Art from France: from Delacroix to Cézanne

MASP - Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand

This exhibition, presented at the MASP from 17.7 to 8.11.2015, went through nearly two hundred years of artistic production in France, from the 18th to the 20th centuries, exhibiting portraits, landscapes, still life and historical scenes and everyday life, of the most important collection of the period in the Southern Hemisphere. Artists of neoclassical heritage, such as Ingres, and romantic, like Delacroix, were represented; also names associated with the precursor movements of modernism, such as Courbet's realism; the Impressionism, of Monet and Degas; the Post-impressionism, by Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin; the Nabis group by Vuillard; and Cubism, of Picasso and Léger. Much of these works are bear witness to the political, social, and cultural ruptures that marked Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when art gained other circuits of production and exhibition beyond official salons and commissions, such as the press and specialized criticism; bars where the life of the new bourgeoisie and intellectuality effervesced; the ateliers and the importance of its expanded dimension, especially in the case of Picasso; alternative academies, such as Julian and Suisse, which offered options to the more traditional formation of the École de Beaux-Arts. The exhibition focused showing complete sets of the collection, especially Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Modigliani and Manet. Delacroix and Cézanne, together in the same space, at the entrance, worked as vectors for the whole exhibition path, since they pointed, each in its time, to the past as well as to the future of art history, punctuating transitions between tradition and the modern; the old and the new; between, for example, Ingres and Léger.
Cézanne, who saw in Delacroix a master and studied painting making copies of his canvases, knew how to perceive modernist qualities in it. Cézanne not only took up some of these qualities but gave them new meaning, in the case of the encounter between figure and background; of the greater protagonism given to the elements of painting, such as the brushstroke, in the detriment of themes; and, above all, the way he used a supposedly unfinished character of his paintings. Items from MASP's historical and photographic archive were also displayed, such as donations, acquisitions, invitations, exhibition leaflets, newspaper clippings, magazines and photographs that recover part of the works and the museum histories. Presented in the same level as the paintings, they point to a redefinition of places and hierarchies between works of art and their history within the institution, offering a new status for materials commonly distant from the eyes of the public. The layout of the panels, steel cables and works, as well as their relation between each other and with the space, takes up a project by Lina Bo Bardi, architect of MASP. In 1950, at the former headquarters of 7 de Abril street, its exhibition design already anticipated notions of transparency, lightness and suspension, without divisions in rooms nor rigid chronologies. These choices were fundamental and paved the way for the radical solution of the works hanged on crystal easels which, absent since 1996, have returned to the second floor of MASP in December 2015. In the following, a selection of the works exhibited in "Art from France: from Delacroix to Cézanne".

Paul Cézanne
Cézanne traveled to Paris for the first time in1861, where he met the impressionists. Up until the1880s he painted in Romantic style, inspired by lyricism and the loose brushstrokes of Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863). His painting gradually took on constructive lines, as in "Rocks at L’Estaque" (1882–85), where each element appears independently, as though the landscape were a combination of various geometric pieces. The artist became withdrawn from1886 onward, after recognizing himself as the failed painter in the novel "L’œuvre", by Émile Zola (1840–1902), his childhood friend, who appears in his painting "Paul Alexis Reading a Manuscript to Zola" (1869–70). Cézanne wanted to raise the impressionists’ principles, based on the vibration of color and light, to the level of classical art. But he went beyond this and painted objects from different points of view, anticipating the cubist precepts.

It is believed that the character in "The Negro Scipio" (1866–68) was a model who posed for studios in Paris, but the scene is very similar to an1863 photo of an escaped slave with the marks of whiplashes on his back.

In the1890s, Cézanne returned to the lyricism of the works of his youth. This is the case of "Mme. Cézanne in Red" (1890–94), which depicts his wife and frequent model. The absence of shadow puts the background on the same plane as the subject, lending density and unity to the composition.

