Nicholas Chevalier

Buddha's renunciation

  • Artist
    Nicholas Chevalier
  • Born
  • Died
  • Title
    Buddha's renunciation
  • Date of Production
  • Medium
    oil on canvas
  • Dimensions
    152.2 x 214.5 cm
  • Credit Details
    Gift of the Honourable W.L. Russell Clarke, 1923

Born in St Petersburg in 1828 Nicholas Chevalier studied art at Lausanne, Munich and Italy and worked as a lithographer in London before arriving in Australia in 1854. Painted some 15 years after Chevalier returned permanently to England, Buddha's Renunciation  was produced at a time when there was not only a fashionable interest in the East but also a resurgence in the painting of large scale history paintings.

In this painting Chevalier portrays a young prince and his wife against the magnificent gossamer like cloths and veils, rich fabrics, carpets, leopard skin pelt, decorated sandalwood, brass and enamel of the East, but the effect is one that conveys oriental opulence without being historically accurate. The prince is Gautama Siddhartha (c.563-c.483), who achieved self enlightenment only after abandoning all earthly ambitions and leaving his beautiful wife and the luxuriousness of the court to live the life of an ascetic.

The painting was commissioned in about 1882 by Sir William Clarke BT, one of Australia's wealthiest landowners and businessmen. After Chevalier completed it in 1884, it was exhibited publicly in both Melbourne and Sydney, after which time it is likely that it hung at Clarke's country estate, Rupertswood at Sunbury.

Together with Solomon J Solomon's Ajax and Cassandra, it was a featured works in a Diamond Jubilee exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1897. It was donated to the Gallery by a member of the Clarke family after the sale of Rupertswood in 1922.