Wellcome Library gains rare Delonnes portrait

  • 19 May 2011

The Art Fund has helped acquire a rare portrait of French surgeon Ange-Bernard Imbert-Delonnes (1747-1818) by Pierre Chasselat for the Wellcome Library...

The Art Fund has helped acquire a rare portrait of French surgeon Ange-Bernard Imbert-Delonnes (1747-1818) by Pierre Chasselat for the Wellcome Library...

The portrait drawing of the French surgeon Imbert-Delonnes speaks of gory surgical conquests and family intrigue. The minutely detailed interior includes a gruesome souvenir of Imbert Delonnes's proudest achievement: a gigantic testicular tumour which, in a controversial operation, Imbert-Delonnes removed from Charles-François Delacroix, the French foreign minister. It weighed some 28 pounds!

The portrait shows the sitter in a lordly pose at the dawn of the Empire period. However, the drawing suggests a dark underside to Imbert-Delonne; in his professional life he was a fearless and forceful surgeon who made his name in the French Army serving under Napoleon. 

The tumour also has its own subplot. Its unwilling owner Charles-François Delacroix was nominally the father of the painter Eugène Delacroix – though almost certainly not his biological father, owing to this very tumour. Eugène Delacroix's biological father was reputed to be Charles-François Delacroix's successor as French foreign minister, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, to whom Eugène bore a strong physical resemblance.

The portrait itself, and the identity of the man portrayed, were discovered by the firm of Didier Aaron, from whom the drawing has been purchased by the Wellcome Library with the aid of grants from the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Art Fund.

See further images and information on Pierre Chasselat 's Ange-Bernard Imbert-Delonnes

Read Maev Kennedy's story on the acquisition in The Guardian