Eugène Delacroix
A scholar of the classics, Delacroix wrote about his work and that of other artists throughout his life, becoming an intellectual model of Romantic painting.

He traveled to personally meet painter John Constable (1776–1837), in England, and to see the work of Francisco de Goya (1746–1828), in Spain.

These references were fundamental for Delacroix to break free from the traditional rigor of French painting; rather than striving to create objectively precise depictions, his aim was to suggest sensations and feelings.

The works by Delacroix in MASP’s collection were commissioned by French
industrialist Frederick Hartmann (1822–1880) to decorate his residence.
In them, Delacroix associates the theme of the four seasons to Greco-Roman mythology.

The same broad brushstrokes are used for the settings and the characters, and the movement is not only in the gestures and interaction, but in the rhythm of the brushstrokes themselves. The curves of the rocks, the billowing clouds, the vegetation and the waters seem to accompany the sinuosity of the bodies, imparting tension to the set.

From a distance, the large-format canvases present the scenes in their totality, with
a wealth of details.

From up close, each segment functions independently, highlighting the patches of color, especially the masses of ocher and red, and those of green and blue.

Marie Laurencin
Marie Laurencin entered Paris’s Académie Humbert in1905, interested in painting porcelain. There, she studied under Georges Braque (1882–1963), who brought her to the studio of Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), on Rue Ravignan, to broaden the possibilities of her painting.

She attended the studio for several years, where she participated intensely in discussions on themes such as the surpassing of fauvism by cubism, especially after poet Guillaume Apollinaire (1880–1918) presented her with a copy of his1913 book Peintres cubistes: méditations esthétiques [Cubist Painters: Aesthetic Meditations]. Nevertheless, Laurencin never assimilated the cubist spirit; her painting is light and fluid. A recognized illustrator, she made the lithographs of the version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland published in France in1930.

"Guitarist and Two Female Figures" (1934) is exemplary of her palette of mild colors, marked by tones of pink and blue, with thin lines between each color field. The scene of the outdoor musical get-together recalls a tradition of similar paintings spanning from Giorgione (c.1477–1510) to Edouard Manet (1832–1883), revealing the presence of academic themes in Laurencin’s artistic vocabulary

Suzanne Valadon
At fifteen, besides her work as a waitress in the bars of Montmartre, Suzanne Valadon became a model for artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901) and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919). At seventeen, upon the birth of her son, painter Maurice Utrillo (1883–1955), of unknown paternity, she began to draw. Upon seeing her drawings, Renoir introduced her as an artist to the art world. She was the first woman to show her works at the Salon des Beaux-Arts de Paris, in 1894. On that occasion, painter Edgar Degas (1834–1917) bought some of her works and encouraged her to work with printmaking, opening the doors of his own studio to her.

After an unproductive period of fifteen years, which coincided with her first marriage, Valadon became active again in 1909, focusing her efforts on painting. She kept the saturated colors of her pastel drawings, borrowing themes from Degas such as bathers and reclining nudes. In 1924, she took part in exhibitions of women artists in Paris, placing her work back into the spotlight.

In her work in the MASP collection, "Nudes" (1919), one woman is reading, lying face down in the grass, while the other one sits above her, arranging her hair while her foot toys with a yellow shoe between the prone women’s legs.

Their pink-and-yellow body tone, coupled with their outlines, thrusts the bathers into the foreground, above the swathes of green grass, vegetation, and the masonry of a low wall.

Fernand Léger
From a humble origin, Léger was an apprentice at an architectural firm before studying at the École des Arts Décoratifs and Académie Julian, both in Paris. He participated in the most intense burst of cultural effervescence in Paris’s Montparnasse District, benefiting greatly from rubbing shoulders with artists such as Robert Delaunay (1885–1941) and Marc Chagall (1887–1985), as well as poet Blaise Cendrars (1887–1961), who dedicated his 1919 "Construction" to him.

