To appreciate the effect of the Revolution on Art in France, it is necessary to consider the condition of artists in the eighteenth century.
The Academy of Painting and Sculpture, founded in 1648 in the interests of liberty for Art, had become a close body, exercising a tyranny even greater than that of the ancient Corporation of St. Luke (see chapter viii.). No artists who did not belong to the Academy either as ” agréés ” or members, were allowed to exhibit their works in public. Even the Academicians displayed the most singular aversion to the public. One of their members, Serres, was actually expelled from their ranks for having independently exhibited his picture, ” La Peste de Marseille,” for money. With one brief exception during the year, all other artists were condemned to obscurity until they could obtain entrance into the magic circle. In the eighteenth century, outside artists had obtained permission to hold what was called the ” Exposition de la Jeunesse” in the Place Dauphine, on the day of the Fête Dieu. But this was only open for two hours. And the luckless young artist who missed this chance had no other till the next year.
The Salons however, held under the auspices of the Academy, filled exclusively with the works of its members, were becoming important annual institutions. It was the right thing to visit them if you wished to be in the fashion. Ah ! ah ! ” the ” true, interesting, curious ” and remarkable conversation between Marie Jeanne
la bouquetière and Jérôme le Passeur,” a pamphlet published in 1787, gives us some idea of this. It begins :
Marie.Ah! ah ! là ous donc qu’vous m’menez ?
C’est pas t’ici qu’j'avons affaire.
Jérôme.N’ayez pas peur, mamzell’, venez ;
Vous l’savez, je n’cherch’ qu’à vous plaire .. . on n’s'rait pas du bon ton,
Si l’on n’avait pas vu l’Salon.
But though from Marie Jeanne and Jérôme to Diderot, all were beginning to play the critic, artists lacked the one thing needfulLiberty to exercise their Art.
It was this Liberty which the Revolution of 1789 gave them.
At the last Salon held under the Ancien Régime in 1789, only 350 pictures were exhibited. On the 21st August, 1791, the National Assembly decreed that an Exhibition open to all artists, French and foreign alike, should be held in the Louvre. In this 794 pictures were shown. In 1793the year of the Terrorthe numbers had increased to more than 1000. In 1795 to 3048.
When we think of all the duties that pressed upon the leaders of the Revolution in building up a new State, as well as pulling down an old onewith finances exhausted, that had to replenishedwith the enemy at the gates, and armies to be created for the defence of the Patrieit is almost unbelievable that the Convention found time to create public instruction, to organize Art, to initiate public museums, to give orders to artists. It has been said, and truly, that the Revolution always found the right man for each part of its great work. Carnot to ” organize Victory “. Cambon for finance. Lakanal and Daunou to create the vast system of public instruction which, with constant additions and amendments, has remained the basis of the French system of public instruction of to-day. For Art its choice was no less fortunate. For in Louis David, then thirty-one years old, it found a man of genius admirably qualified for the task he undertook.
On the 23rd Brumaire, An II. (1793), the Convention, upon David’s report, formed a National Jury of Fine Arts, consisting of fifty members and ten substitutes. By a decree of the 6th Floréal in the same year, the Convention invited all artists to reproduce on canvas or in marble the most glorious events of the Revolution, to be judged by this jury. And the prizes and rewards distributed amounted to 442,000 livres. The French Academy in Rome was not forgotten. On David’s advice the Convention raised the allowance of the pensionnaires to 2400 francs a year. Finally, to the Revolution is due the great work of the organization of public museums. And more especially the opening and agrandissement of that priceless treasure house the Museum of the Louvre.
It is true that Galleries of works of Art had existed in the Louvre and elsewhere under the Ancien Régime. But they were the property of the King, and only decorated Royal palaces. In 1750 an attempt had been made to popularize some of these treasures. One hundred and ten pictures from the Royal collections had been placed in the Luxembourg ; and the public was admitted twice a week to see them. This step was taken on the representations of Lafon de Saint-Yonne, who complained that these chefs d’oeuvres were buried in little rooms at Versailles, where no one could see them. And he demanded that they should be collected in the Louvre. But this was all.
