Published: March 20, 2001
SANTA BARBARA, CALIF. – “From the Sun King to the Royal Twilight: Painting in Eighteenth Century France from the Musee de Picardie, Amiens,” a selection of approximately 80 works from the collection of the Musee de Picardie, Amiens will open at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA) on April 24. It will run through June 17.
The exhibition will provide a rich overview of French painting from the end of the reign of Louis XIV to the fall of the French monarchy in the mid-Nineteenth Century.
Organized by the American Federation of Arts and the Musee de Picardie, Amiens, the exhibition is curated in Santa Barbara by SBMA director Robert Frankel and made possible by the general support of Robert K. and Barbara J. Straus Family Foundation and Lord and Lady Ridley-Tree.
The collection of Eighteenth Century painting at the Musee de Picardie, Amiens is notable for its numerous royal commissions and for a donation of over 250 paintings made in the 1890s by the Lavalard brothers – two avid collectors of works from the French Classical age. Over the course of the Eighteenth Century, artists began to receive commissions not only from the court, but also from the bourgeoisie. This shift is reflected in the work, which moved away from the official and at times heavily historical subjects so highly prized under the Sun King toward an elegant intimate and more imaginative rendering of these same subjects.
Guest curator Matthieu Pinette, director of the Musee de Picardie, Amiens, arranged the exhibition chronologically. The exhibition covers the reigns of Louis XIV, the Sun King (1643-1715), Louis XV (1715-74) and Louis XVI (1774-1806), Nicolas Lancret (1690-1743) and Hubert Robert (1733-1808) are represented. Lesser-known artists, many of who were first painters to the king or directors of the powerful French Academy in Rome are also included. They are Louis Aubert (1720-98), Noel Halle (1711-81), Jean Restout (1692-1768) and Charles Andre, called Carle Vanloo (1705-65).
Each of the three sections is introduced by a grand portrait of the ruling sovereign, on loan from the Musee de Beaux-Arts, Orleans. The first section, devoted to the reign of Louis XIV, brings to life the pomp of the court of Versailles with splendid portraits including “Portrait of a Magistrate,” (circa 1715), “Portrait of a Magistrate’s Wife,” (circa 1715) and the opulent “Still Life with Fruit,” (circa 1695-1700), by Nicolas de Largilliere (1656-1746).
“Works created during the reign of Louis XV make up the largest portion of the exhibition. The grandoise yet elegant art that epitomizes the period is represented by such works as “The Ailing Alexander Receives the Potion from His Doctor, Philip,” (1747), by Restout and “The Martyrdom of Saint Theodore of Antioch and Didymus,” (circa 1740), by Pierra Subleyras (1699-1749). A group of pastoral scenes dating from about 1720 and attributed to Bonaventure de Br (1700-1729), embody the emerging taste for fetes galantes, picturing the graceful, amorous figures in park-like settings.
Also in the Louis XV section are four fine paintings by Boucher, including “The Abduction of Europa” (1732-1734) and “The Birth of Venus” (circa 1740-50), representing the diverse genres in which the artist excelled, including fetes galantes and mythological scenes. This section also demonstrates the courtly taste for hunting scenes, including paintings from the illustrious series by Charles Parrocel (1688-1752), Boucher, and Nicolas Lancret commissioned by Louis XV for the Petite Galerie at Versailles. Examples of the intimate, subtly colored still-life paintings by Chardin, such as “Still Life with Two Rabbits, Gamebag and Powder Horn” (circa 1750-55), reflect a pervasive artistic climate at the end of the reign of Louis XV.
The graceful style and aesthetics made popular by Boucher continued under Louis XVI, with paintings by Fragonard, Halle, and Jean Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805). Fragonard’s lively brushstroke and skillful use of chiaroscuro can be seen in “The Cradle,” (circa 1761-65). Hubert Robert (1733-2803) is represented by several major canvases depicting scenes set among ancient ruins, including “Landscape with a Man Lifting a Block of Stone at the Foot of a Statue of Hercules,” (circa 1790-1800).
A fully illustrated catalogue published by the American Federation of the Arts accompanies the exhibition. From the Sun King to the Royal Twilight: Painting the Eighteenth Century France from the Musee de Picardie, Amiens features an introductory essay by the guest curator on the Nineteenth Century revival of the collection of Eighteenth Century French paintings as exemplified by the Lavalard brothers and a foreword by Pierre Rosenberg, director of the Musee du Louvre.
The Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1130 State Street, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 am to 5 pm, Sunday, noon to 5 pm, and Friday, 11 am to 9 pm. For information, 805-963-4364.
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