SALLE DARU numbered XVI. on the plan, contains French paintings of the eighteenth century. The beginning of this century found art at a low ebb in France. All artists except Le Moine and De Troy and a few portrait-painters, were living in great poverty. Everybody was sick of historical painting yet nobody ventured to express preference for anything else. No painter dared go contrary to the traditions of Le Brun. It was not till Watteau calmly cut his own path far away from the boundaries of the Grand Monarch’s domain that French art found itself started on a highway all its own.
The two Coypels, father and son, who both have pictures in Salle Daru, were samples of this pseudo-classic, weakly imitative art. Antoine was first painter to the king and director to the Royal Academy. In his works at Versailles he evinces an ability in composition, in expression and in arrangement of line decidedly beyond anything shown in his easel-pictures at the Louvre. Susannah and the Elders and Esther in the presence of Ahasuerus, are the best examples here, and they have much theatrical arrangement and overdone action.
His son Charles Antoine was his most noted pupil, but he too made no impression on the art of his time. His Perseus Delivering Andromeda is conventional, uninspired, forced.
A long list of works by Desportes hang in this room and show that he, the first great animal-painter of France was very little influenced by the strictures of the school of Le Brun. In spite of his unlikeness to the Grand Mon-arch’s chief painter, he was a favourite with Louis XIV., and used to attend him often on his hunting expeditions. The king gave him a pension and lodged him at the Louvre. When any rare animals arrived Desportes was called upon to paint their portraits. His pictures of the hunting-dogs of Louis, placed in decidedly effective landscapes, are really wonderful and show a marvellous study of life. It is only in their surroundings and arrangements and certain manipulations that they seem to be influenced by the classicism of the day. His colour was fresh and transparent, and he was a no mean portrait-painter as is proved by his Chasseur and the Portrait of Himself at the Louvre. But it is in his dogs that he is greatest. They are marvels of exact and most sympathetic observation. Their nervous little bodies are rendered with a truth and spirit that show how thoroughly he had watched and studied their movements and their features. Their big, pleading eyes, eager, sensitive noses, their excited ears, their whole palpitating, mobile bodies, find a quick appreciation and understanding in the brush of this painter, who was himself a hunter. His birds, rabbits, foxes and horses are scarcely less extraordinary in their truth to nature. in still-life also, in painting the grape, the peach, all fruits, there is perhaps no one but Chardin in the French school of this century that could approach him.
Diana and Blond two pack-hounds of Louis XIV., show the dogs starting a covey of pheasants. One of these has risen into the air and is flying off, two others are in the grass just in front of Diana’s guarding paws. Behind her half-crouches Blond, head projected, tail straight out, the tassel-end as stiff as a pump-handle, her eyes staring in an intensity of excitement that makes her whole lovely, soft body one quiver. Diana is flat on the ground full of an equal if more repressed excitement. Her eyes, in their sharpened gleam, seem as if they would force themselves out of that intelligent, dark-spotted face.
Bonne, Nonne and Ponne is a similar scene. Again the dogs have found the hidden red partridges. The two birds are at the right behind some high mullion and grass, and before them, filling the centre and left of the picture, are the three black and white hounds, in positions as various as they are graceful and dramatic. The one in the foreground is crawling along almost on her stomach, her nose lifted, sniffing, her eye earnest but cautious. Behind her one with many black spots as well as a black head and saddle-like smooch, stands upright, her left fore-paw lifted in a very agony of excitement. The beautiful sparkling eye and eager mouth and nose are almost human in expression. Nearer still to the birds is the third who has evidently stopped just in time to prevent falling over the treasure. She is turned around as if she had suddenly twisted herself on to her haunches, her head toward the prey, her tongue protruding, her eyes staring.
The Portrait of a Hunter, which critics pronounce a really magnificent work for that or any time, represents a man in a gray peruke, dressed in a violet suit, white cravat and gray gaiters, seated upon a stone, turned three-quarters to the right. He holds upon his knee his ferret, one greyhound is at his side, another behind him.
