Louvre – Thomy – Thiery Salles – French School

WITH the opening of the Thomy-Thiéry collection in 1903, three more rooms of the Louvre were given up to paintings. These rooms are far from the rest of the picture-gallery, being up-stairs and across the court, over the double colonnade of Louis XIV., at the end of the Musée de Marine. To get to them it is necessary to go up crooked, narrow, wooden back stairs, but it is an ascent that must more than repay the climber. These pictures, most of which are of rather small dimensions, represent the very height of French art — especially French landscape art, — from 1830 to, say, 187o or later. Such a collection the Louvre probably never could have owned without individual generosity like this of M. Thomy-Thiéry.

Corot, Daubigny, Decamps, Delacroix, Diaz, Dupré, Fromentin, Isabey, Meissonier, Millet, Rousseau and Troyon are all represented in the hundred pictures left by M. Thomy-Thiéry as well as Barye with one sketch and a hundred and forty-four bronzes. Painters who otherwise are hardly known in the Louvre are most splendidly in evidence in this collection.

There are seventeen of Decamps and they are very various in subject and quality. All sides of his art are here shown. The splendid dogs, the Oriental subjects, the Elephant and the Tiger at the Stream, where the light is so golden, composition so picturesque, with such a superb effect made by the huge and sombre mass of the elephant against the evening sky, the Street of Smyrna, so sun-kissed, the Knife-Grinder, the Beggar Counting His Gains, the Valet of the Dogs, the Bell-Ringers, the Hunting Dogs at Rest, — these are all chefs-d’oeuvre.

The Monkey Painter shows one of the beasts Decamps so often painted, seated on the ground, profile turned to the right, before a canvas. He is dressed in a black velvet suit ornamented with gold braid and bound about his waist with a leather belt. In his left hand he holds his palette and extra brushes, while he paints with a long-handled brush held in his right, the canvas which is leaning against a table on top of which is a bottle of varnish and an earthen jar full of a lot of brushes. A palette, a Dutch pipe, and another landscape hang on the wall behind, and an elaborate jar and tea-caddy are on the floor in front of the table. Around the corner, in back at the left, a second monkey is seen back to, mixing colours on a slab. The earnestness and gravity of the mimic workmen are expressed with a sort of glee and one can nearly hear the laugh of the painter who portrayed them. The arrangement, colour and delicate esprit of this composition are a marvel, the execution broad and free.

His Valet de Chiens was one of his greatest successes in the Exposition of 1855, at which time his works filled almost an entire room. The valet is just opening the door at the back of the yard or court which contains six dogs. He has raised his whip in air, and is about to land one of his feet on the yelping brutes below him, in an attempt to stop their noise. The dogs, the court, the bit of sky, the man himself are all vivid, actual and full of life and movement. As a whole, however, the composition is spotted and lacks balance and massing.

The Bulldog and Scotch Terrier here is a small picture of the larger sketch already described.

With Delacroix the museum has gained even more. These are his smaller pictures illustrating scenes from Shakespeare and Walter Scott, such as the Abduction of Rebecca, which is full of movement, the Fiancée d’Abydos, the Death of Ophelia, Hamlet and Horatio, all excellent works. The romantic elements are equally strongly marked in Roger Delivering Angelica, a most dramatic picture, which, compared with the same subject treated by Ingres is a very antithesis in its point of view. As an animal-painter, and Delacroix took high rank as that, he is only represented by two canvases, both of lions.

There are thirteen scenes by Daubigny, of which perhaps the most important are La Mare aux Cigognes, La Vue de la Tamise A Érith, Les Péniches, L’Étang, Les Bords de l’Oise, Le Moulin de Gylieu. The first of these, The Pond of the Storks, has as foreground a marshy pool where rushes and water-lilies grow thickly. In the middle of it are five or six storks fishing with their long necks and bills and making dark spots on the gleaming surface. At the right is a tree in blossom, and beyond a forest of trees stands deep in the water. At the left are more trees on a higher bit of ground, and beyond soft hills blur against the luminous sky. A tender tranquillity broods over this shaded pool, and soft zephyrs whisper through the branches and scarce lift the leaves and blossoms. The pond is exquisite in its fleckings and reflections, the whole scene a dream of beauty.

