DETAIL : Joseph-D�sir� COURT born Rouen 1797 � Paris 1865 Woman Lying on a Divan 1829 Painting Oil on canvas
Left Arrow Graphic Introduction

The 17th century: the invention of an official national style
This unique survey begins from the 17th century with a selection of works created under the reign of Louis XIII, a time when some of the most original accomplishments in the visual arts were achieved, among them works by Poussin and Jacques Stella. It continues with sublime works by Simon Vouet, Laurent de la Hyre and Sébastien Bourdon from the time of the sumptuous reign of Louis XIV, who was successful in establishing Royal Academies to consolidate and promote language, literature, music, arts and science and place them in the service of the Crown.

This exhibition reveals the century in all its rich diversity, from the moral rigour and harmony characteristic of Poussin to the stylish elegance and beauty of works by artists as diverse as Vouet, La Hyre and Bourdon. Through this synthesis of ‘languages’ and styles, the French sought to forge an official national style that could express unity and power, transcend and become a universal standard.

Vouet and Poussin are represented with exemplary works that document this universal French style. Allegory of Prudence, painted in his mature period c. 1645, is an interesting example of Vouet’s noble style combining a rhythmic gathering of figures and sublime palette of brilliant colour, conceived as a part of a large decorative cycle for Anne of Austria’s apartments in the Palais Royal in Paris. Poussin — represented with a wonderful Venus and Adonis painted after his arrival in Rome in 1624 — is the father of French painting, and the hero of some of the greatest painters who followed in his footsteps, from David and Ingres to Cézanne and Picasso. Sébastien Bourdon’s Lamentation for the Dead Christ gives a good idea of the protean output of this cosmopolitan painter from Montpellier who, after his training in Italy, rapidly established a reputation in Paris and later at the court of Queen Christina of Sweden in Stockholm.

The 18th century: an elegant and virtuous century
All paintings presented in the context of the exhibition reflect not only specific periods in French art over three centuries but also document the history of taste and collecting and, in particular, the development of the so-called minor genres such as portraiture, landscape, still life, the genre scene and its equivalent in 18th-century art, the fête galante. The 18th-century section of the exhibition reflects the evolution of painting to a decidedly playful and sensual art. The new artistic event of the century was the organisation of regular Salon exhibitions in Paris, which helped to create a general public and stimulate art criticism. The academic hierarchy of the genres accorded history painting first place but in practice the categories of pictures painted were less strictly classified.

Highlights include reception pieces for the Académie royale and the Salon such as the colourful Vertumna and Pomona by Jean Ranc and the brilliant Portrait of Madame Crozat by Jacques-André-Joseph Aved. Another rising star in French painting of this period was Jean-Baptiste Greuze. Greuze is without doubt the most important French painter of the 1750s whose work became extremely popular in the 19th century. Greuze became well known for his genre painting, in French peinture de mœurs or ‘morality’ painting and his development of a lofty and sentimental style.

The most famous painter of the French neoclassical period is Jacques-Louis David whose success was due to both his talent and opportunistic attitude, as an ancien régime painter, republican official and court artist to Napoléon, who was later forced to continue his career in exile in Brussels. The Portrait of Alphonse Leroy of c. 1783 represents a key work of Neoclassicism and illustrates that David was equipped not only to serve as a highly esteemed painter of history but as one of the greatest portraitists in French art.

Thanks to the donation of François-Xavier Fabre the Musée Fabre owns a unique set of nudes, portraits, landscapes and biblical subjects by this academic painter working between the styles of both Neoclassicism and Romanticism.

The 19th century: a rethinking of the formal language and subject matter of painting
The 19th century was a period in which a fundamental renewal of art took place with a comprehensive rethinking of the formal language and subject matter of painting. This period can be perceived as the beginning of what has come to be called modern art, and the outstanding works by Delacroix and Courbet in the exhibition illustrate this. Among the various paintings from Romanticism to early Impressionism are such works as the Portrait of Aspasia by Delacroix and African Woman with Peonies, one of the final paintings by the promising painter Bazille, a forerunner of the Impressionists who tragically died in 1870 in the Franco–Prussian war.

A splendid group of paintings donated in 1868 and 1876 by Alfred Bruyas marks the beginning of modern art in the Musée Fabre collection and includes highlights such as Courbet’s The Meeting or Good Day, Monsieur Courbet, which documents the close friendship between painter and patron, and various landscapes by Courbet and painters of the so-called Barbizon School, among them Camille Corot and Théodore Rousseau. The exhibition gathers further momentum with striking portraits and landscapes by the Impressionists Degas, Sisley, Berthe Morisot and Armand Guillaumin. Camille Corot is represented with a sublime landscape, Fishing with Nets, which the artist successfully presented at the Salon in Paris in 1847. Corot never abandoned the classical landscape style but subtly adapted it to create a highly personal and poetic imagery of remembering, the so-called souvenirs and rêveries of his later years.

In Eugène Delacroix’s art the romantic ideal of a correspondence between art forms (including literature and music) and cultures (European, African and American) becomes reality. The Portrait of Aspasia is an outstanding example of his art and superbly documents his interest in nature and human psychology. Although born a generation after Delacroix, Alexandre Cabanel’s art is more traditional than that of Delacroix, as becomes evident in his theatrical portrait of Phaedra as a swan-song to the grand historical tradition.

A masterpiece of the the 19th century and without doubt an icon of early modern art is Gustave Courbet’s painting The Meeting or Good Day, Monsieur Courbet of 1854. In this work the image of the three figures highlight the dramatic encounter of the painter and patron accompanied by his servant. Courbet meets his collector and benefactor Alfred Bruyas and his art becomes recognised. This historic moment also underlines the importance of self-promotion in Courbet’s work. After 1850 the interactions and relationships among the painters, collectors and art critics became increasingly important, anticipating the development of the art market during the 1860s and the origin of Impressionism.

Alfred Sisley’s Heron with Outstretched Wings demonstrates the emancipation from subject matter, and the conquest of space and colour. Frédéric Bazille’s The Rampart, Aigues-Mortes is a striking example of the new landscape style. Berthe Morisot liberated art from the dogmas of a purely descriptive function. Young Woman Sitting at a Window in Summer, painted in 1879, is indeed a poetic composition. These artists wanted to look at the world in a new way, to give an impression of reality, truth and spontaneity, and to have an impact on the public.

Jörg Zutter
Assistant Director, International Art
National Gallery of Australia

The scholars who have contributed to the catalogue include Michel Hilaire, Director of the Musée Fabre; Hilliard Goldfarb, Chief Curator of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; Jo Hedley, Chief Curator of the Wallace Collection, London; Christopher Riopelle, Curator of the National Gallery, London; Petra Ten-Doeschate Chu, Professor at the University of Seton Hall, South Orange; Jörg Zutter, Assistant Director International Art, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; and Pierre Rosenberg, Emeritus President and Director of the Musée du Louvre, Paris

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