In the Portrait of Himself, Desportes is seated under a tree, leaning slightly backward, his body stretched out and turned so it is in nearly full face. By his side, looking up with pathetic and infinite affection, is a dog, over whom Desportes has placed his left hand. And what a firm, fine, sensitive hand it is ! Carefully but spiritedly drawn, full of a nervous but restrained feeling, one needs only to look at it to know the character of this animal lover and this really estimable man. His right hand is held out grasping a gun. The game they have captured, a rabbit, a duck, some pheasant, quail and other birds, is heaped at the dog’s feet. At the left of the picture, three-quarters back to, is a slender, graceful grey-hound, who also is turning his affectionate face toward his master. Desportes is clad in regular hunting-costume, a gray cloak, violet breeches, blue waistcoat and leather gaiters. A soft white cravat is about his neck, and the full white shirt-sleeves show below the coat. The landscape background is not disagreeably conventional in its sloping, hilly distance.
The First Chapter of the Order of the Holy Ghost by De Troy is almost equal to his great Plague at Marseilles. There are here both energy and dignity. Charles Blanc says that in all French painting it is difficult to find a picture more “corsée,” more ” mâle,” or more ” fière.” Within the church of the convent of the ” Grands-Augustins,” is the king, seated on the right on a throne, in three-quarters view. He is receiving as new chevaliers of the order, Henri de Bourbon and Duc de Montpensier, who are kneeling, and Henri d’Orleans, who is leaning over with his hand on his breast. About the king are the grand officers of the throne, and in the tribunes are the ladies of the court assisting at the ceremony. Behind the throne is a green drapery with the Holy Spirit flying in an aureole of gold.
Rigaud said of the painter of that picture that if his capacity for work had equalled his genius, the art of painting had never known a greater illustration. He could paint flesh delicately, stuffs with reality and precision and heads and hands with expressiveness.
A great rival of De Troy in the early years of the eighteenth century was François le Moine, of whom it has been said that no one ever came up to him in the freshness of his brush and the lightness of his touch. He is claimed to be the inventor of the “rayon rose,” which became such a characteristic of his pupil Watteau. His ” air of ease,” the apparent lack of effort in his works, and his pleasing, gay colour gave him great vogue.
Juno, Iris and Flora in this room shows these characteristics accompanied by that pretty surface modelling which rarely fails to attract us in his drawings and which in spite of the injuries of time or the rough mercies of cleansing and restoring, still interests us in his mural works.
With Watteau, whose famous Embarkation for the Isle of Cythera, hangs on the north wall of this room, we come to the great French genius of this age. Like so many artists, Watteau became a painter in spite of the incredible hardship and poverty that would have soon discouraged a less talented nature. His wonderful draughtsmanship he learned quite by himself, working late into the night after a long day in a sort of atelier where portraits or religious scenes were turned out by the gross for provincial dealers. A few years later he was employed by Claude Audran, custodian of the Luxembourg, so getting a chance to see Rubens’s Medici paintings as well as works of some of the great Italians. He was undoubtedly influenced by Rubens, by Titian and Veronese, but he was always himself and copied no one. He was a most admirable draughtsman, his little figures stand as firmly on their feet, have as truly felt, without the least bit of obstreperous, anatomy, as any giant figures of the greatest masters of any day. Always sick and suffering, and of an unfailing self-severity, Watteau shows his own poverty and ill-health in his pictures as little as Stevenson does his in his romances. All are suffused with a sort of shimmering, golden-silver gaiety. They depict a realm of phantasy, of poetry, of love. Yet the people in them are to a certain extent the people of the time. Their prototypes were the ladies and nobles of that airy, flowery, dancing age, they who were so buoyantly gay, so full of a thistle-down lightness that for awhile their feet never felt the crumbling of the ruins beneath them. Watteau loved the shimmering of striped satins and gay figured silks, but as much he loved the soft cool tones of the sylvan glades, the spring laden trees that made such exquisite settings for his fairylike love-scenes. If his art has been called trivial, unreal and shallow, it has nevertheless a reality of its own, and a charm, a spontaneity, and a rare golden grace, that in comparison make many more sober and more noble works seem bereft of some-thing both vital and alluring. He created, one may fairly say, an age. At his advent painting had become merely a tool for the Grand Monarch’s display. Historical paintings, allegorical or symbolical scenes, apotheoses of that strutting piece of royalty were simply ways of ex-tolling the person, face or fame of the vainest of human beings. No wonder art had reached a point where all initiative, all originality was gone. Into such a condition did Watteau come and for him the condition apparently did not exist. It was as if he had never heard what was the ” correct ” manner of displaying his art. He was in the truest if not the most sublime sense, original and untrammelled, cutting a path for the first time for himself and leaving such a shining track behind him that many were the lesser minds that knew no better than to follow close after, never thinking that in such blind following they were going directly contrary to his very principles of self-expression. De Goncourt says that all the painters of the eighteenth century with the exception of Chardin, partook something of Watteau. He dominated them all, says the French critic. Not alone the servile imitators, Lancret, and Pater, but Boucher, Van Loo, 0llivier, Fragonard, all followed him.