Almost everything Diaz loved to paint has at least one sample here. Mythologie scenes, nude women, animals, country landscape, Oriental subjects and some of his beautiful bits of the Barbizon forest.

One of the most exquisite of them all is L’Éplorée. It is evening in the woods. In this dim and shrouding light is seen a young woman turned back to, but slightly to the left, her head bent forward. Her shoulders and back are bare above a gray skirt. The colour of her flesh is wonderful. The soft creaminess of the skin, the delicious gradations of tone are indescribable in words. And over all is the feeling of the evening. It is in its own way as rare a tone-poem as a Corot.

Sous Bois is a characteristic bit in the very heart of the Forest of Fontainebleau. The low, scraggy trees with mossgrown, twisted trunks and branches suggest in their outline something of an old New England orchard. The leaves are not too thick to hide the gnarled limbs, nor to prevent the sunlight from flickering through down on to the mossy, rocky ground. At the foot of two trees close together, in the shade, sits a man with two dogs beside him. One lies close to his side, the other stands at his right, his body half in the broad shaft of light that falls beyond the man, The picture is full of the sheen and glimmer and soft coolness and dim glades of a summer forest.

Corot has many lovely examples here, the most notice-able being La Porte d’Amiens, La Route d’Arras, Le Soir, L’Églogue, Le Vallon, L’Étang.

The little canvas of Le Vallon is in his rather early manner, or perhaps better in his transition style. The greenness of the beautiful scene is fairly thrilling. It is so very green and sunny that it is hard to reconcile it with the silvery palette Corot is mostly known by. Yet, intense as it is, it is soft and exquisite in colour. The composition is almost like a Daubigny with its solidity and definiteness of place. At the right stretching over to beyond the centre of the canvas, is a clump of trees, with hedges running out from it at each end. The sun is behind all this foliage and therefore its shadow fills nearly the whole of the foreground. And what a tender, luminous shadow it is! Between the trunks and through openings in the leaves, the sun-bathed sky and fields can be seen. In the foreground, mostly in the shadow, are a group of peasants, a cow and a labourer. There is more tangibility here than in some of Corot’s later works, but it has almost as great a charm and poetic feeling as his best known canvases.

The Landscape with Cow’s called also L’Étang, is a rather curious composition, the massing of the five or six willows against the sky looking a little like a procession of long-legged, soft-winged birds, wandering through the marshy water. It is however, none the less charming. Again, as so often with Corot, the trees are silhouetted against the sky, which is here of a soft golden tone full of the effulgence of the setting sun. The trees are massed mostly at the left, growing on a point of land that sharpens into the water to nothing, and leaves two willows as advance-guard, striding into the glowing pool. Two cows stand gazing ruminatingly about in this pool which fills the left and centre of the foreground and is beautiful in its silvery-golden shimmer. On a high bank a herdsman in a red cap sits watching the cows, and in the distance, at the left, a gray hill rises against the sunset sky. It is dreamy, poetic, soft and tender.

One of the most important of the Thomy-Thiéry Corots is La Route d’Arras. It is a scene of very humble peasant surroundings, as simple and frankly stated as the severest naturalist could desire. Yet how Corot’s brush has caught the poetry, the charm, the hidden beauty ! No longer banal, low, dingy or commonplace, the little hamlet with its stagnant pool, its thin, poverty-stricken trees, its old, red-roofed cottages, becomes a tender painter’s dream, yet so real, so true, that there can be no doubts of its actual existence. At the right, stretching diagonally to the central plane of the picture, is the row of beech, birch and ash-trees, with slender, crooked trunks and scattering leaves of gray-green, that mass against a pale sky, soft, wide-arched, infinite. At the right of the trees is a line of low cottages following the row of trees, and in front the torpid gutter reflecting the tree-trunks. A wide road stretches out to the horizon at the left, here and there dotted with heavy-headed willows. A horseman walks toward this distance, soft clouds float in the pale, clear sky. A gentle shadow envelops most of the foreground.