Léger’s cubism was marked by strong lines that delineate the objects, filled by monochromatic areas and shadowing that lends them volume. These principles were set forth in his texts, which include "L’esthétique de la machine" [The Aesthetics of the Machine] (1923). Besides his forays into theater, in 1924 Léger produced "Ballet Mécanique" [Mechanical Ballet], the first abstract film in the history of cinema, with photography by Man Ray (1890–1976). "Compote Dish with Pears" (1923), a work in MASP’s collection, dialogues with his experiments in these artistic languages, imparting a dynamic, geometric treatment to commonplace themes, blending industrial aesthetics and colors with daily life. The thick outlines and the areas of uniform and shadowed colors recognizably influenced the work of Brazilian painter Tarsila do Amaral (1886–1973), his student in Paris during the 1920s.

Amedeo Modigliani
Before moving to Paris, in 1906, Modigliani studied at the academies of Florence and Venice. In the French capital, he lived in Montmartre District, then home to many artists, including Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), who befriended Modigliani.

In 1909, he met Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi (1876–1957), an influence that led him to dedicate himself exclusively to sculpture until 1914, when he returned to painting. Modigliani was an alcoholic, living in poverty and dying of tuberculous meningitis at 36. In the context of the School of Paris, he developed a style that refers to cubism, with figures that tend toward geometric stylization, as in the elongated faces of African masks.

His human figures are also charged with a melancholy that recalls the Italian Madonnas of the Renaissance. His portraits and nudes are painted on nearly monochromatic neutral backgrounds, though marked by brushstrokes. The necks are stretched; the faces are elliptical, with delicate lines. The six paintings in MASP’s collection, all made between 1915 and 1919, were acquired by the museum between 1950 and 1952. The works in the exhibition include "Portrait of Leopold Zborowski" (1916–19), a Polish poet who moved to Paris and later became a friend of Modigliani and other artists, also working as their art dealer.

Pablo Picasso
After attending a fine arts academy in Barcelona, Picasso moved to Paris at the beginning of the 20th century. His studio on Rue Ravignan soon became a meeting point for artists and intellectuals. Due to his interest in African masks and ancient Greek sculpture, and to the influence of Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), he began to paint objects as they are seen from various sides, thus imparting movement to them. The use of geometry to structure the image and to guide the gaze made his work a milestone for 20th-century art.

MASP’s collection includes four works by Picasso, the three featured in this exhibition being from the beginning of his career. In "La Toilette" (Fernande) (1906), the artist revisits the academic theme of a girl taking a bath assisted by a servant. The model he used for this painting was his lover, a practice he was to repeat throughout his life. "Portrait of Suzanne Bloch" (1904), from his Blue Period, uses the color blue exclusively to unify all the points on the canvas—an idea that gained a new character with cubism.

In "Bust of a Man" (1909), one of the first cubist artworks, Picasso avoided curved lines, structuring the figure with a mix of different planes. In this phase, the artist distorted the shapes to forge a more dynamic relation with the object, freeing it from the model.

Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin is an example of an artist who looks at the Others as “exotic”, based on the European culture. He spent part of his childhood in Peru, his mother’s country of birth, and joined the French merchant marine at seventeen. He traveled widely throughout his life, passing through various countries including Panama, Egypt and Tahiti, in French Polynesia. In France, he studied ceramics, thereby acquiring a knack for simplifying and stylizing shapes. Although he had many photographs from his travels, he painted from memory, lending his works a certain idealized look. His "Tahiti" canvases are his best known.

They include "The Poor Fisherman" (1896), in which the nude subject, leaning on a canoe, is drinking from a gourd while gazing at a calm sea under billowing clouds.

The position of his body and the side-view perspective could be references to the reliefs found at Egypt’s Abydos Temple, images of which circulated in France during the1880s. For its part, "Self-Portrait—Close to Golgotha" (1896) shows a mystical Gauguin in uncommon lighting and haunted by faces half-concealed in the rocks in the background.