The Embarkation for Cythera is a sketch of the finished picture now in Berlin. It is universally considered Watteau’s greatest achievement. This sketch, if less perfect than the completed picture, has possibly an even greater charm in its beauty of suggestion and in its spontaneous gaiety. The scene represents a knoll on the bank of a golden stream, whose soft shores stretch out in the distance till lost in the glowing suffusement of distant colour. On the right, under noble trees is a party of lovers, who are preparing to follow their companions down to the shore where lies at anchor the ship of love’s dream. Farther at the right is a statue of Venus about which two small Cupids are playing. More of these Cupids are everywhere, now helping an ” amorous swain ” to persuade his lady-love to accompany him on the wonder-boat, and now assisting the loving couples to embark. But most of them swarm around the bark itself. Some are pulling up the sails, some weighing anchor, and a whole garland of them are in the air as high as the topmast, swinging about in a revel of joy and grace. These Cupids perhaps suggest Rubens at his very best. But they have an infantile and yet a fairylike charm that Rubens scarcely approached. They are neither angels nor Cupids. They are angel-cupids. If they have an esprit, a fairylike vivacity hardly compatible with baby angels, they have at the same time too refined a delicacy, too tender a spirituality to be Cupids, per se. They are the quintessence of Watteau’s art. In them is seen perhaps more plainly than anywhere else, how the alembic of his brush changed all it touched into something more glowing, more exquisite, more sweetly languorous, or more daintily gay, than ever brush did before or since. They are indeed the very spirits of the art that Watteau made the art of the eighteenth century.
Hardly less charming and tender than these dancing, flying spirits are the lovers who people the scene. The beautiful soft satins and velvets, the lovely forms, the graceful groupings, all show, individually and collectively, not alone Watteau’s idyllic sweetness and power to tell a fairy-tale, but equally well his unerring draughtsman-ship, ability as a composer and his marvellous eye for colour. It is this last which is the all-pervading and ever-remaining attribute of the picture as a whole, and which, even more than all the rest makes it one of the loveliest pictures in the world. It is as impossible adequately to describe the golden glow that suffuses the whole surface as it is to bring by words before ones eyes the gradations in Titian’s flesh-tones. In its own way it is as great a marvel of the brush. It is this golden play of colours that puts the whole scene into the realm of phantasy, into the land of dreams. Nowhere else is all nature so surcharged with this palpitating, shimmering, silver-golden haze that wraps about every object and claims it for its own.
As has been stated there was one painter who was as little influenced by Watteau as was he by the classic school of painting. This was Chardin, as great a man in his own way as Watteau in his and representing not at all the art of France of the eighteenth century. Lady Dilke, has admirably said, ” He was not so much an eighteenth-century French artist as a French artist of pure race and type.” Unlike all the rest of the men of that century he does not show in his work the influence of the fashions, the style, the modishness of the day. He portrays not pomp, vanity and fashionable court life, or its imitations. He loves better the simplicity of quiet home life, the charm of domestic joys. Chardin, says one critic, ” is as natural as a Dutchman, and as modern as Vollon.” If he were only painting still life, he somehow always got the human, natural note. ” Everything that he touched he touched with feeling as profound as it was personal.” His work in pastel is as distinguished as that in oil. In his later years when his eyes were failing he used that medium a great deal.
There are a number of his works in Salle XVI., the most popular of which is probably The Blessing. It is the interior of a simple, homely dining-room. Standing over the table covered with one of the white cloths that Chardin could paint so deliciously, is the mother, wearing a soft, full-toned brown waist, a blue apron, a white gathered cap. About to serve the soup, she pauses to hear the grace of the little girl seated at the right of the table in a small chair. She is turned almost in pro-file, and with her eyes fixed on her mother, has her tiny hands clasped in prayer. Her dress is white, a cap of rose on her head. Behind the table on a high chair is a smaller child, her white cap gathered up with a blue ribbon, only the tips of her fingers appear over the edge of the table while she listens to the prayer of her sister. This is one of Chardin’s most popular works and it shows his charm of colour, composition and simplicity of style. Everything in it is painted with the great care and extreme fidelity he gave all his works.
