French Painting – Sixteenth, Seventeenth, And Eighteenth Centuries

Characteristics. — The earliest French painting shows Italian influence. It was used on tapestries and garments, on glass, furniture, and walls, and in illuminations. From the ninth to the thirteenth century Byzantine characteristics prevailed ; after this artists began to endeavor to follow nature, still nothing worthy of the name of a revival of art appeared until the fifteenth century.

Each century following this seems to have been marked by a distinctive advance. The sixteenth century fostered what may be called two schools of painting, one of which followed Flemish methods, while the other was strongly influenced by the work of Italian artists imported by Francis I. The latter outranked the former and was most influential in shaping French art.

The seventeenth century witnessed a striking development. In it the French Academy of Painting was founded, and many important art collections were begun. Italian influence predominated.

In the eighteenth century, under the influence of the court of Louis XV, French art became more original, and for the first time assumed a distinctive character. The sentiment of Italian painting gave way to a brilliant rendering of life — French life. The decorative quality appeared.

In the nineteenth century giants have been born to the French School. First, classic art (imitation of Greek) prevailed, then romantic,1 and, lastly, nature became its mistress and has brought it to the magnificent position it holds to-day — that of first importance in the world of painting.

René of Anjou (1408-1480), one of the first French painters whose attested works are in existence to-day, was titular King of Naples. His painting shows a strong Italian influence, which was gained while he was living in Italy, seeking to substantiate his claims to this throne. He founded an art school in Provence, where he held court as Count of Provence and Anjou. His works show a tender treatment of sacred subjects that reminds one of Fra Angelico. Their execution is most careful and betrays an acquaintance with Flemish methods.

These may be seen at Villeneuve near Avignon, at the Cluny Museum in Paris, and at Aix.

The most important picture of his school is now in the Cathedral of Aix. It is an altar-piece in three parts (a tryptich); the central picture represents Moses at the Burning Bush ; René kneels at the left and his wife at the right ; above are many charming cherubs.

Jean Fouquet (1415-1480), Jean Péreal ( 1528 ?), battle painter, and Jean Bourdichon (1457-1521), portrait painter, were all court painters. Jean Fouquet is the most important of the three. His Italian travels gave his pictures Italian motives, sentiment, and beauty and grace of composition. Their execution is Flemish. They are painted in oils after the Van Eyck method.

Most important works :

” Saviour of the World.” National Gallery, London.

“Virgin and Child.” Museum, Antwerp.

The Clouets (there were four of them) are important names in early French painting. They were of Flemish origin. The most noted are Jean (1485 ? -1541 ?) and François (1510–1572), who were court painters to Francis I, and who have left very interesting portraits, which are marked by excessive finish and a careful imitation of nature, after the Flemish method. Those painted by François have been often attributed to Holbein (German painter).

Most important works :

Two portraits of Francis I of France by Jean Clouet are in existence ; one in Uffizi Gallery, Florence ; the other at Versailles ; also a portrait of Henry II of France in Pitti Gallery, Florence.

Many of François Clouet’s portraits are in Hampton Court Palace, England. Sixteen portraits in the Louvre, Paris, are attributed to the ” school of Clouet.”

Jean Cousin (1501—1589?) is the earliest historical painter of this school. His work shows Italian influence exclusively. He possessed a thorough knowledge of anatomy, and his portrayal of muscular strength has caused him to be called the French Michael Angelo.

Representative works :

” The Last Judgment.” Louvre, Paris.

Eva, Prima Pandora.” Jean Cousin’s House, Sens.

“Descent from the Cross.” Mayence.

Martin Fréminet (1567–1619), pupil of Jean Cousin, studied for several years in Italy. Though not a pupil of Caravaggio, his dark shadows have caused him to be ranked among that artist’s followers. He was an admirer of Michael Angelo, and caught some of the grand style of that great master. His most important work is the decoration of the ceiling of the chapel at Fontainebleau.

Simon Vouet (1590-1649) was influenced by Venetian painting, especially that of Paul Veronese. But his coloring, compared with that of the Venetians, is crude and inharmonious. He established a school of art in Paris which gained much note, and which proved to be the origin of the French Academy.

He is greater by reason of his eminent pupils than by his own painting.