Vincent van Gogh
After studying art for two years in Paris, Van Gogh moved to Arles, in the south of France, in 1888, where he began a series of works with splendid lighting and vibrant colors. In this period, he suffered from psychological disturbances, being committed at times to asylums, and finally taking his own life in 1890. All of this is documented in letters, especially those addressed to Theo van Gogh (1857–1891), the artist’s brother and art dealer.

The four works by Van Gogh in MASP’s collection were made during this period. In "The Schoolboy" (The Postman´s Son–Gamin au Képi) (1888), Van Gogh avoids photographic resemblance to the model. The rhythmic brushstrokes gain power from the strong, saturated colors.

In "L’Arlesienne" (1890), Van Gogh creates the image of a woman who could be young or old. The effects of the brushstroke lend a new filter to the portrait: the artist’s perception determines the nature of the figure.

The organization of the pink background summarizes Van Gogh’s legacy for the history of art: color that vibrates and illuminates itself.

In "Couple Walking at Twilight" (1889–90) and The Stone Bench in the Asylum at Saint-Remy (1889), the twisted trees and brushstrokes that change direction energize the scene, in which the sky, plants and people seem to be moving within a strange atmosphere, as though they were alive within the thick mass of paint.

Edouard Vuillard
From the age of eighteen onward, Vuillard attended studios of artists. He was a friend of Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947), with whom he participated, in 1891, in the first show of Les Nabis, a group that rejected both academic tradition as well as the impressionist experiments. Les Nabis artists were influenced by the bold colors and patterns of Japanese prints.

Vuillard preferred intimist scenes, and his paintings approximated the fauvist aesthetics, which rejected perspective in favor of frontality. "The Flowered Dress" (1891) shows a recurrent theme in his first artworks: his mother’s sewing workshop.

There are three spatial delimitations in the room: the rear section with a fireplace, the walls in vertical lines, and the mirror at the back that reflects the woman in the foreground.

The scene is pervaded by tones of green, ocher and grayish lilac, but the focus is on the printed dress. In this way, Vuillard created an atmosphere inhabited not by identities (the faces lack detail), but rather by an overall appearance formed by the colorful blotches and motifs of the clothing, the dress and the wall. Although more realist,"Princess Bibesco" (c.1920) and "Yvonne Printemps and Sacha Guitry" (c.1917) maintain the depiction of Parisian customs in indoor settings.

Claude Monet
In 1859, Monet met Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), Camille Pissarro (1830–1903) and Edouard Manet (1832–1883), his great reference. Together with them, he mounted an exhibition in 1874 which gave rise to the term “impressionist,” first used in a negative critique of his work "Impression, Sunrise" (1872).

MASP’s two works by Monet were painted in Giverny, where the artist lived from 1883 onward. "Canoe on the Epte" (c.1890) evinces his interest in aquatic surfaces. The closeness of the water, which takes up the entire lower part of the canvas, indicates that Monet sought to depict the reflection of the plants on the surface while also conveying the river’s depth.

The soft focus on the women and the framing of the canoe, cropped by the painting’s border, recall the language of photography, a decisive influence for the painter. The scene refers to Japanese prints that circulated in France at that time.

As he was particularly interested in the effects of the air’s transparency, Monet preferred painting out of doors, with natural lighting. He constructed his colors with layers, in ways that enhance the brightnesses and shadows, without black and white.

"Japanese Bridge over the Pond of Water Lilies in Giverny" (1920–24) comes close to abstraction. It is one of Monet’s last works.

Edgar Degas
During his art training, Degas learned about the work of Ingres (1780–1867), an inspiration that led him to work especially with depictions of women, bathers and dancers. In 1862, while copying a painting by Diego Velázquez (1599–1660) at the Louvre, in Paris, Degas met Edouard Manet (1832–1883), who introduced him to the group of impressionist painters. Even though Degas organized all the group’s exhibitions, from the inaugural show in 1874 to the last one in 1886, certain impressionist premises, such as painting under the open sky with natural lighting are not present in his production.