The Housekeeper is even more Dutch-like in its treatment of detail. A servant-maid stands in nearly full face, leaning against a dresser with her arm resting upon some loaves of bread deposited upon the table. In her right hand, dropped at her side, she holds a big napkin by its corners out of which is sticking a leg of mutton. Her cap and waist are white, her skirt striped. On the ground at her feet are two big, dark glass bottles, and at her left is an open door where a yellow-gowned maid is seen in profile. A huge cask with spigot and tub under it is just within the door. There is a half-merry, half-wistful expression on the square-faced rather Dutch-looking maid. The position, solidity of figure, and the fresh, unmixed handling of colour all help to make this a delightful bit of genre.
In the Busy Mother are more of Chardin’s marvellous tones of white. The mother, seated in profile, with her high-heeled slippers straight out in front of her, is examining a piece of embroidery, one end of which is still held by the small daughter who is standing farther back in the room, in three-quarters view. The mother’s huge apron which almost entirely covers her is white as is also her hood-like cap with its deep cape. The sleeves of her dress beneath show yellow stripes on a white ground. The daughter is in white, too, even to the white cap on her youthful head. At the left in front, are a small chest and a pug-dog. In front of the mother is the big winder laden with the woollen yarn, behind is a folding green screen. The same tender sentiment, care for slightest detail, charm of soft, mellow tones, natural grace and ease of workmanship are seen in this as in the Blessing. No less commendable is his insistence of light in exactly the right place. ” To strike true, was ” for Chardin, ” the fulfilment of his highest ambition.”
Three pictures by Nattier in this salle show an entirely different sort of art. Instead of homely simplicity there is royal luxuriance ; in place of the tender poems of domestic life there is the coquetry of princess and court ; in lieu of truth of colour and form, there are manufactured prettiness and unreal flesh. In fact Nattier belongs as truly to the age he painted as does Chardin to all humanity. As such he is worthy of some study, though the cult Nattier that is of recent growth is a difficult thing to understand. Nolhac says that what excuses Nattier’s worst faults are ” qualities of seduction, of charm, of the lightness of touch and sweetness of enveloppe.” All royalty, or at least all feminine royalty sat to him over and over again. It was doubtless a great delight to find that no matter how scurvily nature had treated their royal persons, Nattier’s canvases would portray them as their hearts desired. The homeliest, dowdiest royal scion became under his brush a nymph, a goddess or Muse, with lines of exquisite curves and eyes of lustrous softness. If all his fair dames looked a good deal as if their complexions had been supplied by nature en gros, it was nevertheless too charming a concoction to bemoan its lack of variety. Arsène Alexandre says of his pictures, that they are ” all, of course, as false, as theatrical as one can well imagine, and yet somehow, entirely unaffected and broadly simple.” And at least it is true that his eye for harmony was remarkably acute, and his colours are never overstrong or garish. Softest silks and satins, laces, embroideries, furs, those are what he loves. He was in all ways a typical Frenchman, with a lightness, a sureness of touch, a coquetry and always a feminine grace. He did not and apparently never tried to portray character or to go beneath the smooth surface. The portraits have, largely in consequence, an artificial air and between them all there is a great similarity. His princesses are so much alike that it is often difficult to decide who is who. Of all his many portraits the Louvre possesses very few.
The Magdalene which is in this room, shows her sitting in a grotto through whose circular opening at the right, a view of hills, cataract and houses is seen. Leaning her blond head on her left hand, the elbow resting on a rock beside her, she holds a book in her lap. Her sandalled feet are stretched straight out in front of her showing beneath more abundant drapery than most of Nattier’s symbolical portraits. She is dressed in white silk.
Because of no allegorical significance his Portrait of Adelaide, daughter of Louis XV. is a more satisfactory canvas. She is dressed in blue velvet and sable and has ” a touch of dignified formality.” The flesh-tones are sweetly soft, but the portrait really has a character of its own.
