Exhibition: French Artists in Eighteenth-Century Rome

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on September 25, 2011

From the exhibition website:

Drawn to Art: French Art Lovers and Artists in 18th-Century Rome
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 21 October 2011 — 2 January 2012
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen, 4 February — 23 April 2012

Curated by Sonia Couturier

Jacques-Louis David, "St. Jerome," 1779 Musée du Séminaire, Quebec City (deposited by the Fabrique Notre-Dame, inv. PE34.984) on loan to the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

In the 18th century, Rome was the principal crossroads for the European community and an important source of influence for French artists who rose to prominence in the Eternal City. This exhibition highlights the flowering of French art in 18th-century Rome, focusing on some 100 works, of which many are travelling to North America for the first time.

Visitors will have the opportunity to view an exceptional selection of drawings and prints as well as a number of paintings by many important French artists of the period, including Hubert Robert, Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Jacques-Louis David. After its presentation in Ottawa, the exhibition Drawn to Art: French Artists and Art Lovers in 18th-Century Rome will be on view at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen, France from 4 February to 23 April 2012.

Catalogue: Sonia Couturier, ed., Drawn to Art: French Artists and Art Lovers in 18th-Century Rome (Milan: Silvana, 2011), 216 pages, ISBN: 9788836620548, $67.50. [available from artbooks.com]

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Academic Training

Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Desmarais, "The Shepherd Paris," 1787–88 (Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada) Photo © NGC

The Académie de France in Rome, founded in 1666, provided training for the most talented students from the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture in Paris, for a period of about four years. This group of artists comprised the dozen recipients of the Grand Prix de Rome, awarded for excellence in painting, sculpture and architecture.

The students made copies of antiquities in public squares, gardens and the Capitoline Museum, and they visited the churches and palazzos of Rome to study Renaissance and Baroque masters. The Académie also offered a live model class, open to these pensionnaires (as they were called), external students and foreigners. Although the nude study was part of the curriculum, many of the resulting paintings of academy figures were of exceptional quality. Students’ work was regularly dispatched to the king of France to attest to their progress.

A number of French artists went on to successful careers in Rome or submitted proposals for major Roman projects. The length of time that both pensionnaires and independent artists spent in Rome varied depending on
their financial resources and patron support.

The Landscape of Rome and its Surroundings

Claude-Joseph Vernet, "View of Lake Nemi," 1748 (Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada)

A revival of interest in the art of landscape was sparked in 1725 when Nicolas Vleughels, who took over as director of the Académie de France in Rome, encouraged young painters to sketch in situ. This desire to breathe new life into the landscape genre resulted in a variety of forms.

Rome and its environs provided painters and draughtsmen in search of picturesque views with a constant source of inspiration. Some artists offered an idyllic, pastoral vision, mixing imagination and reality, while others opted for a more objective portrayal of the land and its inhabitants, carefully reproducing the natural and built environment. During his Roman sojourn (1754–65), Hubert Robert made countless images of the surrounding landscape, building a vast repertoire of motifs. Like other French pensionnaires in the 1740s, he was influenced by the vedutisti Giovanni Paolo Panini and Giovanni Battista Piranesi. The masterful studies of atmospheric effects by Adrien Manglard, Claude-Joseph Vernet and Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes helped to bring landscape to the forefront in the following century.

Art Lovers, Patrons, and Artists

François-André Vincent, "Portrait of Pierre-Jacques-Onésyme Bergeret de Grancourt," 1774 (Besançon: Musée des beaux-arts et d'archéologie)

Rome was a cosmopolitan centre that attracted not only artists of diverse nationalities but also sophisticated sponsors and connoisseurs eager to hone their knowledge. A number of dilettanti emerged as key figures of this lively community, in which the most promising talents of the time flourished.

The well-established artistic relationships linking Paris and Rome were forged primarily through the directors of the Académie de France in Rome and reinforced by visiting amateurs, each with his own set of connections. The diplomatic realm also provided a fertile terrain for exchanges and development of the network.

Art tourists rarely stayed in Rome for more than a few months. They took full advantage of the resources offered by the Académie, which had available a pool of young artists keen to serve as guides. Certain visitors seem to have warranted special attention; the most important was the Marquis de Marigny, future director of the king’s buildings, who was in Rome in 1750–51 in preparation for his upcoming appointment.

Celebrations and Festivities

Jean-Marie Vien, 32 plates Illustrating the "Caravane du Sultan à la Mecque" during the Carnival in Rome, 1748, detail (Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada)

Life in Rome was punctuated by numerous celebrations and festivals, and the French artists made the most of them. Especially memorable were the extraordinary Turkish and Chinese masquerades organized by students at the Académie de France for Rome’s annual carnival. The caricatures produced offer a glimpse into a milieu full of camaraderie.

Various works illustrate the extravagant set pieces, parade floats and fireworks displays conceived for the secular celebrations and religious ceremonies that regularly transformed the city. Among the official ceremonies held to mark political events was the Chinea festival, commemorating the ceding of the kingdom of Naples by Pope Clement IV to Charles of Anjou in 1265. As the new king of Naples, Charles presented the papacy with a white mare known as a chinea (a “hackney” in English). When Naples passed into Spanish hands, the tradition was preserved. Temporary structures made of wood, canvas and stucco were built before the ambassador’s palace. These macchine, inspired by allegorical themes that glorified the kingdom of Naples, were lit up at night by fireworks.

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