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Jean-Baptiste Le Prince, The Necromancer

Key facts
Full title The Necromancer
Artist Jean-Baptiste Le Prince
Artist dates 1734 - 1781
Date made probably 1775
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 76.8 × 63.5 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Mrs Mary Venetia James from the Arthur James collection, 1948
Inventory number NG5848
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Necromancer
Jean-Baptiste Le Prince

An old man in an exotic costume is reading a young lady’s palm. She is accompanied by a young man in a turban who rests his hand on her shoulder. The objects that surround the old man tell us that he is a magician: an alembic (a still to make alcohol), an incense burner, several reference books and a magic wand. The young pair look as if they are entirely convinced by his words.

The title ‘The Necromancer’ is a translation of that given to the work, or a version of it, when it was exhibited at the 1775 Paris Salon. A necromancer is someone who evokes the spirits of the dead in order to predict the future. However, the elderly man here is practising chiromancy – the occult art of reading the future from the palm of the hand.

There are three known virtually identical versions of this picture. The version in the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg is probably the original.

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