The Three Graces by Natoire who was a pupil of Le Moine is a fair example of his style. His drawing was always bad and his chief work was done as decorator. The Graces are in rather unusual positions. One, lying out at full length a little on her left side has raised her-self somewhat by leaning her left arm on the bent knee of her sister who is sitting at her head almost in profile. The third is lower down and rests back to, only the upper part of her shoulders and arm showing, her head turned in profile looking at the others. The three are lifting a part of the garland of blooms which a small Cupid at the left is holding as he flies toward them. The composition and placing are pleasing and well balanced.
Tocqué, son-in-law of Nattier, studied with Rigaud.
His first success was with the Portrait of the Dauphin, Son of Louis XV., which is now in this room. It was painted by the king’s order and displays him standing in his study, in a red suit with white waistcoat embroidered with gold and with the Order of the Holy Spirit. He is turned three-quarters to the right, and wears a powdered wig. About him are globes and geographical charts. The picture as a whole reflects something of the colour of Largillière.
Marie Leczinska, Queen of France whom Nattier painted so often, is a full length portrait. The hands and drapery are especially good here, and are full of movement. She is standing in a large hall, her body turned lightly to the left her head in full face. Her dress is décolleté, over her shoulders is the royal velvet mantle embroidered with the fleurs-de-lis of France and lined with ermine which she is holding back with her hand. At her left on a bracket is seen the crown, resting on a blue cushion.
Diana at the Bath, by Boucher is one of that painter’s most important and beautiful works. At the foot of a high bank Diana, with her crescent over her brow, sits on a lot of drapery holding a string of pearls, one leg thrown lazily over the other, her head turned in profile to a companion who is seated below her, leaning over on her hands, her legs drawn up. The two are almost nude and there is a pastoral, almost virginal charm about the picture rarely duplicated in his work. At Diana’s left by her bow are a string of birds and a rabbit and at the pool at the left of the picture a couple of dogs are drinking. The flesh-tones show Boucher at his best, with none of the coarsening, deep rose-colour which designing so much for tapestry and his own carelessness afterward so often produced. The figure of Diana is exquisite in its modelling, the firm, delicate lines wholly lacking that sensuality felt in most of his female figures. The whole thing is an idyl quite in keeping with the character of the goddess. It has been said that this figure of Diana and some others that Boucher painted at this period of his career, in the suppleness of their limbs, and beautiful curves of body, suggest a prototype of the Odalisque by Ingres.
Boucher was as celebrated for his Cupids as for his nymphs and goddesses, and some of these baby gods are very marvels of infantile grace and spirit. In The Target are a number of the little fellows in all sorts of positions. Three are on the ground with their quivers of arrows, one tipping up a big jar of water, while above in the air more of them are holding up a target which has a heart placed in the middle of it. Still higher in air another small baby lifts two wreaths of laurel far over his head.
Boucher was above all things else a decorator. Everything he did had this decorative quality, though toward the end of his life he lost even the ability to decorate well. He has been considered the most immoral, positively scandalous painter, accused of using his brush only to taint the very eyes of the young. The truth is that he was as Mantz quotes from Emerson, ” a representative man.” If ever a painter expressed the very essence of the spirit of his times it was Boucher. The days of the Grand Monarch had gone and all France was revelling in the freedom, the charm, the gaiety of the new reign that sought first, last and always, pleasure. Inconstancy, immorality, a light disregard of the claims of virtue and honour, a joy in all sorts of questionable love-affairs, a frank abandon to the pleasures of the senses, that was the actual state of the society in which Boucher found himself. If his canvases reflect the spirit of these days, it is not to be wondered at. And on the whole, he has not made them more debased than they were. Says M. Michel, however, ” Boucher represents but one side of his epoch. He does not equal Watteau nor Chardin. He is exclusively and par excellence the painter of Louis XV. and of the Pompadour.” M. Michel also says that up to his time France had never seen the feminine form so marvellously portrayed. He painted Venus, the Graces, Psyche, Diana, all or any of the goddesses simply to show the exquisite lines and curves and modelling, and the ravishing colour and poses of woman. It is love, sensual, fleshly, physical love that his brush is ever busy depicting. But at least it is seldom brutal or disgusting. Over the frankest and most undisguised of love-scenes there is a gay lightness, and a soft beauty of colour that redeems them from the charge of grossness. This, how-ever, is Boucher in his early life and at his best. Long before his career was ended his works showed a degradation of taste, a bad colour, poor design and futile expression.