On the 27th July, 1793, Segrais proposed and the Convention decreed, that a museum should be opened in the Louvre. And that besides the works of art which formed the ” Cabinet du Roi,” some of those treasures which the suppression of the monasteries and confiscation of the property of the émigrés placed at the disposal of Government, should be collected there. A sum of 100,000 livres was voted for the further purchase of works of art. On the 8th November, 1793, the ” Muséum Central des Arts” was opened in the Louvre ; and all artists were allowed to work there for five days in the week. The Convention regarded the Louvre from the first as a depôt for art treasures, whose immense riches would allow the creation of a number of Provincial Museums. Already, in 1791, a sum of 100,000 livresthe origin of the existing ” Caisse des Musées “had been granted for the purchase at private sales, of pictures and statues ” which it is important that the Republic should ” not allow to go to foreign countries “. These were to be deposited in the Louvre. This grant was supplemented by Barrère, who in a most interesting State paper of September, 1791, proposes that a grant shall be made to enable the Minister of the Interior to remove pictures, statues, vases, precious furniture and marbles, from ” all the ci-devant ” royal houses, chateaux, gardens, parks of emigrés and ” other national monuments,” to be placed in the Louvre ; with the one exception of thé ” objects in the Palace of ” Versailles, its gardens, and the two Trianons, which are to ” be preserved as they are by a special decree “.
The victories of the armies of the Republic soon began to augment the collections in the Muséum Central des Arts. The works of art, taken by the victorious armies from foreign nations, were transported to Paris by order of the Convention. The first consignment came from Flanders on August 31, 1794. Bonaparte added the spoils of Italy in 1796. But this was more than some of the French artists, who owed so much to Italy, could tolerate. They had been accustomed to regard Italy as a Shrine of Arta place of pilgrimage. And it seemed to them positively sacrilegious to tear these glorious works from the collections they had adorned for centuries. Fiftyamong whom were Girodet, Lethière, Denon, Perrier, Soufflot, Pajouprotested vehemently against these ” emprunts forcés “. An equal number protested against the protest. Among the latter were Isabey, Gérard, Carle Vernet, Chardet, Regnault, and Redouté. In 1798 a further development was instituted. Hertault de Lamer-611e reminded the ” Conseil des Cinq-cent ” of the initial doctrine of the Convention with regard to Art. And demanded in the name of the Commissions of Public Instruction, that schools of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, attached to museums which already existed at Caen, Le Mans, Toulouse, etc., etc., should be founded in the provinces.
In speaking of the effects of the Revolution on Art, it is usual to treat the revolutionists as a set of mere Vandalsignorant savages who took delight in destroying everything they could lay hands onmonuments, libraries, archives, and all things precious and beautiful. It has been necessary more than once in these pages to record the total or partial destruction of buildings of priceless interest, and all that they containedsuch as the Chateaux of Madrid, Gaillon, Anet, Écouen, the Abbey of St. Denis, etc., etc. That wanton, wicked, brutal excesses were committed, no one would deny. But these excesses took place during a very short periodthat which witnessed the impious presence of the Goddess of Reason on the altars of French Cathedrals. They were the work of the ignorant and savage mob, drunk with the sight of blood, with the lust for power. They were not directed or countenanced by the leaders of the Revolution. Far from it. For in the special domain of Art, we find the Revolution from the very first showing an undeniable solicitude not only for contemporary Art but for the monuments of the pasta solicitude which the Ancien Régime had not always displayed. ” La ” culture des Arts chez un peuple, agrandit son commerce et ” ses moyens, épure ses moeurs, le rend plus doux et plus “docile à suivre les lois qui le gouvernent.” With these words good Alexandre Lenoir begins his book. And they are a very good exposition of the ideas which inspired the Convention in its dealings with Art.