Le Paysage d’Italie, L’Églogue, with their lengthened groups of trees, the Porte d’Amiens, Le Chemin de Sèvres, La Soulaie, L’Entrée de Village, Les Chaumières, — all are exquisite notes, subtle, full of the spirit of the painter, he who saw with different eyes from most of us workaday mortals, — full of the perfume of a quiet, peaceful soul, yet as true and just as serene.

Of all the landscape-painters of the romantic school, Theodore Rousseau is here represented with the greatest variety of works and of the greatest value. There are small bits of the highest excellence, like Le Coteau, Le Passeur, L’Étang, and La Plaine des Pyrénees and there are the larger canvases, evincing still more clearly his wonderful mastery, such as Les Chênes, Les Bords de la Loire, Le Printemps, Le Village sous les Arbres.

The foreground of Les Bords de la Loire is a low marsh, over which the river has flowed into little pools and inlets. In one of these bigger inlets in the very centre of the foreground, a fisherman has moored his boat at the edge of the marshy shore, and, leaning over its side, he is washing his nets. Back of him and a little to the left, is a group of trees under which a peasant sits watching. Beyond, again, the wide unbroken Loire, till it reaches the farthest bank which, with its trees, a church and some cottages, blurs softly against the sky. This sky is gray, illumined here and there with the rays of the sun behind the clouds. It is a beautiful landscape, full of the peace of a quiet spot far from the noise and turmoil of city life. Like all of Rosseau’s canvases it is surcharged with rich, deep colour, vigorous yet tender.

Les Chênes shows how differently he paints the oak from Dupré. He sees in it perhaps, less of mood, and more of tree. Dupré often seems to endow his marvellous French oaks with a personality that makes them half-human. With Rousseau they are, if less personified, none the less wonderful. Actual trees of actual forests, taken root and branch right out of mother earth, they seem positively planted in these compositions of this father of modern landscape art. This one is a picture of a rich green field, crossed by a narrow, curving roadway. In the middle ground are three of the tremendous oaks, their trunks grouped together in the centre, with several more separate ones at short distances apart. Their foliage makes one mass, even the limbs of those farthest meeting the middle group. The shadows are spotted over the field which is dotted also with cows and peasants. Nothing much more beautiful can be imagined than the way in which these trees mass together and make the composition.

In Village sous les Arbres, are a number of little low huts nestling under the deep shade of some enormous oaks. Against the clear sky this forms a sombre, heavy mass, and the poor little cottages seem, in their shadowed retreat, insignificant and lowly enough. A peasant carrying two pails is walking toward a rivulet that flows at the right of the hamlet. As a composition it is dignified, even stately. And as ever the great oaks are magnificently portrayed.

Millet has a number of beautiful works, among them being La Bruleuse d’Herbes, Le Fendeur de Bois, La Lessiveuse, Le Vanneur, La Précaution Maternelle, and Les Botteleurs, which, showing the peasants making hay, is a canvas almost rivalling the Gleaners in popularity.

La Bruleuse d’Herbes is one of the single-figure compositions Millet was so fond of, where a solitary woman stands in a landscape that tells its own story and so helps to tell hers. Here she is leaning on her three-pronged rake, looking down at a burning mound of dry leaves and twigs. She has been clearing the ground and all about her is the dry, hubbly earth, and back, against which she is silhouetted, is the illimitable sky, enveloping all. There is infinite patience, a calmness born of long experience, a oneness with stern nature in this admirably drawn and poised figure, which is in a shadow that is only lightened on her left shoulder and down the left half of her heavy apron. Scarcely any of Millet’s pictures are fuller of poetry than is this little canvas.

