Elie-Honoré Montagny (1782-1864)

Delphine Burlot (translation Chris Miller and Elli Doulkaridou)

Elie Honoré Montagny was born on June 7, 1782 in the parish of Saint-Eustache. He was the son of Fleury Montagny, a reputed engraver from Saint-Etienne who probably encouraged him to enter David's studio at an early age in August 1794. In December 1794 he entered the École des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts) where he studied until October 1801. Frequenting David’s atelier/workshop and the École des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts) familiarized the young painter with the art of copying after the antique.

Between 1801 and 1802 Montagny made copies of ancient statues that had recently arrived at the National Museum in Paris. Thanks to these first works, he caught the attention of museum director Ennio Quirino Visconti, at the time looking for draftsmen capable of producing copies of antiquities for his forthcoming book, L’iconographie Antique. Montagny, who had failed to obtain the Prix de Rome in 1803, seizes the opportunity to go to Italy and in 1804 he is welcomed in Rome by Suvée, the director of the Villa Medici. He gets down to work immediately and executes a copy of Cicero kept at Velletri in the Borgia collection. In order to pursue his mission, Montagny had to travel to Naples and Sicily and with the support of Suvée, he obtains the necessary funds for his journey.

Montagny left for Naples in March 1804 with a list of portraits of illustrious men to copy. He quickly sent a dozen of drawings, but his work was slowed due to a lack of original models. The King of Naples had fled to Sicily, taking with him part of his collection, including some works that were on the list compiled by Visconti. Suvée therefore asked Montagny to go to Palermo. The artist would return to Rome only two years later, in September 1805. While in Rome he works as a draftsman. Well-integrated into the milieu of Roman artists, and attending the Villa Medici all the while, Montagny was soon commissioned by the Queen of Naples, Caroline Murat, to execute a painting destined to adorn her palace. She appointed him official court painter and the artist went to Naples in 1811 so as to paint an inside view of the royal palace (Museo Mario Praz, Rome).

This period corresponds to the peak of his career because political circumstances became unfavorable to the artist. He returned to Paris in 1815, where he opened a studio and worked from the material he had gathered in Rome, aspiring to participate in the salon and thus find again the brief success he had once encountered.

Between 1815 and 1845 Montagny seems to have painted more works than during the Italian sojourn of his youth. But the subjects he chose, very academic and of a static style, as well as the loaned attitudes of his figures modeled after Roman statues, no longer appealed to the public and the expected success never came. The artist had to seek other means of survival and he most probably found them in teaching.

From the 1840s on, Montagny faced great financial difficulties and could no longer afford the rent of his studio. He was forced to ask for help from the royal museums and the small amounts he received allowed him to survive until his admission at the hospital of Bicêtre in 1858, where he died in July 1864.


Académie des beaux-arts, registre des élèves inscrits

Grunchec 1989, n° 29

Rosazza Ferraris 2008, n° 360, p. 152.