As early as 1790 the Constituant Assembly appointed a ” Commission des Monuments,” whose duty was to draw up an inventory of all buildings and works of art, which, by the confiscation of ecclesiastical property, were declared to belong to the ” chose publique “. The Commission was also to watch over the depôts in which these treasures were rapidly accumulating. The buildings allotted for these depôts were the Convent of the Petits Augustins, for sculpture and painting, of which I shall speak farther on. The Convents of the. Capucins, Grands-Jésuits, and Cordeliers, for books, manuscripts, etc. Under the Convention in 1793 a temporary Commission des Arts replaced the Commission des Monuments. It was divided into twelve sections. It numbered the most eminent men of the time in its ranks. It filled the interregnum after the abolition of the old Royal Academies. And was, in reality, the origin of the Institut de France, which replaced it in 1795. Matthieu, in the report upon which this Commission was instituted, used these remarkable words : ” It is the duty of the Convention to do today for Arts, for Sciences, and for the ” progress of Philosophy what Arts, Science, and Philo-” sophy have already done to bring about the reign of Liberty”. At the same time the Convention, moved by the terrible and disgraceful excesses which were being committed in the name of Liberty, took the most severe measures against plunderers of Archives or Libraries. And on the 4th June, 1793, condemned any one who should injure artistic monuments which were national property to two years in irons.
To these two Commissions are due a most important institution in the history of Artthe Musée des Monuments Français.
On the 4th January, 1791, Alexandre Lenoir, an artist, was commissioned to collect the fragments of Architecture and Sculpture contained in the Churches and Convents which it was desirable to preserve. The Convent of the Petits Augustins, in the rue St. Honoré, was, as I have said, set aside for these collections. And the public was admitted to see them on September 1, 1795. A better man than the excellent Lenoir could not have been found for such a task. He worshipped the national Art of France. He considered that French Sculpture had been too long neglected, and that it was desirable to place it once more in a position of honour.
It is impossible to exaggerate the debt the world owes to the good Lenoir. And it is a matter of surprise that in a country where statues spring up so readily to commemorate those who have distinguished themselves in Art, in Letters, in Science, and in Politics, no memorial has been erected of the man who rescued some of the most superb works of Art that modern Europe has produced, from utter destruction. To Lenoir we owe the tombs of Louis XII., François I., Henri II., which he found among the ruins of St. Denis. ” O douleur ” he cries, ” ces chefs d’oeuvres de l’Art avaient déjà éprouvé ” la fureur des barbares. C’était en 1793.” To him we owe the Diane Chasseresse of Goujean, broken to pieces for the sake of the leaden pipes of the fountain. The glorious Birague of Germain Pilon he covered with whitewash, and persuaded the vandals it was made of plaster and not of bronze, and therefore was no use for cannons. For the Urn of Bontemps he gave a load of wood, and thus preserved one of the most exquisite works of the Renaissance. He collected painted glass to show the progress of that art. And a series of 500 busts, statues, and bas reliefs ; together with such architectural treasures as the Façade of Anet, and parts of Chateau Gaillon, including some of its beautiful woodwork.
Lenoir’s idea was to present a view of the historic, chronologie progression of French Sculpture. Beginning with the Goths, he carried his work down to his own time and the ” style antique restauré dans nos contrées par les leçons ” publiques de J. M. Vien “. He arranged four halls, endeavouring to give to each the exact appearance of the century it was to represent, and a ” Sepulchral Chamber for the ” Mausoleum of François I.” And besides restorations of parts of Anet and Gaillon, he planted a ” Jardin Élysée ” round his museum, and placed in it the tombs of Descartes, La Fontaine, Boileau, Molière, Montfaucon, and a ” majestic ” ogival chapel covering the ashes of Héloïse and Abelard “. Some of his restorations have caused considerable difficulties in these latter days of more exact knowledge. The excellent man seems to have patched together anything that would make a good monument. For instance, the de Commines monument was placed on the top of St. George and the Dragon from Gaillon. Charles d’Orléans’ statue from the Célestins, was mixed up with a bas relief from St. Jacquesla-Boucherie, set in Renaissance arabesques from a third place. And so forth. But these are anachronisms for which we readily grant absolution when we remember the inestimable benefits Lenoir has conferred on Art. His museum was suppressed at the Restoration. Its chief treasures found their way to the Louvre or the Beaux Arts ; while the great monuments of St. Denis were in time restored to their own place. But his idea of an historic record of French Sculpture has been magnificently revived in the modern Museum of Comparative Sculpture and Architecture of the Trocadéro.
