VIEW BY GALLERY :
This exhibition, drawn from the collection of one of France’s oldest public museums, comprises a selection of 84 paintings by 55 French artists. The collection was originally acquired and gifted to the people of Montpellier by the artist François-Xavier Fabre, with additional gifts from art collectors Antoine Valedau and Alfred Bruyas among others. Through these works, visitors can trace the development of more than three hundred years of French painting, from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries.
Interchanges between Paris and Rome after 1600
The first gallery displays paintings from the seventeenth century. During this time artists placed an enormous importance on studying from antiquity and the art of the Italian Renaissance. Many artists left France to study the rich variety of painting styles available in Rome, then the artistic centre of Europe. Simon Vouet’s colourful, lively and dynamic paintings are influenced by the Italian Baroque, and contrast with Nicolas Poussin’s investigation of order and clarity, reflecting the artist’s interest in works by Raphael and Titian.
History and Genre: The Eighteenth Century
In the second gallery artists’ interests in exploring the human condition are revealed in the second room, where several paintings explore issues of morality, piety, loyalty and education. This was the time of the Enlightenment and the years leading up to the French Revolution of 1789, when such sentiments were held in great regard. Works by Jacques-Louis David, the main exponent of Neo-Classical painting and a supporter of Napoleon, can be seen in this room.
The Artist and the Studio
Paintings by François-Xavier Fabre, the artist and collector after whom the Musée Fabre is named, are displayed alongside his contemporaries. Fabre’s painting of the dying St Sebastian, created the same year as the French Revolution, shows the artist’s interest in the classical style of Italian painting, and his indebtedness to his teacher, David.
Nineteenth-Century Romanticism and Landscape
In the early nineteenth century, landscape painting evolved as a serious subject, challenging the dominance of portraiture and history painting. This coincided with an increased interest in travel to exotic locations such as North Africa and Spain, scientific voyages of discovery around the world, and the expansion of the French empire. Artists such as Eugène Delacroix and Eugène Fromentin travelled to foreign locales. Theodore Rousseau and Camille Corot, pursued a different path, escaping from the city to the rustic arcadia of the French countryside. Their landscape paintings were executed en plein air (out of doors) and may be seen as anticipating Impressionism.
New Academic Painting and the Salon
Paintings in the fifth gallery were created during a time of political and social upheaval in France, yet this is not obviously apparent in the works themselves. Alexandre Cabanel created sumptuous paintings that incorporated the careful finish of academic art with the dramatic colour and composition of romanticism.
Origins of Impressionism
The final gallery shows the emergence of Realism and Impressionism during the nineteenth century. Gustave Courbet, a key figure of the realist style, famously depicted people in everyday settings in his paintings. Many of his paintings were seen as politically provocative for attacking the prevailing artistic norms, and therefore represented a challenge to society. Alfred Bruyas, the central figure in Good Day, Monsieur Courbet, thought Courbet’s paintings marked the beginning of an independent, modern form of art. The exhibition finishes with paintings by Edgar Degas and Berthe Morisot, two quintessential Impressionists, who helped define this new modernism.