Between Boucher, the representative of the day of frivolous sensuality and David, the leader of the reign of the coldly classic, came Greuze, who also represents a distinct epoch in French art and life. It is this perhaps that has preserved him to posterity as much as the pretty porcelain tones of his young girls and children. He seems to have had no example to follow except his own desires. He turned as naturally to scenes of bourgeois life and to the painting of young girls as Boucher turned to lawless nymphs and satyrs or Watteau to fetes gallantes. And because of his subjects he became the rage of his time. Innocence, purity, all the homely virtues were found in his works. If today it all seems mostly a pose, and always artificial, it is only necessary to re-member that life was all artificial then, and the aristocratic attention and care for the humble class the most artificial of all. Till the Revolution Greuze kept his popularity, but after that was over the taste for his pictures was gone and though he worked till he was past eighty, he died poor, neglected, destitute. When Napoleon heard of his death he is reported to have exclaimed, ” Dead ! Poor and neglected ! Why did he not speak? I would have gladly given him a pitcher of Sèvres filled with gold for every copy ever made of his Broken Pitcher ! ”
This Broken Pitcher hangs in Salle XVI. and is probably the most popular and best known of all his works. It is not, however, on nearly so high a plane as his portrait of Fabre Eglantine or the portrait of himself. Nevertheless, it has in abundance the characteristics that go to make it one of his most pleasing pictures of bud-ding girlhood. The maiden stands facing the spectator, on her arm the jug with its broken side, both dimpled hands holding up her apron which is full of flowers. She is dressed in white with a gauzy scarf tied loosely about her bare neck and so falling that it does not at all cover the bust from which also the corsage has slipped. Her soft chestnut hair is parted in the middle and wound about with a violet ribbon tying a bunch of blossoms over her ear. Behind her at the right is the fountain against which she has evidently broken her pitcher. She is demure, rather than penitent, wondering dreamily how the accident happened rather than bemoaning her mishap. The bloom of her face, the lustrousness of her eyes, the Cupid-bow curves to the soft red lips, all are part of the charms which Greuze threw over his pictures of young maidenhood.
The Milkmaid, hanging as pendant to this, might almost be the same girl a few, years older. She stands by her brown basket laden horse one arm thrown over his neck and the other holding a tin dipper and the cloak which is slipping down. She has tipped her head coquettishly to one side and looks out from under her white cap with a bewitching gentleness. The white dress has much of the dirty gray tone Greuze could not help getting, and the drawing, especially of the left hand and arm is, as often, not impeccable. But charm it has of the kind that makes one understand how it has retained its popularity for a century and a half.
Another well-known canvas is his Study of a Young Girl’s Head. She has the usual open chemisette which allows one breast to be seen. Her head is turned to her left in three-quarters view, and is slightly lifted while her eyes are raised heavenward. Her mouth is partly open, giving a glimpse of a row of white teeth. Here are the soft translucent colouring, the exquisite blending of hair against the temples, the swimming azure eyes, the fresh, dewy lips, the little chin that Greuze so loved to paint. Though she is evidently in sorrow, with the tears half-falling from her suffused eyes, it is a very fetching sort of weeping. It does not make the eyelids nor the nose red, and on the whole it seems more becoming than smiling. And perhaps this very thing is as good an example as any to show how even in his best works, Greuze was far from dealing with truth and reality.
The Village Bride is one of the pictures Diderot’s pen raved about in a kind of frenzy that seems positively funny to us to-day. We are much more conscious of the faults which De Goncourt summarizes as ” inharmonious colours, discord of tones, glittering of lights.” Greuze is never worse than in large compositions such as this one, The Paternal Curse and the Punished Son. This too, in spite of the fact that he had a real deftness in massing his subjects, and always succeeded in keeping a central unity that added greatly to the dramatic interest. Nevertheless, it is in these scenes that his hardness of drapery, his blackness and opaqueness of shadow, his ineffectual drawing, his continual use of a type instead of individuals, and above all his mawkish sentimentality, his theatricalness and his commonplaceness are always most in evidence.
