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Alfred Edward Chalon
1780–1860

An opera singer

Full screen

Medium
Watercolour on paper
Size
16 ½ × 12 ¼ inches · 420 × 310 mm
Notes
Painted 1820s
Collections
  • Edward Croft-Murray (1907-1980);
  • By descent to 2016.

This impressive depiction of a prima donna taking her curtain call was made by the Swiss born portraitist Alfred Edward Chalon during the 1820s and almost certainly represents one of the leading opera singers of the period. Exquisitely painted in Chalon’s refined manner and taken from an unusual view-point - Chalon must have been seated in the front row of the stalls as the footlights frame the bottom of the composition – this portrait is unusual amongst Chalon’s portraits of performers as it seems never to have been reproduced as a lithograph.

Alfred Edward Chalon, the son of a watchmaker Jean Chalon, was born at Geneva into a Huguenot family. As a result of the turmoil caused there by the French Revolution, the Chalon family emigrated to England and settled in London, and both Alfred and his older brother, the landscape and genre painter John James Chalon trained as artists at the Royal Academy Schools. Alfred first exhibited there in 1810, was elected an ARA two years later and RA in 1816. Throughout the 1820s Chalon produced a number of portraits of famous performers, particularly opera singers. Chalon’s portrait of Giuditta Pasta in the role of Queen Semiramide from Rossini’s opera of the same name was painted in 1828. Chalon exhibited a portrait of another singer in a Rossini opera at the Royal Academy in 1823: Madame Ronzi de Begnis in the character of Fatima in the opera of ‘Pietro l’Ermita’, now in the National Portrait Gallery, London. In 1829 Chalon exhibited at the Royal Academy a portrait of the great German operatic soprano, Henriette Sontag, Countess Rossi. Along with these exhibition works, Chalon produced a number of more informal caricatures of famous singers, including Maria Dickons and Angelica Catalani.

Catalani is a possible candidate for the present portrait; her strong, dark features are certainly consistent with existing likenesses of Catalani. Frustratingly this is one of the very few theatrical portraits by Chalon which he did not have reproduced as a lithograph by Richard James Lane. Despite the anonymity of the sitter, the portrait is one of the most dramatic and impressive of Chalon’s theatrical subjects underlining the celebrity of operatic sopranos in London during the 1820s.