Louis Bernier
The Black Wall, Pompeii

Reconstruction of the decoration on the House of Saturninus or the House of the Black Wall in Pompeii
Louis Bernier (1845-1919)
Reconstruction of the decoration on the House of Saturninus or the House of the Black Wall in Pompeii
Circa 1878
Pencil, pen and ink, ink wash, gouache and watercolour
H. 70; W. 50 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Restitution du décor de la maison dite de Saturninus ou de la paroi noire à Pompéi [Reconstruction of the decoration on the House of Saturninus or the House of the Black Wall in Pompeii]


After winning the Grand Prix de Rome in 1872, Louis Bernier, like his predecessors, took an interest in the discoveries at Pompeii. In 1833, a series of excavations had revealed the House of Bronzes, so called because of the numerous bronze objects found in situ. The building comprised rooms decorated with murals dating from 120 BC to the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. According to an inscription found on one of the walls, the villa belonged to a merchant called Saturninus.

When it was discovered, the long room at the far end of the villa was decorated with a painting composed of three registers that included architectural and ornamental motifs on a black background, earning it the nickname of the house of "the black wall". This captivated many artists and architects, like Charles Garnier, who reproduced it in the summer of 1851, and Edmond Guillaume, who did a study of it in 1866.
From the predominantly abstract decoration, Bernier chose to reproduce only the central part. We can see a very light structure, composed of delicate, superimposed small columns that create a partially open, concave shape similar to an exhedra (a room for conversation, usually semi-circular).
Exhibited at the 1878 Salon, this design was shown alongside another representation of the "black wall" by Ferdinand Dutert, one of Bernier's friends at the Villa Medici.




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