His works do, however, display other characteristics of the movement, such as the representation of light and shadowing without the use of black, exploring the effects of combinations of colors.

This is the case of "Four Ballerinas on the Stage" (1885–90): the arm of the central dancer has blue marks that function as shadow;

her tutu seems to leap from the canvas because the purple patches enhance and brighten the pink tones;

part of her face is green, thus omitting the facial expression and highlighting her gesture. Degas is also known as a sculptor. MASP has an extraordinary set of 73 sculptures by him, of horses and women, cast in bronze after his death.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Toulouse-Lautrec moved to Paris in 1882. He set up a studio where he could make covers and illustrations for periodicals such as Le Mirliton, La Revue Blanche and L’Escarmouche, which transformed him into a pioneer of the graphic arts during and after the Belle Époque, when France was the cultural model of the West.

Besides the impressionists, whom he admired, he was also influenced by Japanese printmaking. He was moreover close to Les Nabis (“the prophets” in Hebrew)—artists who preferred to portray the habits of the Parisian bourgeois rather than to capture of sensations of natural lighting. This is why he painted in dark places, where he had control of the effects of light on the colors and shapes. The Parisian underworld was his stage. He had previously painted bucolic themes using thinner paints, as in "The Dog (Sketch of Touc?)" (c.1880).

In the bordellos, his paintings took on outlines marked in blue or green, delimiting the color fields and highlighting the movement of the models, as in "The Wheel – The Dancer Loïe Fuller seen from the Backstage" (1893) and "Woman Combing Her Hair" (1891).

Alcoholism resulted in his hospitalization in 1899 and his definitive departure from Paris. "Portrait of Octave Raquin" (1901) and "18th-Century Admiral" (1901) are from this phase, when he applied the paint in thick, large masses of color, without outlines, and obliterating all traces of the underlying canvas.

Edouard Manet
Manet played an essential role in the passage of academic art to modern art. As a shaker and mover in the art scene in the second half of the 19th century in Paris, he not only energized the debates among artists in the Guerbois and Nouvelle Athènes cafés, but also discussed ideas with writers and poets such as Émile Zola (1840–1902) and Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867).

The characters in his paintings, generally full-bodied portraits, look out sternly at the spectator, seemingly in defiance of tradition and art criticism. Perhaps this explains his late-coming recognition in the art salons.

In "The Amazon–Portrait of Marie Lefébure" (1870–75), the strong contrast between the thin greens of the background and the woman’s clothing, with its jet blackness and geometric outline, constructs a nearly abstract scene which the horse turns its head toward and threatens to penetrate.

The object in the Amazon’s hand appears to have been painted twice—a pentimento which lends movement to the scene.

"Mr. Eugène Pertuiset, the Lion Hunter" (1881)—a portrait of a man who was both an art dealer and gun dealer— is a satire on the lion hunts in the paintings by Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863). Fallen on the purple ground, the lion suggests the death of tradition.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Renoir met Claude Monet (1840–1926) during his youth, when he attended studios and studied at the École de Beaux-Arts de Paris. Through him, he met the impressionists.

In the group, Renoir became known for his scenes of Parisian cafés and bars as well as for his female nudes, many of which depict his first lover, Lise. This is the case of "Bather with a Griffon Dog" (1870).

MASP has12 paintings by the artist, including "Pink and Blue–The Cahen d´Anvers Girls" (1881), which portrays the two young sisters of the Cahen D’Anvers family.

When this painting was shown at Fondation Pierre Gianadda, in Switzerland, in 1987, the cruel destiny of Elisabeth, the girl in blue, was revealed. While visiting the show, one of her nephews recognized her and wrote to MASP saying that she had died in 1944 on a train on the way to the Auschwitz concentration camp, at the age of 69.

The painting is outstanding in the set for the exceptional detailing of the dresses, the white reliefs of the flounces and the sheen of the satin.

