Three angels at Abraham’s table
Aiming to demonstrate his virtuosity, Noël Hallé painted his vision of this episode in the biblical patriarch’s life for the 1763 Salon. A work of true bravery, this painting bears witness in a new, softer way.
Noël Hallé (Paris 1711–1781), Abraham et les trois anges (Abraham and the Three Angels), oil on canvas, signed and dated on the jar “HALLE/1762”, 243 x 259.2 cm.
A key episode of the Old Testament, the story of Abraham and the three angels has often been depicted by artists, from the mosaics of Monreale, Sicily, to Marc Chagall. The painter Noël Hallé also gave his version, imbued with the 18th century’s elegant vivacity while scrupulously complying with the text of Genesis 18:1–33. In the guise of three young men, the celestial creatures introduce themselves to Abraham. As is customary, the patriarch washes their feet with a jug and a bowl in the foreground. After being invited to share a meal under a tree, the angels tell him that his barren, 80-year-old wife Sarah will soon give birth to a son, who was to be called Isaac. One of the best interpreters of the rococo style in painting, Hallé inscribed the narrative in a clever pyramidal composition, animating his characters with theatrical gestures specific to the sensibility of the time. However, the work marks a step on the artist’s journey, which seemed to be getting more relaxed and shifting towards more balance. The palette is part of a new serenity. “The setting sun,” says Hallé specialist Nicole Willk-Brocard, “illuminates the faces, sky and clouds with shades of pink and grey. The colouring is soft and harmonious.” The fact that this spectacular work (243 x 259.2 cm) was painted for the 1763 Salon (as number 18), where the neoclassical aesthetics of some paintings had already won over some viewers, is not unrelated to the softer shapes and colours. Critics unanimously praised Hallé; only the most famous among them, Denis Diderot, hated it. “You bore me, Mr Hallé, you bore me!” he wrote. Despite this negligible opposition, Hallé was successful at the height of his career, and received royal commissions, such as the luminous Race between Hippomenes and Atalanta (1765), now at the Louvre.