Lenoir’s museum, however, though short lived, was not without influence upon the first generation of the century. Michelet says of it : ” Que d’âmes ont pris dans ce musée ” l’étincelle historique, l’intérêt des grands souvenirs, le ” vague désir de remonter les âges ! Je me rappelle l’émtion, toujours la même et toujours vive, qui me faisait ” battre le coeur quand, tout petit, j’entrais sous ces voûtes ” sombres et contemplais ces visages pâles, quand j’allais et ” cherchais, ardent, curieux, craintif, de salle en salle, et ” d’âge en âge.Je cherchais, quoi ?je ne saisLa vie ” d’alors sans doute et le génie des temps.”
But there is one point on which it is hard to forgive the Convention. In those Royal residences which it was decided to spare, the internal decoration appeared a manifestation of useless and ridiculous luxury to the men of the Re-volution. While they showed themselves eager to preserve -the buildings and the pictures and statues they contained from ruin, they were equally ready to sacrifice furniture, hangings, woodworkin a word, the results of the admirable and incessant efforts of three centuries of French Decorative Art. Yet even here we find Matthieu making certain reservations. In December, 1793, he expresses his regret that there had not been enough members in the Commission of Arts whose training enabled them to judge of the value of all artistic productions. ” It is necessary,” he said, ” to collect ” with equal care and method everything that pertains to ” artistic production.” He therefore proposed that Hassenfratz, Dufourny de Villiers, and Fragonard, qualified by their special knowledge in matters of Decorative Art, should be included in the Commission. This was done. But it was too late to save much that was of immense value. The treasures of French Decorative Artfurniture, tapestries, and all the dainty ornaments of the reigns of Louis XV. and Louis XVI., were dispersed to the winds. And almost every great house in England, and in many other countries, testifies to the manner in which these precious objects flowed out of France. Much however remains. Owing to ceaseless endeavour during the present century, under Louis Philippe, the Second Empire, and the enlightened Art Direction of the Third Republic, Fontainebleau and the Louvre have recovered many of their lost treasures. While much at Versailles remains practically untouched.
To sum up the effects of the Revolution on Art, we may say that its benefits were fourfold. First of all it gave liberty to artistsliberty for the free exercise of their profession. It created the Museum of the Louvre, and public galleries of Art in the provinces, with schools of Art attached to them. By the hand of Lenoir it inaugurated a Museum of the History of French Architecture and Sculpturethe origin of the present invaluable ” Musée de Sculpture Comparée du Trocadéro “. Lastly the Commission des Monuments, and its successor, the Commission des Arts of the Convention, laid the foundations on which the admirable system of administration of Fine Arts m France to-day has been developeda system so perfectly organized, so public spirited, so wisely generous, as to serve for a model which other nations might copy with enormous advantage both to artists and the public at large.
SOME PAINTERS OF THE REVOLUTION
LEBRUN, Madame ELIZABETH LOUISE VIGÉE (b. Paris, 1755 ; d. Paris, 1842).-The amiable ” Peintre du roi,” though she lived late into the nineteenth century, belongs so completely to the epoch of revolution that she must be mentioned here. Her father, a portrait painter, died when she was twelve years old. Briard, a second rate artist, gave her a few lessons. She also received help and counsel from Doyen, Greuze, and Joseph Vernet. She made rapid progress ; and at fifteen painted portraits with success and talent. While still very young she married Lebrun, a picture dealer doing an immense business ; and found herself in the midst of fine pictures, which she studied with good results. She was admitted to the Academy on May 31, 1783 ; her reception picture being La Paix ramenant l’Abondance,” a tiresome and artificial composition now in the Louvre (521)very inferior to her portraits.
