In May of 1962, Atlanta Art Association along with High Museum board members, patrons, artists, collectors and other community leaders, embarked on a 25 day tour of the cultural centers of Europe. On June 3, the Boeing 707 Air France Jet crashed on take-off at Orly Field, Paris, for their return flight to Atlanta. Of the 122 passengers who died, 106 were Atlantans.
In February of 1963, after the terrible crash and the devastating loss, the French government sent two important paintings from the Louvre Museum to Atlanta, James McNeill Whistler’s Study in Grey and Black (also known as Whistler’s Mother) and Georges de la Tour’s Mary Magdalene with a Night Light. Now, fifty years later the Louvre Museum has sent another treasure to Atlanta to remember the victims of this terrible tragedy, Jean Pierre Franque’s Allegory of the State of France before the Return from Egypt.
Franque’s painting refers to a controversial moment in Napoleonic history. The Allegory shows a female figure to the left reaching out beseechingly to a French officer seated on the right. Behind her, warriors rush forward creating a sense of chaos. A pyramid in the background serves as a reference to Napoleon’s greatest victory of the Egyptian Campaign. Painted at the height of Napoleon’s power, this painting may represent an attempt to reconcile with the veterans and critics of the Egyptian Campaign by showing them as saviors of France.