Paul Marie Lenoir (French, 1843-1881), Cambyses at Pelusium – King Cambyse at the Siege of Peluse, signed and dated lower right: Paul Lenoir MDCCCLXXII , oil on canvas, 28” x 36”, exhibited at Paris Salon 1873
Cambyses at Pelusium – King Cambyse at the Siege of Peluse
Cambyses, King of Persia, devised an ingenious ploy to destroy the Egyptian inhabitants of Pelusium. He ordered his military to collect all the cats, a sacred and respected animal in ancient Egypt, and catapult them over the walls of the Egyptian fortress. As the felines fell from the sky, the inhabitants ran into the line of battle, risking their own lives to save their revered cats. This exciting and odd historical tale is beautifully told in Lenoir’s animated painting. Lenoir was a student and friend of the renowned Orientalist, Jean Leon Gérôme ‐ both favorites at the Paris Salon throughout the nineteenth century. Cambyses at Pelusium was exhibited at the 1873 Paris Salon.
SOTHEBY’s CATALOGUE NOTE
As this work reminds us, Odysseus with his Trojan horse was not unique in using an unconventional strategem to gain entrance into an otherwise impenetrable city. Cambyses, the king of the Persians, devised an ingenious ploy in the battle of Pelusium to vanquish the stubborn resistance of his enemy, the Egyptians. He ordered his military to collect all the cats belonging to Pelusium’s inhabitants, a sacred animal according to their religion, and, in a final assault, to catapult the cats over the walls of their fortress city. The inhabitants were then left with an unenviable choice: return to the safety of their village and see their sacred animals desecrated, or risk their own lives by running into the line of battle to save their cats.
Lenoir was both a student and a favorite Eastern traveling companion of Jean-Léon Gérôme, as evidenced by their collaborative 1872 book, Le Fayoum, Le Sinai, et Petra, written by Lenoir and illustrated by Gérôme. Lenoir exhibited at the Salon from 1870 to 1880. He died at the young age of thirty eight while in Cairo in 1881. As such the skill and technique of the present work is particularly impressive and a testament to the artist’s promise.