The same impasto manner of mixing the colors to reproduce the texture and tactile sensation of the materials is also seen in works such as "Girl with Flowers" (1888), in which the movement of the vegetation is so lively it seems about to leap out of the canvas.

Honoré Daumier
Despite the art training he received at Académie Suisse, in Paris, it was with the Republican newspapers La caricature and Le Charivari, in the1830s, that Daumier gained renown with his satiric drawings about politics and customs. His work coincides with the radical change of taste ushered in by the social transformations in France, resulting from the strengthening of the bourgeoisie and of the press as a medium for the dissemination of images and information. In1860, he quit working for the newspapers to dedicate himself to painting. Daumier contributed greatly to the discussion about realist art, and took many of his painting themes, from literature.

"Two Heads" (1858–62) was featured in a show of 98 works by Daumier, organized in1878 by writer Victor Hugo (1802–1885) to help the artist in a period of financial difficulty. The painting seems to have been a fragment, part of a dramatic scene that lies outside the canvas. The two characters are looking toward the right corner, announcing an action or third element of which we see only a small splotch. Just one of the figures’ faces is visible, with an expression enhanced by quick, incisive brushstrokes, while the other is seen only in profile.

Gustave Courbet
Courbet was the leading proponent of the realism in 19th-century French painting. He painted things as he saw them: social themes, work in the countryside, raw, nonidealized portraits. He repudiated classicist painting, which sought to legitimize the official institutions through the aesthetic models of antiquity. He also rejected the dramatic imagery of Romanticism, which reflected the bourgeois aspirations and lifestyle. Courbet actively participated in the Revolution of1848 in France, in the context of the Springtime of the Peoples, a series of rebellions against the economic crises and the authoritarian regimes in Europe. From then on, his paintings reflected his persistent stance against the ideology of the salons and official art, culminating in an1858 exhibition entitled Pavillon du Réalisme, featuring the artist’s rejected works.

Two of the paintings shown, "Juliette Courbet" (1873–1874) and "Zélie Courbet" (1847), portraits of the painter’s sisters, have the artist’s typical dark surfaces, with a predominance of grays and sepias together with a few colored details to highlight elements in the background. Although painted nearly thirty years apart, they possess the same informal and affective expression, without the traditional idealization of female beauty.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
Corot painted prolifically, taking many trips to fuel his painting, which transformed constantly without rigidly adhering to any specific style. MASP has five works by the artist: three portraits, a landscape and a still life.

In "Gypsy Girl with Mandolin" (1874),a portrait of Swedish soprano Christine Nilsson (1843–1921), the ochers andreds evince a calculated sobriety: Corot had clothes and backdrops ready for this sort of painting in his studio.

Careful use of color is also the high point of "Rose in Un Bicchiere" (1874), in which the cup’s transparency and the variation between thin and solid swatches of color convey a sensation of moistness.

The uniform background highlights the color of each leaf and petal. The vertical and horizontal lines, coupled with the cup’s off-center placement, lend this picture a casual and intimist aspect. It is one of just three paintings of flowers by the artist.

In "Landscape with Peasant Girl" (1861) the gradation of blues between the sky and hills in the background is echoed in that of the greens of the pasture in the middle of the canvas.

The horizontal division is the axis for a mirroring both in terms of color and composition: the green field slopes down to the right while the blue line of the faraway hills slopes upward at the same angle. The tree at the center connects the two planes, while the working peasant girl represents labor as a constitutive element of this landscape.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
Ingres studied at the École de BeauxArts de Paris and was one of the main disciples of the painter of historical themes Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825). In 1801, he won the traditional French national award of a trip to Rome, where he stayed from 1806 to 1820.

After his return to Paris he was appointed as an official artist and headed up one of the most important studios at the Acadèmie de Beaux-Arts, where he competed with Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863). His portraits were inspired by ornaments and mythological themes. Ingres lengthened and distorted the bodies to accentuate the expressions.