But by this time Mme. Vigée Lebrun was already the favourite Court painter. And her portraits of Marie Antoinette and her children will always be indissolubly associated with her name, for they are the most popular and best known of the Queen’s portraits. Several of the most important of these are at Versailles, portraying Marie Antoinette in the fulness of her beauty and charm. The, earliest of the series (3892) was painted in 1779. Roger engraved it after the Restoration, and it was attributed to Roslin. It is, however, the picture of which the artist speaks in her Souvenirsthe Queen ” avec un grand panier, vêtue ” d’une robe de satin et tenant une rose à la main “. The second is the well-known portrait of the Queen tying up a bouquet of flowers (3893). The great picture of Marie Antoinette and her three children (4520) was painted in 1787.. It is that one which, taken for a moment from its frame in the Salon of that year, was maliciously called “Madame Déficit,” in allusion to the Queen’s growing unpopularity in connection with the embarrassed financial position. And in 1789 it was removed from the State rooms, as the Queen could not pass the portrait of the Dauphin she had lost without tears. The last of the series is dated 1788a full length of the Queen sitting by a table, in a white dress, and blue toque and mantle. ” One would like to believe that in ” this pretty picture one saw a truthful workif one did not ” know that the merits of the Queen’s favourite artist were ” of quite another order. These works lack documentary ” sincerity : they attenuate unpleasing detailsthe round full ” eyes, the Austrian lipbut they know how to set off the ” special charm of a beauty at once incomplete and sovereign “the proud look, the elegant carriage, the dazzling freshness of complexion.” Two other pictures at Versailles which possess much of the same charm and interest, are those of the elder Dauphin and Madame Royale in 1784, sitting on a grassy slope and holding a bird’s nest (3907). And that of the Duchesse d’Orléans; in a white dress, leaning against a red cushion.
Alarmed at the events which preceded the Revolution, Mme. Vigée Lebrun left France for Italy in 1789. Here her success was as great as in her own country. She spent much time in Rome and Naples ; visited Milan and Venice ; and spent three years in Vienna. In 1795 she went to Prague. Then via Dresden and Berlin she reached St. Petersburg ; and only returned to France in 1801. Later on she visited England, where she stayed for three years ; and then crossed to Holland. In 1808 and 1809 she went to Switzerland, and returned to France, never to leave it again. Wherever she went she was received as a personnage of great talent and distinction. Honours were heaped on her. She was a member of the Academies of Rome, Parma, Bologna, St. Petersburg, Berlin, Geneva, Rouen, Avignon. Her diligence was great. According to a note in her own hand she painted 662 portraits, 15 pictures, 200 landscapes, some in Switzerland and some in England, and many pastels.
Examples in Louvre :
La Paix ramenant l’Abondance. 520.
Mme. Vigée Lebrun peinte par elle même. 521.
Hubert Robert. 524.
Claude Joseph Vernet. 525.
Marie Antoinette, 1779. 3892.
Marie Antoinette faisant un bouquet. 3893.
Marie Antoinette and her three children, 1787. 4520.
Marie Antoinette, 1788. Chambre A Coucher. 2097.
Madame Royale and the Dauphin, 1784. 3907.
Duchesse d’Orléans, two repliques. 3912, 4525.
Grétry, 1785. 4556.
Caroline Bonaparte, Queen of Naples, and her daughter Marie-Letitia-Josèphe, 1807. 4712. One of Mme. Vigée Lebrun’s last works.
Marie Caroline, Queen of Naples.
Marie Louise Joséphine, Queen of Etruria.
M. de Calonne, Windsor Castle.
Portrait of a lady, M. Pierpont Morgan.
Marie Antoinette and her children (small replique, 8 inches by 6, of 4520 at Versailles), Lord Pirbright.
Two charming portraits, Madrid Gallery.
