Théodore Chassériau (1819-1856)


Sunday, September 20, marked the birth of painter Théodore Chassériau, who was born in El Limón, Samaná, in present-day Dominican Republic, in 1819. His mother, María Magdalena Couret de la Blagniére—daughter of a successful French landowner born in Saint-Domingue—was also born in Samaná; his father Bénoit Chassériau was a French diplomat and businessman who had come to the island with General Leclerc’s failed expedition to try to recapture Saint Domingue for France.

Fleeing subsequent battles on the island, in 1810, the family moved to Curaçao. They later moved from place to place, living in Venezuela; St. Thomas (now part of the U.S. Virgin Islands); Cartagena, Colombia; and Kingston, Jamaica. From there, the family moved to France in 1820. (The senior Chassériau returned to live in the Caribbean, serving as a diplomat in Martinique, Colombia, St. Thomas, and Puerto Rico, where he died in 1844.)

At age 12, Théodore Chassériau began studying with Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres in Paris and was later influenced by Eugène Delacroix. By age 16, he had set up his own studio. In Paris, he frequented salient figures such as Victor Hugo, Alphonse Lamartine, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Théophile Gautier, who remained a close friend for many years.

He was quite successful in France and today, his works can be found at the Louvre Museum (which holds a huge collection of his paintings and drawings), the Orsay Museum, and the Versailles Museum, as well as in numerous museums around the world.

On October 8, 1856, Chassériau died suddenly in his home on Flechier-Saint Georges Street (Paris), at the age of 37.


José Marcano writes that one of Chassériau’s most original traits—according to his friend, writer Théophile Gautier— is his deep, instinctive understanding of exotic types (as seen in his Orientalist canvases). His travels to Northern Africa confirmed this natural tendency. In “Théodore Chassériau: ‘El Romántico Desconocido,’”Marcano underlines that Chassériau’s power and sensibility in portraying ‘the exotic’ came from his own home, where “one could find every gradation of skin tone: the father, white; the mother, a Creole from Santo Domingo; and the sisters, moderately mestizo.”

[Above: portrait of the artist and portrait of his sisters, Adèle and Aline Chassériau.]

Biographical data taken from,, and

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