"Blessing Christ" (1834) and "Virgin with Blue Veil" (1827) refer to Christian iconography. Christ’s upraised hands recall his gesture in paintings from early Christian iconography in which he is depicted teaching the Lord’s Prayer. Mary’s hands are held together in accordance with medieval tradition, representing submission.

This is the case of "Angelica Chained" (1859), with her unlikely proportions and bloated body, especially her neck. The scene refers to the epic poem Orlando Furioso (1516), in which Angelica is saved from the sea monster to which she was offered as a sacrifice. The monster is blinded by the light of the magical shield of the pagan knight Ruggiero, with whom Angelica falls in love.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard
Fragonard was a student of Chardin (1699–1779), who inspired him especially to paint scenes of everyday life. Even though he participated in various art salons, he did not manage to be accepted as an official artist. Because his portraits were very colorful and intensely dynamic, he became known for attending to every demand of his clients.

His themes were decorative and informal: couples in love,domestic scenes and children, a sort of painting which, decades later, became common among the Romantics. After the French Revolution (1789), Fragonard quit his work at the Asembleé Nationale to flee from the political climate in Paris. MASP’s two works date from before that time.

In "Education Is Everything" (1775–80), the artist treats the theme of education more informally than did Chardin.

In the central, well-lit part of the scene a young lady plays with two dogs to entertain the children. One of the dogs is wearing a red mantle while holding a corn stalk in its paws, while the other is wearing a wide-brimmed black hat, as though ridiculing the ostentatious habits of the aristocracy, against which France was to rise some years later.

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin
Chardin was one of the great names of the French baroque movement, characterized by dramatic themes and ostentation that illustrated the power of the absolute monarchy. In 1728, he earned the title of still-life painter at the Académie Royale de Paris. With time, the artist began to produce genre paintings, made for the houses of the nobility and the bourgeois—portraits, domestic scenes, children or couples in love.

"The boy in Portrait of Auguste Gabriel Godefroy" (1741) was the son of a jeweler and banker for whom Chardin made many other works.

In this scene, he is watching a spinning top, distracted from his studies, represented by the books, the inkwell and parchment on the desk. The extraordinary light that falls on the boy traces a diagonal line on the wall in the background, lending volume to the composition.

The half-open drawer in the foreground, with a chalk holder, adds depth to the desk. At that time, portraits took a long time to be made; the model had to appear natural, yet maintain the pose for a long time.

The spinning top was a good solution to keep the boy still but with some spontaneity. The theme of childhood education was recurrent in the French painting of the period.

Jean-Marc Nattier
At the age of fifteen, Nattier was already an award-winning artist who received many private commissions. In 1718, after portraying Catherine the Great (1729–1796), Empress of Russia, he turned down her invitation to stay in her country as a member of the St. Petersburg court.

He was then accepted as a painter of historic themes at the Académie Royale de Paris. Nattier was one of the greatest portrait artists of his generation, characterized by decorative exaggeration and the renewal of the image of the woman, in light of her growing importance in 18th century French intellectual and cultural life.

His portraits reiterate the power of the nobility over the plebeians through symbolism and the ostentation of wealth, evidenced by fabrics such as colorful satin and velvet, which were very expensive and demarcated social roles. MASP’s paintings bring together four of the daughters of King Louis XV.

Each one of them is associated to one of the four elements, identified by the iconography of the globe, the stove, the peacock and the amphora. The eldest, Louise-Elisabeth, is associated with the earth; Anne-Henriette, with fire; Marie-Adélaïde, with air; Marie-Louise-Thérèse-Victoire, with water. The works decorated a room at the Palace of Versailles.

MASP - Museu de Arte de São Paulo
Credits: Story

"Art from France: from Delacroix to Cézanne"
17.7 to 25.10.2015
Curatorial: Adriano Pedrosa, Eugênia Gorini Esmeraldo, Fernando Oliva and Tomás Toledo

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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