Representative works :

“Presentation in the Temple,” ” Reunion of Artists.” Louvre, Paris.

“Travels of St. Peter and St. Paul,” “St. Peter Delivered by the Angel.” Notre Dame, Paris.

Nicholas Poussin (1593—1665) is distinguished as historical, mythological, and landscape painter, and occupies a very high place in the history of French painting by reason of his influence, though he spent the greater part of his life in Rome. He was a worthy contemporary of the best that Italian art in this century produced, and is often ranked with Italian artists of the Decadence.

He was especially fond of mythological subjects, to which he always gave an able rendering. His interpretations of the Italian landscape are among the best in the world of art. His work possesses a heroic quality that is especially fitted to represent the grandeur of the Italian mountains and the luxuriant vegetation of the country. He gave comparatively little attention to atmospheric effect or color, but depicted superb masses of foliage, massive groups of antique architecture, and twilight skies heavy with clouds.

His figures are well drawn and modelled, but err in being too sculpturesque.

The surface of many of his pictures has suffered badly by the action of light and air.

Most important works :

” Theseus.” Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

” Manna in Desert,” ” Eleazar and Rebecca,” ” Et in Arcadia ego” (I, too, lived in Arcadia), ” The Seasons.” Louvre, Paris.

“Venus surprised by a Satyr,” ” Bacchanalian Dance.” National Gallery, London.

“Seven Sacraments.” Belvoir Castle, England.

Gaspar Poussin (Gaspar Dughet, 1613-1675), landscape painter, was a brother-in-law of Nicholas Poussin, and took the name of his famous relative, to whom his style of work and success were doubtless due in a great measure. He painted much more in detail than Nicholas Poussin, and gave more attention to atmospheric effects. He was in the habit of painting on very dark grounds, which gives a gloomy, melancholy effect to his pictures. They may be seen in almost all European galleries.

Claude Lorraine (Claude Gillée, 1600-1682), born in Lorraine, has won a lasting reputation as landscape painter. His chief excellence is the management of aerial perspective and light. Mr. Ruskin says that he “effected a revolution in art by simply setting the sun in the heavens. Till his time no one had thought of painting the sun except conventionally. He made the sun his subject, painted the effects of misty shadows, etc as no one had ever done before, and, in some respects, as no one has ever done in oil color since.”

He followed the conventionality of classic landscape like Nicholas Poussin, refining upon the study of absolute nature.

His work was a constant incentive to the great English landscapist Turner, one of whose last requests was that one of his own works might be hung beside one of Claude Lorraine’s in the National Gallery, London.

Lorraine’s work may be found in all the principal art galleries of Europe.

Philip de Champaigne (1602–1674) was one of the first members of the French Royal Academy, and afterward became its director. In his works are seen a rich transparence of color and a charming feeling for nature, both of which are due to his early education in Flemish art. His portraits are marked by the expression of deep feeling and by a rendering of character that place him among the first portrait painters of his time. The persons who make up his religious pictures are usually portraits after the Flemish manner.

Representative works :

Portraits of Richelieu. National Gallery, London, and Louvre, Paris.

Portraits of Mansard and Perrault. “Last Supper” and ” Les Religieuses.” Louvre, Paris.

Following Philip de Champaigne, the most noted portrait painters of his century are Pierre Mignard (1610–1695), many of whose works are in the Louvre ; Nicholas de Largillière (1656-1746), also historical painter ; Hyacinthe Rigaud (1659–1743); and François de Troy (1645–1730).

Eustache Le Sueur (1617-1655), taught by Vouet and Nicholas Poussin, has been called the French Raphael because his paintings express a grace, simplicity, and sweetness that are like the work of that great master. He however possessed none of Raphael’s power of invention and strength of imagination. His subjects are religious ; he was especially familiar with the life and character of monks, having lived for a time in the monastery Chartreuse in Paris.

Most important works :

” Scenes in the Life of St. Bruno.” Twenty-two pictures painted in ” The Chartreuse,” now in the Louvre, Paris, where are about fifty pictures painted by Le Sueur, among which St. Paul preaching at Ephesus” is accounted his masterpiece.

Mythological scenes decorating the Hotel Lambert de Thorigny.

