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Entries in French Art (12)


Jean Clouet: Delicacy and Depth of Characterization

Jean Clouet - Guillaume Budé - ca. 1536 - Oil on Wood - 15 5/8 x 13 1/2 in. (39.7 x 34.3 cm) - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY (click photo for larger image)Although he lived in France for most of his life, records show that Jean Clouet (c. 1485-1541) was not French by origin and was never naturalized. He was one of the chief painters to Francis I as early as 1516 and was appointed groom of the chamber from 1523 forward. As such, he enjoyed the salary and social position granted to the most prominent poets and scholars of the time. In the early 1520s he lived in Tours and from 1529 in Paris. He painted chiefly portraits, but, at least iIn the earlier part of his career, he produced religious subjects.

“Painter to King Francis I, Jean Clouet played a key role in establishing the Renaissance portraiture tradition in France, yet this is his only extant painted portrait. It depicts Guillaume Budé, librarian to Francis I and the leading humanist of sixteenth-century France…. Budé’s fingers hold his page, as if interrupted. With the quill in his right hand, he has written in Greek, ‘While it seems to be good to get what one desires, the greatest good is not to desire what one does not need’ (Joannes Stobaeus, 3.5.18).” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC)


Rosa Bonheur: A Woman and Artist of Substance

Rosa Bonheur - The Horse Fair - 1852-55 - Oil on canvas - 96 1/4 x 199 1/2 in. (244.5 x 506.7 cm) - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (click photo for larger image)French painter and sculptor Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899) earned fame for the remarkable accuracy and detail of her pictures featuring animals. Toward the end of her career those qualities were accentuated by a lighter palette and the use of a highly polished surface finish.

By the time Bonheur was in her teens, her talent for sketching live animals had manifested itself, and—rejecting training as a seamstress—she began studying animal motion and forms on farms, in stockyards, and at animal markets, horse fairs, and slaughterhouses, observing and sketching them and gaining an intimate knowledge of animal anatomy. At the Salon of 1841 she exhibited two paintings. 

The work featured here is best described by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “This, Bonheur’s best-known painting, shows the horse market held in Paris on the tree-lined Boulevard de l’Hôpital, near the asylum of Salpêtrière, which is visible in the left background. For a year and a half Bonheur sketched there twice a week, dressing as a man to discourage attention. Bonheur was well established as an animal painter when the painting debuted at the Paris Salon of 1853, where it received wide praise. In arriving at the final scheme, the artist drew inspiration from George Stubbs, Théodore Gericault, Eugène Delacroix, and ancient Greek sculpture: she referred to The Horse Fair as her own "Parthenon frieze.”

Bonheur was the first woman awarded the Grand Cross by the French Legion of Honor. A professional artist with a successful career, Bonheur lived in two consecutive committed relationships with women.


Jean Pucelle: French + Italian + Flemish = Pucelle

Workshop of Jean Pucelle - Belleville Breviary - 1323-26 - Manuscript (Ms. lat. 10484, 2 volumes), 240 x 170 mm - Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris (click photo for larger image)Jean (Jehan) Pucelle (ca.1300-1355 and active c. 1319-1334 in Paris) was a French Gothic era manuscript illuminator—master of a celebrated workshop in Paris during the 1320s. Little is known of his career, but his large workshop dominated Parisian painting in the first half of the 14th century. He enjoyed court patronage and his work commanded high prices. Certain features of his art—particularly his mastery of space—indicate that he probably travelled in Italy early in his career. He was also familiar with Flemish developments. It was the synthesis of these two influences—allowing for an increasing penetration of naturalistic representation into traditional iconography—which formed the basis for Pucelle's individual style.

The Belleville Breviary comes from the workshop of Pucelle, and in it a great many new features appear. The page featured here reveals a wide range of decorative inventions embracing naturalistic flowers, insects, birds and animals—and grotesque little men playing musical instruments. But the whole effect is tightly controlled, associated as it is with a firm regular framework of narrow bars.

The influence of Italian painting is marked in Pucelle's work, demonstrated by his interest in pictorial space. This is possibly the most revolutionary feature of his work. The exploitation of various rudimentary forms of perspective was a completely new feature of late thirteenth-century Italian painting, and Pucelle incorporated something of these experiments into his manuscript illuminations.

Folio 24v (below) shows David and Saul enclosed within a small doll's-house-like construction, painted erratically but clearly in three dimensions. Below (on the bas-de-page) the scene of Cain murdering his brother is depicted.


Alfred Sisley: The Unheralded Impressionist

Alfred Sisley - Boats on the Canal - 1873 - Oil on canvas - 46 × 65 cm. - Musée d'Orsay, ParisFrench Impressionist Alfred Sisley (1839-1889) was yet another artist who studied in Charles Gleyre’s studio in 1862, along with fellow painters Monet, Renoir, and Bazille (all of whom are discussed here on What About Art?). Born in Paris to wealthy English parents—Sisley’s pursuit of painting began as a hobby. His family intended for him to go into commerce. However, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71 brought financial ruin to the Sisley family and caused Sisley.  At this period of crisis, Sisley fled to London and decided to make painting his full-time career. The rest of his life was a constant struggle against poverty. It was only after his death, that Sisley’s talent began to be widely recognized, and the price of his work rose sharply. Even to date, he is under-studied and under appreciated when compared to the other Impressionists.

Primarily a landscape painter, Sisley work is distinguished by those of his Impressionist contemporaries by his use of softly harmonic values and a restricted and delicate palette.


Gericault: Capturing Animal Movement

Théodore Gericault - Lions in a Mountainous Landscape - ca. 1818–20 - Oil on wood - 19 x 23 1/2 in. (48.3 x 59.7 cm) - Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY (click photo for larger image)French painter Théodore Gericault (1791–1824) exerted a seminal influence on the development of Romanticism in France. Géricault was a man unduly attentive to style neatness and fashion, with respect to this personal appearance—and he was also an avid horseman. His dramatic paintings reflect his flamboyant and passionate personality. 

As a student Géricault, learned the traditions of English sporting art and developed a remarkable facility for capturing animal movement. He also mastered classicist figure construction and composition.  Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), widely regarded as the greatest of the French Romantic painters, was profoundly influenced by Géricault, finding in his example a major point of departure for his own art.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art describes the painting featured here as follows: “This vigorous painting of six lions in a remote, spectrally illuminated lair—possibly intended to evoke the Atlas Mountains of Morocco—is an extraordinary example of Gericault’s spontaneous handling of paint. Rather than applying finishing touches to make a polished cabinet picture, the artist left the painting in a state known as an ébauche, a work prized for its strength of directly capturing a subject or effect. Until its acquisition by the Museum, the composition was known only by means of a replica (Musée du Louvre, Paris), which is thought to have been painted by an artist in Gericault’s circle.”