The Music Lesson and The Sacrifice of the High Priest Coresus to Save Callirhoe, by Fragonard, both hang in this room. Of these the Music Lesson is much the better. At a harpsichord seated in profile is a young, light-haired girl with piquant, retroussé nose, dressed in a robe of blue satin, and playing from a sheet of music before her. Leaning toward her, face to the spectator, with one hand on the back of her chair and the other on the music page, is the young music-teacher, dressed in black even to the black cap on his head. His gaze is bent on her hands while hers is strictly on the music. There is a subtle, indefinable air of romance about the two as charming as it is indefinite. On a chair in front where lie some music and a mandolin is also a big-eyed pussy. This is one of the delightfully simple, natural subjects full of ingenuous coquetry that Fragonard so often painted. Simple, light in subject and in the manner of treatment, it has a grace and quiet charm of its own.
Much more elaborate, not to say theatric is the historical composition. On the steps of an altar, between heavy pillars, Callirhoe, breast and arms bare, has fallen among her white draperies, overcome with the terrible strain. The priest who will save her because of his love for her, stands at her head and has just thrust the dagger into his heart. A crowd of affrighted women are at the left and behind them are aged priests. Above, among the clouds of incense fly two symbolical figures. Callirhoe is very beautiful, if her utter collapse seems a trifle forced. The young priest is equally beautiful, and even more theatric in his pose. The critics of the time when the picture was exposed at Fragonard’s first salon, complained that he lacked masculinity. It was his first bow to the French public after his return from Rome, and even at that day the cry of too much theatricalness was made. Still, as a composition it has power, the focusing of the light is penetrating and thrilling and the colour vivid, if theatrically realistic.
Jean Fragonard, who was a pupil of Boucher, was lighter, daintier, more exquisite than his master. He painted every kind of subject, religious, historic, mythologic, domestic scenes, pastorals, decorations, country scenes, vignettes, and he did them in every known medium. M. Blanc says that in Fragonard one can see the follies and elegancies of Watteau, the loves and debaucheries of Boucher, the honest simplicity of Chardin, the morality of Greuze, and that indeed he is an epitome of his entire century ” for, his first works are dedicated to love and his last to his country.” He painted only when he felt inspired. He held a brush it is said before he could draw a line, and took the ” Grand Prix de Peinture ” before he was admitted to the academy courses of instruction. His portraits are a good deal in the manner of Tiepolo, the one Italian painter whom he passionately admired. He painted flesh with an exquisite value, though he was very often careless as to the rendering of form. With Natoire, Van Loo and Boucher, Fragonard’s work shows tremendous inequality. Sometimes it is magnificently finished, perfect and charming. Then it is slight, unfinished, ineffectual. There is with all of them, apparently, a total lack of conscientiousness. If they chose they could draw with great distinction, if they did not choose they did not even try. The result is that in almost all they did is found a spontaneity and a certain quality of life. Fragonard’s pencil is always spirited if it is often slovenly. De Goncourt says that Fragonard’s painting is a dream, the dream of a man asleep in a box at the opera.
Charles André Van Loo who was contemporary with Boucher has several canvases in this room. Of them all the Halt is the only one of real merit, though the Portrait of Marie Leczinska was a great success in its day.
The Halt was painted for the private apartments at Fontainebleau in 1737 and it has both charm and originality. In it a company of gallants and ladies have rested for a repast under the trees during a hunt. Spread out on the ground in the centre of the composition is the luncheon, and surrounding it are the young nobles and ladies in the gayest of gay apparel. A little at the left one maiden is being served and entertained by a youthful chevalier who sits at her right. Others are talking with or helping others, while at the right with legs stretched out straight before him oblivious of every one else is a young man who is reaching for a bottle of wine. Coupled beside him are two well-drawn dogs. A richly caparisoned mule is being groomed by a huntsman, and other horses are beyond the feast. Everywhere is indicated a gallant homage toward the young damsels of the party. The colouring is pleasant, arrangement and composition good, the green of the landscape a trifle blue, but the effect of light and the luminosity of the whole agreeable.
Van Loo really had more solid attributes than Boucher. Both he and his brother Jean-Baptist, showed traces in their work and characters of the Dutch blood which they inherited from their grandfather. Charles André, or Carle as he was called, was always successful. He had much more facility and fire than the other members of the family, three or four of whom were also painters. In spite of his popularity, when the pseudo-classic revival was in full swing, he instead of Boucher was held principally responsible for the bad taste and ” extravagance ” of the followers of these two. ” ` Vanloter ‘ in those days was the synonym for careless drawing and riotous colour.” Nevertheless Carle at times painted with great verve and if he had not chosen to confine his attention mostly to “serious ” subjects, he might have been a vivid if not poetic portrayer of the life of his own times.
