Thomas Couture and decadence

Thomas Couture and decadence

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Title: Supper at the Maison d'or.

Author : COUTURE Thomas (1815 - 1879)

Creation date : 1855

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 130 - Width 161

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: National Museum of the Château de Compiègne website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais (area of ​​Compiègne) / Daniel Arnaudetsite web

Picture reference: 98-017537 / C.53.033

Supper at the Maison d'or.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais (area of ​​Compiègne) / Daniel Arnaudet

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

Allegory, a great pictorial tradition

Trained in the studio of Antoine-Jean Gros and that of Paul Delaroche, Thomas Couture quickly revealed himself to be a particularly gifted artist in the great tradition of historical painting. If after many attempts he only obtained the second Prix de Rome in 1837, he fully revealed his talent in 1847 with the grandiose composition The Romans of Decadence. Thanks to this canvas, he enjoyed great success and gained notoriety.

He then opened his own workshop where French and foreign artists were trained, who were among the best of their generation, such as Pierre Puvis de Chavannes or Édouard Manet. Between academism, romanticism and realism, Thomas Couture perfectly masters the art and technique of drawing and painting, and delivers his know-how in a book entitled Method and workshop interviews, published in 1867.

It is in one of the most famous culinary institutions of the XIXe century, located on the Grands Boulevards, the nerve center of Paris, that Thomas Couture places his painting dated 1855, Dinner at La Maison d´Or.

Image Analysis

Denounce the vice

Thomas Couture sets his scene in one of the salons of the famous restaurant The House of Gold. We see four characters in an atmosphere of the end of the day, from which it emanates a scent of intoxication and orgy. They are disguised as characters from the commedia dell’arte, having very probably previously been to dance at the Opera Ball, an evening during the carnival period when disguise allowed all daring.

In this cozy living room with paneling, candles and mirrors, we notice in a pyramidal composition a Harlequin sprawled between the armchair and the table, a friend and student of Thomas Couture, the artist Anselm Fenerbach, seated on the floor in red clothes, and the painter himself, disguised as Pierrot, radiating light, perched high up like a judge observing with a sorry air this overwhelming spectacle. Finally, the woman in hair lying on the ground, whose legs crisscross trivially with those of Fenerbach, would be the famous courtesan Alice Ozy, one of the most glorious cocottes of the Second Empire, born in reality Julie-Justine Pilloy and muse of painters Théodore Chassériau and Gustave Doré. In this atmosphere of the day after a party, where the flame of the candles flickers, we can see the empty bottles on the table, a cup and a half-peeled orange on the floor, all suggesting a night of lust.

The House of Gold, which was also called The Golden House because of its balconies with gold ironwork, was located opposite the English coffee. These were must-see establishments in Parisian nightlife, located near the Stock Exchange and popular with all of Paris, businessmen, bankers, journalists and authors. The House of Gold was the home base for all revelers of the time; one could meet there among others the Duke of Gramont-Caderousse and Khalil Bey, this Turkish diplomat who commissioned Gustave Courbet for the famous painting The origin of the world. We went there most often for lunch or for supper after the night at the show, which brought the revelers very late into the night.


Lupanar restaurants

AT The House of Gold like at English coffee, one could have fun in large, extremely lively rooms or meet in small intimate rooms, which made these places particularly attractive. However, these restaurants had the particularity of being decorated with small private rooms conducive to romantic encounters, furtive dates, away from prying eyes. Courtesans and other high-ranking prostitutes were pillars of these restaurants-lupanars, which ostensibly offered the possibility of sharing clandestine loves.

Thomas Couture, a cultivated artist, steeped in visual references, uses the resources of academic painting and the allegorical register to express his feeling and his bitterness about the society in which he lives. As The Romans of Decadence denounced the decline and corruption of the July Monarchy regime, this work stigmatizes the courtesans, supreme incarnations of the imperial festival, and the climate of debauchery, emblematic according to him of the Second Empire regime. Haunted by the theme of decadence, Thomas Couture, Jacobin and Republican, throughout his career criticized the manners of his time, as shown in one of his works dating from 1873, The courtesan's chariot, where we can see a young woman with bare breasts whipping a team of four men of various ages and costumes, a "bitch" attached to her car, to her luxury and to her lovers of all kinds, of after comments from the artist himself.

  • courtesan
  • city
  • women
  • prostitution
  • allegory
  • rome price
  • decadence
  • Puvis de Chavannes (Pierre)


BAKKER Nienke, PLUDERMACHER Isolde, ROBERT Marie, THOMSON Richard, Splendors and miseries: images of prostitution (1850-1910), cat. exp. (Paris, 2015-2016; Amsterdam, 2016), Paris, Flammarion / Musée d´Orsay, 2015.

BRIAIS Bernard, Great courtesans of the Second Empire, Paris, Tallandier, 1981.

LA BIGNE Yolaine de, with the coll. of LA BIGNE Bertrand of, Valtesse de La Bigne or the power of pleasure, Paris, Perrin, 1999.

To cite this article

Catherine AUTHIER, "Thomas Couture and decadence"

Video: Les Romains de la Décadence #1 Quand lhistoire sort du cadre