Charles Le Brun (1619–169o) is noted as historical painter. He was a pupil of Vouet, also of Nicholas Poussin, whom he followed to Rome. Returning to Paris, he was chosen first director of the French Academy, and carried out the desires of Louis XIV in the decorations at Versailles, which are a grand apotheosis of the victories of that king.

His work is theatrical and mannered ; is disagreeably monotonous, and is stronger in composition than in light and shade, drawing or technique.

Most important works :

Decorative paintings at Versailles.

Series of pictures, “The History of Alexander.” Louvre, Paris.

Sebastian Bourdon (1616–1671) and Jean Jouvenet (1644–1717) are among the most important of Le Brun’s followers, since they were strong enough to deviate somewhat from his mannered style. Both artists may be studied in the Louvre.

Antoine Watteau (1684–1721) was the most influential painter in that change of both spirit and method which entered into French art of the eighteenth century, and may be called the first distinctively French painter. His pictures record the manners of gay society of his time, and thus are simply works of the higher genre. Their subjects are mostly fêtes or frolics, peopled with beautiful women and their lovers, all dressed in bewitching costumes fashioned after the styles of the times.

He studied color from Rubens’ brilliant series of scenes in the life of Marie de Médicis, then in the Luxembourg, and these gay rosy hues are admirable in his holiday scenes. His technique is in advance of anything that had pre-ceded it.

His pictures have been largely reproduced by engraving.

Representative works :

” The Embarkation of Cythera,” called his masterpiece, is in the Louvre, where are several other characteristic pictures. Several are in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg ; Gallery, Dresden ; and private collections in London.

” Lovers Surprised,” ” Concert Champêtre ” are in Buckingham Palace, London.

Nicholas Lancret (1690—1743), Jean Baptiste Pater (1695—1736) were Watteau’s best pupils and most successful followers. They never quite equalled their master.

Carle van Loo (1705—1765) and François Boucher (1703—1770) show the injurious influence of Watteau’s style of painting when practised by mediocre painters.

Devoid of purity of taste in conception and truth of rendering, full of affectations, their art grew out of and ministered to the debased taste of the century.

Their works may be seen in all important French art galleries.

François Lemoine (1688–1737) is noted for his decorative, historical work. During a visit to Italy he became fascinated by the gorgeous decorative paintings there seen, and on his return to Paris painted, among other works, an “Apotheosis of Hercules” for the ceiling of the Salon d’Hercule, Versailles. This contains one hundred and forty-two figures, and is considered one of the most magnificent decorative paintings in France.

Jean Baptiste Chardin (1699–1779) was a genre painter who chose domestic scenes for subjects. These he treated with rare simplicity and truth, and gave them great beauty by means of a skilful handling of light and exquisitely pure tones of color.

He is well represented in the Louvre, where, among several others, is Le Bénédicité,” his most famous picture.

Jean Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806), first a pupil of Chardin, afterward of Boucher, combined the work of the two. He chose the frivolous, meaningless subjects of Boucher and represented them with the charming realism of Chardin.

He was clever in color and technique, and some of his pictures are full of a suggestiveness that causes them to possess a certain fascination.

Representative works are in the Louvre, Paris.

Jean Baptiste Greuze (1725–1805) began his art life as a portrait painter ; afterward he devoted himself to a sentimental genre, in which pictures the heads (especially of age and youth) are extremely charming. He has been called the ” artist of the people ” because his subjects always appeal to common humanity. Many of his pictures contain only the figure of a young girl ; into these he usually introduced some cause for pensive feeling or regret. Many are simply heads. His technique is weak. Most of his works have been engraved.

They are highly prized by collectors and are generally popular.

Representative works :

” The Village Bride,” ” Broken Pitcher,” ” The Father’s Curse.” Louvre, Paris.

Several pictures. National Gallery, London.

Claude Joseph Vernet (1714–1789) is one of the most distinguished of the French landscape painters of his time, when originality of genius was a higher claim to admiration than was representation of nature.

His execution is labored, his drawing careful, his color very monotonous, and his groups of figures prim and conventional.

His storm scenes are among his most successful works. He received a commission from Louis XV to paint views of the seaports of France.

Fifteen of these seaport pictures are now in the Louvre, Paris. Representative works are also in Old Pinacothek, Munich; Berlin Museum ; Gallery, Dresden ; and National Gallery, London.