which belongs to the painter Auguste Toulmouche.The Death of Nessus (Salon n°777).
Death of the artist's mother.


Commissioned to paint twelve allegorical works in the Conseil d’Etat meeting room. He will finish them in 1876.


Completes his commission at the Paris Opera. David Triumphant (salon n°569 bis).


Sappho; The Anguish of Ixion; Portrait of Jehan-Lois Tanguy - all these works are in the Nantes Museum.


Jacques Bizet as a Child . Officer of the Legion of Honour.


29 November: Elected to the French Academy of Fine Arts.


A painting for the tomb of Monsignor Fournier in the church of Saint Nicolas in Nantes.


Travels to Switzerland, Jersey, Normandy.
Teaches evening classes at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.


Plans works for a ceiling in the new City Hall in Paris.
Travels in Italy.


Portrait of Général Mellinet (Nantes, Museum of Fine Arts).


Commissioned to paint the ceiling of the Appeal Court's Grand Chamber.
Portrait of Monsieur Mestayer (Nantes, Museum of Fine Arts).


Atelier director at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
Grand Prize at the Universal Exhibition in Paris.


5 September :Death of the artist. Gustave Moreau is the executor of his will, together with Louis Viau and Paul Bellay.