CORMON, Fernand
(b. 1845, Paris, d. 1924, Paris)


Oil on canvas, 400 x 700 cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

This painting illustrates the miserable destiny of Cain, the elder son of Adam and Eve, who after the murder of his younger brother Abel was condemned to perpetual wandering. A haggard Cain is doggedly leading his tribe. On the wooden stretcher carried by his sons sits a bewildered woman with her dazed children. Chunks of bleeding meat are hung on the stretcher. Other men, the hunters, are trudging alongside. One is carrying a young woman in his arms and stray dogs bring up the rear. Fear of Jehovah's sentence is written on every face. The artist insisted on anatomical accuracy and had live models pose in his studio for each figure.

As well as a Biblical story and a grandiloquent epic, the work is an anthropological reconstruction. It introduces a new field - prehistory - at a time when Palaeolithic rock paintings were just being discovered.