Peter Saul

Sardanapalus, 2005

Acrylic on canvas
198 × 218,4 cm

‘Sardanapalus’, 2005 by Peter Saul is an appropriation and reinterpretation of a plot from ‘The Death of Sardanapalus’, 1827 by the French painter Eugène Delacroix.

The legend says that the Assyrian king Sardanapalus was the last of the line of 30 kings of Assyria. He surpassed all his predecessors in his dissolute living, which led to the fall of the whole empire. Failing to quell the rebellions, Sardanapalus resolves to end his life and consign to fire all his servants and the royal treasures.

Delacroix’s painting was first exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1827–28 and immediately provoked a strong public resonance. It was criticized for artist’s use of perspective and for the chaos that prevailed in the foreground.

Some critics called it a “bad painting” and a symbol of “fanatical arrogance.” The work would later be recognized as one of the major innovations for figurative painting, to become a permanent exhibit in the Louvre collection.

In his work, Dalacroix succeeded to simultaneously shock and captivate the viewer. Peter Saul expanded this idea to its limits, turning the “bad painting” into the quintessence of his iconic style. In Saul’s work, the distorted perspective dramatically transforms the anatomy, the acidic, psychedelic colors and the chaotic composition create a vibrant drama and an incessant dialogue with the viewer.

As one of Saul’s iconic works, ‘Sardanapalus’ painting was included to the artist’s major retrospective at the New Museum, New York in 2020. Marking the artist’s first New York museum survey, this exhibition brought together over sixty selected works from his distinguished career.

‘Peter Saul: Recent Paintings’. David Nolan Gallery, New York. October 19-November 22, 2006
PETER SAUL: SHEER TERROR’. Nolan Judin, Berlin. March 11-April 23, 2010
‘Peter Saul: Crime and Punishment’, New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York. curated by Massimiliano Gioni and Gary Carrion- Murayari, February 11, 2020-January 3, 2021.

‘Peter Saul: Recent Paintings’. David Nolan Gallery, 2006. Pp. 18-19
‘Peter Saul: Crime and Punishment’. New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art; New York: Phaidon, 2020. Pp. 174-175.

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Peter Saul