The Louvre has works by the three Vernets who were grandfather, son, and grandson. Even the grandfather, Claude-Joseph was the son of a painter so that the line of artists in the family was unbroken for four generations. Claude, besides his great seaports that are all in the Musée de Marine, has a good many canvases in Salle XVI. He may be considered to have made a real advance and innovation in art. He studied directly from nature, and though many of his canvases seem now to have been painted by receipt, he did at least make a valiant attempt to copy what he actually saw. He has been called the pre-cursor of the English romantic school, and it has even been said his influence can be felt in Corot. It was in his later years that the commission to paint all the seaports of France was given him by the Marquis de Marigny who was the director of fine arts. These immense canvases do not greatly add to his fame. His best work was done when he was still in Italy and before the demand for his pictures had become so great that he was forced in his attempt to supply that demand into doing very inferior work. Lady Dilke says of him that ” He had just that touch of scenic manner which pleased his public, and in spite of his theatrical planes and theatrical illumination and other conventions which are now out of date, there is an element of healthy strength in his work which shows much honest observation of nature.” Nevertheless, he did not see landscape at all as moderns do, and to our mind Poussin was a truer interpreter.
Most of David’s works are in Salle VIII., but a few are to be found here, among them the sketch for the Oath of the Horatii, a composition that was ordered by Louis XVI. in 1784 and was the painting that gave him the supremacy in the art of France. Belisarius Asking Alms for the victims of the plague, was the picture that made him ” agrée ” of the Academy, though the one in this room is a replica of the original.
David was Boucher’s nephew and it was David who really swept away the immorality, indecency and carelessness of Boucher and Van Loo. He and his followers confined art to the few and educated. They insisted upon great culture and study and barred to the approach of art all except those willing to conform to its rules and worthy to represent them. While therefore it gained in some respects, it lost heavily in others. ” Outline, drawing and composition were the chief characteristics of the classic school.” Colour was of slight consequence and was just as good if entirely of a neutral tone. There was no real painting of landscape allowed, and some went so far as to detach figures from the background simply by flat tones. Emotion, even ideally spiritual emotion, was entirely ignored. ” It is the body without action, the human frame simply clothed with flesh, contours in majestic lines.” Never ” based on nature,” it excluded ” all individuality, all development, all novelty.”
David himself was a sculptor-painter rather than a painter. His figures have fine contour and exact anatomy, suggesting studies, however, from the antique rather than from living beings, smooth, even modelling with the coldness and hardness of marble, flesh that one could chisel, but not press, colour as far removed from the pulsing tones of the human body as black from white. In his compositions he is never influenced by Christianity. All his subjects are taken from Greek or Roman history. In general it may be said that it is only in his portraits that David shows any real humanity in type, character or expression.
Peace Restoring Abundance by Madame Vigée-Le Brun was the work by which she was received into the Academy. It shows the figure of Abundance gently led for-ward by the more ample and majestic form of Peace. Abundance is a charming blond maiden with a piquant face, turned in profile up to Peace who is looking down at her. Her golden hair is bound about with flowers, her white robe with its yellow over-robe has slipped partly off leaving her neck and left breast and arm bare. In her outstretched right hand she holds a bunch of wheat and bluets. With the other she has tipped up a horn of plenty out of which fruit and flowers are pouring. Peace, whose blue mantle is flying behind her as if the wind had caught and shaken it, is dressed in lilac. She is crowned with laurel, and in her right hand, resting on the shoulder of Abundance, is a laurel sprig with berries. In this picture it is easy to see the faults of the age, but it has nevertheless a freshness and softness of colour and a careful handling of stuffs.
Madame Vigée-Le Brun was all her life fêted, petted, admired. She was beautiful, intelligent, charming. At fifteen she painted admirable portraits and at twenty- eight she was received into the Academy. She studied with Doyen, Greuze and Vernet. In her colour there is something of the soft bloom and delicate tones and affected prettiness of Greuze, but she uses them, one is tempted to say, more legitimately. She lacks force, power, in a word, virility. But there is such an undoubted charm to her works, and so much transparent and fresh colour, that her pedantry, her entire absorption in the eighteenth-century principles of art, her overattention to costumes, stuffs and classical lines, are forgotten in admiration of the very real beauties which her canvases show.