Exhibition | Fragonard’s Enterprise

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on July 19, 2015

Now on view at the Norton Simon:

Fragonard’s Enterprise: The Artist and the Literature of Travel
Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, 17 July 2015 — 4 January 2016

Curated by Gloria Williams Sander

Study after Lionello Spada: Joseph and  Potiphar’s Wife (from the Palazzo Ducale,  Modena) , 1760–61  17-3/4 x 13 in. (45.1 x 33.0 cm)

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Study after Lionello Spada: Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife (from the Palazzo Ducale, Modena), 1760–61, 18 x 13 inches (45 x 33 cm (Pasadena: Norton Simon Museum)

Before Jean-Honoré Fragonard ascended to the rank of one of the 18th century’s most popular painters, he studied at the French Academy in Rome, where he practiced the fundamental art of drawing as a method to hone his skills and to establish his own unique style. In Rome, he encountered his first patron, Jean-Claude Richard de Saint-Non (1727–1791). A passionate advocate of the arts, Saint-Non was an eager participant in the Grand Tour, the educational pilgrimage to Italy then in vogue throughout Europe. His voyage, made from 1759 to 1761, inspired him to chronicle this experience for an audience that shared his fascination with the peninsula. Saint-Non invited the young Fragonard to join in his tour through Italy’s illustrious cities. In exchange, Fragonard was tasked with making copies after the important paintings and monuments seen in the churches and palazzi. The black chalk drawings Fragonard produced for his sponsor served as source material for Saint-Non’s engravings and aquatints, which were published in suites, and in his illustrated travel book Voyage de Naples et de Sicile (1781–86). These immensely popular publications served as barometers of taste for the arts and as beloved reminders of the masterpieces visited.

Enthusiasm for classical antiquity and Neapolitan Baroque painting drew many tourists to Naples. Saint-Non enjoyed multiple visits to the city, and during Fragonard’s visit in March 1761, he created inspired copies after the masterpieces he visited in private and public spaces. Occasionally he combined subjects from different locations on one sheet of paper. St. Luke Surrounded by Angels, for example, was copied from a fresco by Giovanni Lanfranco in the Church of the Holy Apostles. On the same sheet, Fragonard flanked Luke’s figure with two prophets (Daniel and Habakkuk?) that caught his attention at the Certosa di San Martino, painted by the Spaniard Jusepe de Ribera. The result of this imaginative pastiche is so fluid that few would suspect it was a combination drawing.

With its sunlit canals and magnificent architecture, Venice proved irresistible to the Grand Tourist. Fragonard and Saint-Non passed more than a month there. Inspired by Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese, the French artist produced lively, free-spirited copies, as evidenced in his Study after Paolo Veronese’s Adoration of the Magi, 1582, from the Church of San Nicolò della Lattuga ai Frari. Fragonard shifted Veronese’s vertical format to a horizontal one, and deemphasized the architecture to concentrate on the rhythmic interweaving of the figures that he must have admired in the original.

The Norton Simon Museum owns 139 of the almost 300 drawings produced by Fragonard during this journey with his patron and friend. Approximately 60 drawings document their voyage to see the great artistic treasures of Florence, Bologna, and Padua, among other cities. Fragonard’s Enterprise explores the excitement of this expedition, the documentary and practical value of the drawings, as well as their history following publication, especially as they were treasured by later collectors.

Exhibition | A Revolution of the Palette

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on July 19, 2015

Now on view at the Norton Simon:

A Revolution of the Palette: The First Synthetic Blues and Their Impact on French Artists
Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, 17 July 2015 — 4 January 2016

Curated by John Griswold

The accidental discovery of Prussian blue in an alchemist’s laboratory around 1704 helped to open up new possibilities for artistic expression at the dawn of the Enlightenment. A Revolution of the Palette explores the use of this pigment, followed by the introduction of cobalt blue and synthetic ultramarine, by French artists from the Rococo period to the threshold of Impressionism.

Portrait of Theresa, Countess Kinsky,1793 Marie-Louise-Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun French, 1755-1842 Oil on canvas 54-1/8 x 39-3/8 in. (137.5 x 100.0 cm) Norton Simon Art Foundation

Marie-Louise-Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, Portrait of Theresa, Countess Kinsky,1793, oil on canvas, 54 x 39 inches, 138 x 100 cm (Pasadena: Norton Simon Art Foundation)

A new palette available to artists, thanks largely to the addition of Prussian blue in the 18th century, helped fuel the heated philosophical debates regarding Newtonian color theory. The fascinating new capabilities of artists to exploit sophisticated color relationships based on scientific optical principles became a core precept of Rococo painting, or peinture moderne as it was called at the time. Exquisite examples of the early use of Prussian blue by Fragonard and his immediate circle demonstrate their technical achievements. Paintings by Vigée-Lebrun, Prud’hon and Ingres show the masterful use of Prussian blue as Neoclassicism took hold. The sophisticated, subtle manipulations of color in academic painting of the period, exemplified by Ducis’ Sappho Recalled to Life by the Charm of Music and Degas’ early and ambitious emulation of a Poussin composition, The Rape of the Sabines, rely heavily on the ability of the new blues to deftly modulate tone and hue in ways never available to earlier painters.

As revolutionary as this new blue color proved to be, Prussian blue was a mere precursor to the explosion of available colors brought about by the Industrial Revolution. Indeed, the French government played an active role in catalyzing innovation at the dawn of the 19th century, as the country emerged from the Revolution with its economy in disarray. Chemist Louis Jacques Thénard’s development of the next synthetic blue, a vivid cobalt blue pigment, was inspired by the traditional cobalt oxide blue glazes seen on 18th-century Sèvres porcelain. An exquisite lidded vase on loan from the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens illustrates this.

The third synthetic blue to emerge was the culmination of centuries of searching for a cheap, plentiful, high-quality replacement for the most valuable of all pigments: natural ultramarine. This was a color derived from lapis lazuli, a rare, semiprecious gemstone mined almost exclusively in Afghanistan since the 6th century, and imported to Europe through Venice. It is famously known to have been more costly than gold during the Renaissance. Natural ultramarine provided a brilliant, royal blue hue, but only if coarsely ground and applied in a comparatively translucent glaze over a light-reflecting ground. Other blue colors, such as smalt, which was essentially composed of particles of colored glass, were available to help achieve the lovely hues of ultramarine, but the poor covering ability of the paint and the difficulty of its preparation and use were familiar limitations.

In 1824, the French government announced a competition among chemists to develop a true synthetic ultramarine. The prize was finally awarded in 1828 to Jean-Baptiste Guimet. Painters at last had an affordable, fully balanced palette of cool and warm colors spanning the full spectrum. This fact, combined with the innovation of ready-mixed tube oil colors, greatly facilitated the direct representation of nature. The ability of painters to capture a wide range of observed natural effects in the landscape en plein air are represented by the works of Corot, Guigou, Monticelli and Dupré. A Revolution of the Palette closes with two canvases representing the Impressionists’ full realization of the wide-open possibilities made possible by these new blues: Guillaumin’s The Seine at Charenton (formerly Daybreak), and Caillebotte’s Canoe on the Yerres River.

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