La Lessiveuse is the interior of a kitchen lighted only from the left, with the housewife standing by her huge tub pouring the lye on to the cloth thrown over it. The steam rises in thick vapour and she has pulled back her skirts to keep them away from the too strong fumes. She is so placed that the light strikes the left side of her face, the upper part of her body, a little on the right below the waist and her right arm. The rest of her body is thrown into shadow by the tub. This is an immense but rather low, wooden affair bound about many times with wooden hoops and resting upon two wooden saw-horses. Behind the woman is the big fireplace where the fire crackles about the pot of grease. The woman herself, dressed in roughest of peasant clothes, is interesting even as mere spots of colour, with her gray cap, her rose bodice and her blue apron. As a personality she is more than interesting. Vigour, absorption in her work, firmness of muscle, quietness of pose all go to make this sturdy figure a sort of prose pastel.

Le Vanneur is still another interior, and one with even less light is the barn wherein is the winnower. Coming from the left, which is the direction from which comes the light also, is the man, bent almost double back-wards under the weight of an enormous flat, scuttle-shaped basket. This is filled with grain and from it a cloud of chaff arises. The labourer is in strict profile, dressed in a gray waistcoat and blue overalls. As he staggers across the barn the light strikes against his back and hits his left hand, thus making a spot of brilliancy toward the centre of the picture and helping to balance the composition. It is only the simplest sort of scene, of a bit of rough peasant life. But by the arrangement of light, by the choice of sympathetic if very quiet colours, by very excellent and very forceful drawing, it would be a splendid piece of work even without the attribute that was in everything Millet did, — that soul-quality without which none of his canvases would be truly his.

The collection of Troyons in these rooms is wonderful. They were picked with great discrimination and taste and almost every one is a masterpiece. The Hauteurs de Suresnes is perhaps the most marvellous, though others are almost as beautiful, such as L’Abreuvoir, Le Gué, La Barrière, La Rencontre des Troupeaux, La Provende des Poules.

In the first of these the Seine makes a broad curve as it sweeps on toward the low hills that break the line of the horizon. On a level rise of ground a herd of cows is grazing while a young boy keeps watch, and coming from the hills at the right is a peasant on horseback. This is one of Troyon’s canvases noted for its clearness of atmosphere, its charm of landscape, its quiet country life, its stolid ruminating cows.

In La Barrière a stream runs diagonally across the foreground, a low bank sloping to it on the right, a rail fence crossing it on the left. In the middle ground in the field beyond, a man on horseback drives a herd of cattle before him. Three of these have already come around the corner of the fence and are going to the water for drink. The fields stretch out broadly on all sides rising to low hills in the distance which are bathed by the sun’s rays. This brilliant canvas is, like all, a veritable bit of outdoors. The cows are portrayed as only Troyon could portray them, with a solidity, a massive impassiveness, and a surety of vision that did not need microscopically exact anatomical drawing to make them splendidly real.

In looking at Le Matin, once more one is inclined to cavil at those who call Troyon a painter but no poet. If this is not poetry, then it is painting that is more pregnant with beauty and meaning than most poems. Here are the very hours of the day that Corot loved. Yet with what a vastly different brush are they portrayed. Perhaps it is this very difference that makes the critics claim that if Corot is poetry, then forsooth this is none. Certainly it is more direct, less subtle, more vigorous, less ethereal, more earthly than the exquisite tone-poems of Père Corot. Yet it is none the less so full of the spirit of the morning, so charged with the freshness that is perennial, so full of the gladness of spring, withal so simply natural, so exuberantly sane, that it must be a soul of one idea who cannot see beauty as well as truth, poetry as well as vivid reality in this canvas.

On a path coming straight forward walks a peasant holding her small boy by the hand. The pathway is broken by the long, soft shadows thrown by the bordering trees and the two travellers, for directly behind them the sun is just rising. At the woman’s left and ahead of her two cows have gone to the pool below the pathway. A dog barks at them, and far behind in the morning mist a peasant in a cart talks with a woman. This distance is peculiarly lovely in tone. The shimmering, hazy air is rendered with a charm very unusual in paintings, however common in nature. And it is a charm that rests over all the scene.

