Jules Joseph Lefebvre (1836-1911) was French Romantic artist and educator. He won prestigious awards and was a member of the French Academie des Beaux-Arts. His nudes were so famous in his time that his only rival was considered to be Bouguereau. But like most of the contemporaries of Bouguereau, he is hardly remembered today. Lefebvre was sympathetic teacher who taught more than 1500 pupils. Among his famous students were Fernand Khnopff, Kenyon Cox, and Felix Vallotton.
In Greek mythology Pandora, the ‘all-gifted’, was the first woman on Earth. She was fashioned from clay by Vulcan and was endowed with various gifts from the gods. She was sent to Earth by Jupiter and was presented to Prometheus’ brother Epimetheus. When she opened her box, all the evils which have since beset mankind flew out. Pandora quickly closed the box but all that remained inside was Hope. The Golden Age came to an end. This was Jupiter’s punishment to the human race for the theft of fire by Prometheus.
Lefebvre’s Pandora walks from the fiery forge of Vulcan, presenting the fateful box to humanity.
It seems that Lefebvre was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites in his choices in subjects and models. Ophelia was a character from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, she was a popular subject among the English painters. Lefebvre’s Ophelia walks into a pool of water lilies to drown herself. She appears to be lost in thought.
Lefebvre’s technical skill is most evident in his striking portrait Vittoria Colonna. The context of the painting is puzzling, since Colonna was an Italian 16th century noblewoman and poet.
Maidens with long red hair were common subject of the Pre-Raphaelites, so if didn’t know better I would assume this was the work of an English artist. Lefebvre did a number of paintings of girls who resemble the model for Vittoria Colonna, it is uncertain if the same model inspired the other paintings.