Classical Award Ceremony

1752–1809Jean-Pierre Saint-OursSwiss, 1752–1809pen and black ink, red, grey, and brown washes9 in. × 19 7/8 in. (22.86 cm. × 50.48 cm.)

Gift of Miss Susan Dwight Bliss


The Swiss painter Jean-Pierre Saint-Ours trained in Paris and Rome, where he studied both ancient ruins and sculpture, like the Laocöon and Apollo Belvedere, as well as the emerging movement of Neoclassicism in the later eighteenth century. Drawing on these influences, his career and major compositions would be largely devoted to recapturing the ancient past. This unidentified scene of a classical award ceremony is drawn in the manner of grand history paintings in its dimensions and densely populated drama. The inclusion of a biga, or two-horse chariot, may suggest that the scene depicts the crowning of the victor of a chariot race. 

While the drawing has not been connected to any of Saint-Ours’s finished paintings, it is compositionally related to several similar scenes by the artist that depict various presentation ceremonies, including paintings and drawings of Greek and Roman games. While Saint-Ours lacked the fame and clientele of his contemporary Jacques Louis-David, the leading Neoclassicist painter of the generation, he perhaps even exceeded David in his reverence for the ancient past. Aside from his portraiture, which often embedded subtle allusions to the ancient world, Saint-Ours’s paintings and drawings drew almost exclusively from ancient myth and history. 

—Sean P. Burrus

Susan Dwight Bliss

Sole heir to wealthy financier George T. (1816–1901) and Jeanette Dwight Bliss (1852–1924), Susan Dwight Bliss was a New York collector and philanthropist. She inherited a sizeable collection of ancient Mediterranean and historic European art from her parents, prominent collectors of the Gilded Age, and continued to collect rare books, manuscripts, and historic art and artifacts herself.