ROBERT, HUBERT (b. Paris, 1733 ; d. 1808).Hubert Robert also belongs to the last days of the Monarchy and the full tide of the Revolution. Destined for the priesthood, it was through the intervention of Slodtz that he was allowed to turn painter and go to Rome. Here M. de Marigny heard him so highly praised by the young artists who returned to France, that after seeing one of his pictures he made him a pensionnaire in the Academy of Rome. In 1759, when the Abbé de Saint-Non came to Rome, it will be remembered 1 that Hubert Robert and Fragonard accompanied him on his journey through Italy and Sicily. He remained for twelve years in Italy, drawing and painting every monument of interest. His ardour for work and reckless daring exposed him at times to considerable dangers. He climbed the walls of the Coliseum. He made an excursion on the cornice of St. Peter’s. He narrowly escaped death in the Catacombs ; and this last adventure inspired Delille’s fourth song in his poem ” l’Imagination “.
In 1766 on his return to France, he was received into the Academy as an architectural painter. Catherine II. twice invited him to come and settle in Russiain 1782-91. But in spite of magnificent offers he refused, and sent her pictures which were royally paid. Keeper of the King’s pictures, Conseiller de l’Académie, Hubert Robert’s life up to the Revolution was a series of successes. He was among other things designer of the Royal Gardens ; and to him are due the alterations and replanting of the gardens at Versailles. Of these works Robert has left some deeply interesting records in his two pictures in the Palace (774 and 775). The first shows the entrance to the Tapis-Vert, groups of workmen and promenaders, the Colonnade on the left, and Pujet’s Milo of Crotona still on its pedestal. The second shows the transformation of the present bosquet des Bains d’Apollon. The trees of the old bosquet are being hewn downone of the groups of the Horses of the Sun has already been broughtdelightful people in long laced coats and three cornered hats are standing aboutand the great mass of the palace looms up behind white statues.
During the Revolution, Hubert Robert not only lost all his appointments, but he was imprisoned for sixteen months. During his captivity his almost superhuman energy and his love of art never failed him. At first colours and canvases were refused him. Nothing daunted, he contrived to get colours brought in to him in the handles of earthenware pipkins. And with these he painted the coarse plates destined for his food. Later on these rules were relaxed ; and he painted fifty-three pictures and made a host of drawings, which he gave to his companions in misfortune. Among these was the portrait which the poet Boucher sent to his wife on the eve of his death. ” And alone, tranquil ” in the midst of terrible events, when at night by the gleam ” of torches the prisoners were moved in open carts from ” Ste. Pélagie to St Lazare, his only thought was to draw the ” fearful scene, of which he produced a remarkable picture.” 1 It was by a mere chance that he escaped death. Some unhappy prisoner of the same name was executed in his place.
All the most distinguished persons of the later eighteenth century were among his friendsVisconti, Greuze, Joseph Vernet, Mme. Vigée Lebrun, Grétry, Delille, Le Kain, and Voltaire, for whom he painted the decorations of his Theatre at Ferny. His atelier was at the Louvre. But he lived at Auteuil, in Boileau’s country house. Painting to his last hour, he was struck down by an attack of apoplexy with his brush actually in his hand.
Among his nineteen pictures in the Louvre the best are the
Maison Carreé à Nîmes. 768.
A very charming small landscape beside it.
Ruines d’un Temple. 808.
Paysage, a waterfall through arch of bridge. 809.
Le Tapis-Vert, 1775. 774.
Les Bains d’Apollon. 775.
Id.Dessin lavé à la plume. 5038.
Fête de la Fédération au Champ de Mars, 1790. 4603.
Two pictures, Fitzwilliam Mus. Camb. 451, 452.
Three pictures, Castle Barnard. 75, 76, 337.
Six pictures, Musée de Rouen. 501-506.
VIEN, JOSEPH MARIE (b. Montpellier, 1716 ; d. Paris, 1809).A contemporary of Boucher, Greuze, and Fragonard, and, though their junior, of Nattier and Tocqué, Vien’s long life saw the end of the Monarchy, the whole of the Revolution, and the triumph of the Empire. He was the master of David. And claimedthough his prophesies generally were made after the eventto have inaugurated the Classic revival which David brought to perfection at the end of the century.