The Troupeau de Moutons are coming out of a clearing into the woods, driven by a shepherd-boy behind them. Back of them the sun shows clearer, here within the forest it only flecks in spots and streaks over boy and sheep. Troyon was said to paint sheep till one could hear them bleat, and this flock justifies his reputation. Surely living sheep could hardly be more real, or seem more capable of filling the air with their baa-ahs.

It is evening, in the Rencontre des Troupeaux, and through the broad pathway of the forest one man driving his cows, meets a flock of sheep. Beyond the road shines the clear light of the evening sky.

La Provende des Poules is a bit of brilliant colour. A deep thundercloud is back of the farm and its outbuildings, and at the right the men are hastily piling hay into the carts. In the foreground a woman has just fed the flock of poultry and is going back to the farm. The wonderful light that breaks through the clouds strikes her and the poultry squarely, intensifying the bright feathers of the hens and roosters.

No pictures by Dupré are in the Louvre except in this collection. Here are twelve of his canvases, and almost all are chefs-d’oeuvre, not so greatly retouched and re-handled as are some of his later works. Studying these it is possible to see how Dupré’s contemporaries could have had the tremendous admiration for this solitary man of L’Isle Adam, who worked without ceasing, in great humility of spirit, avoiding both connoisseurs and buyers, fretting with a consciousness of what he felt to be the impossibility of ever adequately representing the spirit of his vision. It is this care, this dissatisfaction that has made us of to-day feel that his touch was heavy and laboured, that his canvas was overladen, too solid, too full of consideration and lacking in that esprit and ease which seems obligatory in works of art. These, in this collection, however, show him at his best, and, in the four, L’Abreuvoir et Grand Chêne, Les Landes, Soleil Couchant après l’Orage, and Soleil Couchant sur un Marais, he is seen to be a master almost without an equal in his own line.

The Great Oak and Watering-Place shows this mighty, wide-armed tree filling nearly the centre of the picture. It grows on a bank that slopes down rather sharply to a clear pool bordered with reeds, that fills the left of the foreground. To this pool come straying down a dozen or so of cattle from the road that stretches above from the tree to the left. Some are already drinking, some are still only part-way down the bank. Under the spreading branches of the tree are the thatched roofs of peasants’ cottages, and walking down the roadway toward them is a man with his scythe over his shoulder.

At the left is a glimpse of plain to the horizon, and at the right a hint of forest against the sky. This sky is very beautiful, filled with soft, gray, tremulous clouds. It is a peaceful scene full of a placid poetry.

More brilliant in colour is the one where the sun is setting over a marsh. In the foreground a wet marsh with small and big pools of reed-grown water is spotted with grazing cattle. In the distance a line of trees and thatched cottages are dark against the gleaming sky. The rays of the sun, just hidden by the lowest bank of cloud, separate fanlike over the sky, which is flecked with other clouds whose edges only hint the gold behind them. The water reflects in more unbroken expanse the golden light, and drowns the shadows of the trees and reeds. It is softly glorious in colour, full of sentiment and feeling, one of the very best canvases by Jules Dupré.

Almost equal to it is the Sun Smiling after a Storm. Cows again are drinking from the pond, at one side of which a huge oak grows, its branches half-denuded of leaves. The plain extends out beyond to a dark forest at the edge of the horizon. Gray, heavy clouds fill the sky whose outlines are limned with the golden pencil of the setting sun.

