Enfilade

Exhibition | Georges Michel: The Sublime Landscape

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on February 15, 2018

Now on view at the Fondation Custodia:

The Sublime Landscape: Georges Michel
Monastère Royal de Brou, Bourg-en-Bresse, 6 October 2017 — 7 January 2018
Fondation Custodia / Collection Frits Lugt, Paris, 27 January — 29 April 2018

Curated by Ger Luijten and Magali Briat-Philippe

Admired by Vincent van Gogh, Georges Michel (1763–1843) is held to be the precursor of plein air painting. He was influenced by the painters of the Dutch Golden Age, earning the nickname of ‘the Ruisdael of Montmartre’. Yet today he is not widely known. The Fondation Custodia, in collaboration with the Monastère royal de Brou, is proposing to unveil the artist whose merits were first remarked by the dealer Paul Durand-Rueil in the nineteenth century. The first one-man exhibition for fifty years of the work of Georges Michel will be held from 27 January to 29 April 2018 at 121 rue de Lille, Paris. About fifty paintings and forty drawings—on loan mainly from French private and public collections—will be on show, and the exhibition will include some recent acquisitions by the Fondation Custodia.

Georges Michel was born in Paris in 1763 and died there in 1843 after a remarkable career, whether in real terms or in a mythical post-mortem reconstruction of the life of this allegedly misunderstood artist. The main body of what we know about him comes from the biography written by Alfred Sensier in 1873, compiled from information recounted to him by the artist’s widow. Michel kept his distance from official art circles and only took part in the Salon between 1791—the date when the exhibition first opened its doors to artists who were not members of the former Académie royale—and 1814. His name was not mentioned thereafter until the sale of his work and the contents of his studio a year before his death.

The exhibition at the Fondation Custodia opens with youthful work by the artist, still betraying the influence of the eighteenth-century French landscape tradition as embodied in the art of Lazare Bruandet (1755-1804) or Jean-Louis Demaine (1752–1829), with whom Michel explored the Ile-de-France in search of subjects for sketching. He remained loyal to Paris and the surrounding countryside, claiming that ‘anyone unable to spend a lifetime painting within a range of four leagues is just a blundering fool searching for a mandrake—he will find only a void’. Saint-Denis, Montmartre or La Chapelle, the Buttes-Chaumont and the banks of the Seine, the countryside to the north of Paris offered a variety of hills and plains, dotted with quarries, mills and scattered dwellings.

Georges Michel’s style developed gradually away from the picturesque, anecdotic landscape that was in vogue between 1770 and 1830, achieving a notable originality. His paintings capture, with sincerity and a hint of the romanticism to come, the rural spots threatened with extinction as the villages around Paris began to be subsumed into the capital during the 1860s.

At a period when the painting of the Northern schools was enjoying a revival in France, Georges Michel, according to his widow, carried out some restoration work on Dutch paintings for the influential Paris dealer Jean-Baptiste Pierre Le Brun (1748–1813) and for the Muséum central des Arts (now the Musée du Louvre), at the behest of its director, Dominique Vivant Denon (1747–1825). Even though no trace of this activity can be found in the archives, Michel’s work is incontrovertibly influenced by the masters of the Dutch Golden Age. The exhibition at the Fondation Custodia—one of whose aims is to study the reception of Dutch art in France—takes this opportunity to compare Michel with the predecessors he so admired—and whose work he sometimes copied. From Jacob van Ruisdael (1628/1629–1682) he borrows compositions enlivened by vast, windswept skies, with sometimes a shaft of brilliant sunlight breaking through the clouds. The masterly chiaroscuro in his paintings, however, has its source in the work of Rembrandt (1606–1669). Philips Koninck (1619–1688), whose work in the eighteenth century was sometimes confused with that of Rembrandt, also evidently inspired Michel with his vast landscapes and limitless skies.

The Fondation Custodia, a home for art on paper in Paris, has recently acquired a large number of sheets by Georges Michel. The last section of the exhibition is devoted to these drawings. Michel’s prolific graphic work is characterised by its wide variety of techniques and subjects. The artist excelled in capturing vibrant views of Paris—in black chalk or, less frequently, pen and ink. The topographical nature of these drawings makes identification of the chosen locations simple: the Louvre, the Tuileries, the Jardin des Plantes, the Barrières de Ledoux.

Curators: Ger Luijten, director of the Fondation Custodia; and Magali Briat-Philippe, conservateur, responsable du service des patrimoines, Monastère royal de Brou.

More information, including a selection of images, is available here»

Magali Briat-Philippe and Ger Luijten, eds., Georges Michel: Le paysage sublime (Paris: Fondation Custodia, 2017), 208 pages, ISBN 978 9078655 268, 29€.

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