When in 1740 he arrived in Paris, he entered Natoire’s studio : painting pictures during the day for a dealer on the Pont Notre Dame, and attending the Academy classes in the evening. In 1742 he gained the Grand Prix de Rome. He went via Marseilles the next year to Rome ; and here he stayed five years, painting, besides studies and copies, a number of Church and easel picturesamong them his ” Ermite endormi ” of the Louvre. In 1750 he was back in Marseilles, working there, at Tarascon, Montpellier, and Lyons on his way to Paris.
In Paris his work at first was not appreciated. The careful study of nature in his pictures, was too far away from the powder and paint, the Heart and Dart style of the day. Natoire who shared the prejudices of the time on the questions of grace and style, thought his pupil in a bad way ; the pictures Vien presented at the Academy were considered insufficient, and his election was postponed. Not in the least discouraged, Vien refused a Professorship at the School of St. Luke, and sent in the ” Embarkation de Ste. Marthe ” to his judges. His success this time, in spite of the cabal against him, was complete. ” And Boucher ” declared if Vien was rejected he would never set foot again ” in the Academy.” Elected in 1751, he was received in 1754 ; and M. de Marigny gave him lodgings in the Louvre.
Soon overwhelmed with work, he founded a school of his own ; and among his prodigious number of pupils, Regnault and David were the most famous. The King of Denmark and the Empress of Russia made him dazzling offers. In 1771 Louis XV. made him director of the ” élèves protégés “. And in 1775 Louis XVI. appointed him Director of the Academy of Rome in succession to Natoire. This had hitherto been a life post. Vien was the first Director appointed for ten years. Vien, with his wife,’ family, and three pupils, one of whom was David, arrived in Rome in November ; a fortnight later a courier brought him the Cordon of St. Michel ; and Pius VI. gave him a distinguished reception.
Vien’s directorship was not unfruitful. He established a yearly exhibition for the students ; and on the instigation ,of M. d’Angivilliers ordered the sculptor pupils to execute figures from the antique, either in the round or in bas relief ; while he also was the first to introduce work from the living model for three whole days in the week. Vien called himself le Sectateur des Grecs,” he posed as a reformer, and considered himself the regenerator of Art ; and though he was much less of a painter than the charming ” petits maîtres,” his contemporaries, whose ideals he despised, and who his successors proscribed, it is right to remember that he did draw from nature.
Returning to Paris in 1781, he was made Rector of the Academy. And in 1789 he was appointed premier peintre du roi, and honorary member of the Academy of Architecture. But though the Revolution carried off his appointments and his fortune, nothing broke clown his courage, or his belief in his own mission. In 1796 he competed for a prize offered by the Government, and gained it. He was then eighty years old !
In 1799 Bonaparte made him member of the Senate, Count of the Empire, and Commandeur de la Légion d’Honneur. The 9th Brumaire, An IX., he was fêted as the ” regenerator of the French School “. David was at the head of the manifestation. A sort of throne in the studio was decorated with this inscription, ” A Vien, les arts reconnaissants “. David, at the end of the repast ” where ” gaiety and decency reigned,” raised his glass in a toast, ” Au Citoyen Vien, notre maître “. Another pupil cried,. “Vien fut le maître de David. David est notre maître : ” notre gloire est à David, la gloire de David est à Vien. ” Célèbre Vieillard ! . . . Le culte de l’antique était oublié “! etc., etc. And Vien replied: ” Oui, mes enfants, quand. ” j’embrassai cet art, je vis qu’il s’égarait dans de faux ” systèmes. Je dis : il faut que cela change, et cela sera. ” J’ai combattu, j’ai persévéré et cela a été.” The ” célèbre Vieillard ” was never troubled by false modesty.
The Louvre possesses his ” Ermite Endormi ” (965), a huge picture, all in browns, finely drawn, but deeply uninteresting. And his ” St. Germain, Evêque d’Auxerre ” (964). This is a fine ecclesiastical picture, far superior to the ” Ermite”. The Musée de Rouen has four of his, pictures (574-577).