Les Landes is a gray-toned scene, and is perhaps the greatest of all the painter’s canvases here. Above all trees Dupré loved the oak, and it is the oak in all its moods, in sun, in rain, in quiet, in storm, under the morning light, darkened against the evening sky, half-disrobed of its reddened leaves or full of richest greenery, that he has painted over and over with a scrupulous fidelity but with an artistic poetizing that reveals the very spirit of this ancient tree. Here, in Les Landes are the oaks of central France. Not the great, free, broad-armed, vigorous oaks of Brittany, but the poor, little, misshaped, obstinate, sad trees of the arid soil that only half-nourishes. The land is sadder still with its autumn dryness and burnt surfaces. In the foreground some cows are grazing in a pasture all dry and full of crisp heath and herbs. Farther back are the oaks, growing on the bank of a river. The sky is full of clouds, so full that not one gleam from the sun can pierce through. One critic says that Dupré has rendered the scene with ” a brush rude, intense, majestic,” and “shown the penetrating silence of the solitude, the melancholy, and at the same time the dolorousness and splendour in that deserted land.”

Meissonier also has no canvases yet in the Louvre except these in this gallery. Among these other men, mostly of the school of Barbizon, this painter’s works stand out with an individuality and almost strangeness. Meissonier out-Dutched the Dutch in his extraordinary care for detail, his microscopical finish. It may be said that he was great in spite of his historical accuracy, his elaborate button-detail. He possessed to a high degree first-class draughtsmanship, a feeling for movement, mass and climax. He could tell, none better, a story most wonderfully well. He had a strong dramatic sense, was a vigorous if not subtle or poetic colourist and was able to infuse life into the smallest, most minutely finished of his most insignificant canvases. Coming as a boy to Paris when romanticists and classicists were in the depths of their most violent discussions, he was already strong enough and original enough to choose a path for himself quite unassailed and untroubled by either school. For years he painted almost entirely little genre subjects; not till the emperor ordered a picture of Solférino did he begin the military scenes that have made his name world-renowned. The pictures here show him with all his exquisite brush-work, his vivacity, his reality, his fine drawing, admirable composition and striking local colour.

Les Ordonnances is one where his wonderful knowledge of the horse is apparent in the four animals here depicted, each in an extremely foreshortened position, scarcely lessened in difficulty because all are at rest. In front of a stone house are two mounted hussars, each holding by the bridle another fully harnessed animal. The wall of the house is in brilliant sunshine, augmented in effect by the three-cornered shadow of a balcony or landing that projects from a doorway in the second story. The sun is high in the heavens, for the shadows under the horses’ feet are only slightly prolonged and their flanks glisten in the sharp light. The two forward horses stand facing the wall and the grenadier at the entrance on guard. The hussar is almost squarely back to, giving a fine view of his braided and fur-bound jacket, slung across his shoulders. The other soldier has his two horses planted facing almost opposite and as he bends forward over his bundle of blankets, his face is in shadow. In the distance another grenadier is at a wide opening of a building with a sharp-pointed roof. This picture was once in the Stuart collection.

The Poet is seated in profile at the right at a table which is in front of a window. He is in gray, in the style of Louis XV., and as he sits meditating and reading what he has written, he lays the end of his goose-quill pen against his lips. Large books rest upon the table and back on the wall a tapestry hangs. There is an air of distinction about this that satisfies, even if it does not profoundly impress.

Le Liseur is in a costume of the time of Louis XIII., the Flute-Player in that of Louis XV. These are both Meissonier at his level, which is also his best.

Of the several Isabeys perhaps the most delightful is A Marriage in the Church at Delft. The colour of this little picture, so crowded with tiny figures, is like the heart of a gem. The church interior is thronged with spectators of a noble wedding. Banners hang from the pillars, and as the bride and groom advance from the left up toward the stairway leading to the balcony, they are followed and preceded by a brilliant cortège in the costume of the seventeenth century. The shimmer of the satins and silks is wonderful, and the bride’s gown of white satin is a marvellous rendering of the lights and shadows of that entrancing material.

Besides the splendid collection of bronzes by Barye there is one sketch by him in oil. It shows two lions near their cave on a rocky hillside. One has his head on the other’s back. The surroundings are savage. It is evening, and the loneliness, the wildness, the untamableness and yet the intimacy and friendship of the two wild beasts are here clearly displayed.