Paris – Louvre – The German, English, And French Schools

AFTER having completed his examination of the Long Gallery, the visitor may next proceed to the five small rooms, —Ix., x., xl., xII., and xIII. on Baedeker’s map, — devoted to the German, English and early French schools.

Among the early German works in the second of these rooms, the visitor may particularly notice (22) Hans Holbein’s portrait of Southwell, full of character. Above it, a quaint Venus by Cranach, instinct with the Northern conception of the crude nude. Next, two good portraits by Holbein. In the center of this wall,  a Descent from the Cross, of the school of Cologne, which should be compared with similar pictures of the Italian and Flemish schools. The somewhat exaggerated expression of grief on all the faces is strongly characteristic of German tendencies. The figure of the Magdalen, to the right, strikes the German keynote ; so does Joseph of Arimathea receiving the crown of thorns. Study this well, for coincidences with and differences from Italian treatment. Beyond it, two fine Holbeins, of the astronomer Kratzer, and * Warham, Archbishop of Canter-bury, the latter a marvellous piece of painting. The opposite wall also contains good portraits and sacred pieces, among which an altar-piece, by the “Master of the Death of the Virgin,” deserves careful study. (Most early German masters are unknown to us by name, and are thus identified by their most famous pictures.) The Last Supper in this work, below, is largely borrowed from Lionardo. Compare with the copy of Lionardo’s fresco at Milan in the Long Gallery, probably by Marco da Oggionno, which hangs near the Vierge aux Rochers. The Adoration of the Magi (597), should also be compared with the Italian examples ; notice in particular the burgher character of the three kings, which is essentially German. The other works in this room can be sufficiently studied (for casual observers) by the aid of the labels.

The English room contains a few examples of English masters of the last and present century, none of them first-rate. The most famous is the frequently reproduced Little Girl with Cherries, by the pastellist John Russel. It is a pleasing work, but not good in colour.

The next room, with an admirable view from the window, begins the modern French school (in the wide sense), and contains Le Sueur’s History of the Life of St. Bruno, painted for a Carthusian monastery near the Luxembourg, — of which order the saint was the founder. They are characteristic examples of the French work of the early seventeenth century, and they exhibit the beginnings of the national tendencies in art. The legends are partially explained on the frames, and more fully in Mrs. Jameson’s ” Monastic Orders.” On a cursory inspection, the observer will notice the marked French tendency in the 9th, 7th, 2 I St, and 22d of the series. Cold and lifeless in design and colour, these feeble works have now little more than a historical interest.

Before proceeding to the succeeding rooms of the French school, you had better form some conception of the circumstances and conditions under which that school arose. The artists whom François Ier invited to Fontainebleau had little influence on French art, except in sculpture (where we shall see their spirit abundantly at work when we come to examine the Renaissance sculpture in this collection). Primaticcio and his followers, however, left behind them in France, as regards painting, scarcely more than a sense of a need for improvement. Succeeding French artists took up the Italian Renaissance in the stage represented by the later decadents and the eclectic Caracci. Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) is the first Frenchman to attain distinction in this line ; he throws something of French sentimentality into the affected mythological scenes of contemporary Italy. Claude of Lorraine, again, is almost an Italian by training and style ; his artificial landscapes, not copied direct from nature, but built up by arbitrary and often impossible conjunctions, represent the prevailing tendencies of Italian art in the seventeenth century. On the other hand, the influence of Rubens, many of whose greatest works were painted for French kings, or came early to France, and still more of Philippe de Champaigne, a Brussels master who settled in Paris and painted much for Richelieu and Marie de Médicis, introduced into France a strain of Flemish influence. On these two schools, — decadent Italian and later Flemish, — then, modern French art at first based itself ; the final outcome is a resultant of the two, trans-muted and moulded in spirit and form by the innate, though at first unrealised, French tendencies.

Also, before you proceed to examine the subsequent specimens of the development of French art, you had better return to the Salon Carré to inspect the portraits by Philippe de Champaigne, as well as the Jouvenet, the Rigaud, and other French works there, which I purposely passed by on our previous visit, as out of harmony with the Italian masterpieces. On your way back, glance at the later Italian pictures in the first compartment of the Long Gallery (particularly at Bronzino’s odiously vulgar Christ and Mary Magdalen, and Rossi’s Doubting Thomas, both skied, on your right), as conspicuous examples of the sort of thing admired at the time when the French school took its first flights and made its earliest experiences. Then observe once more the works of the school of Fontainebleau ; and, finally, inspect the pictures in Baedeker’s Room IX.; after which you will be in a position to start fair in Room XIII., with the French school in the seventeenth century.

This small room beyond the St. Brunos contains more favourable specimens of Le Sueur’s faculty (such as 559, 556, and 551), in which a distinctive French tendency still more markedly announces itself. The Ganymede, in 563, in particular, faintly foreshadows at a distance the classic painters of the Empire. We see in this room, in a very vague way, an early stage in the evolution of a David.

Passing through the landing, at the head of the staircase (with interesting terra-cotta Etruscan sarcophagi) we arrive at the great gallery of French paintings of the seventeenth century. These may be examined somewhat in the mass, exhibiting, as they do, rather the courtly tendencies of the age of Louis XIV. than any great individual artistic faculty. We must understand them in the spirit which built Versailles and conducted the wars on the northeastern frontier. They are painted for the most part by the command of his Majesty. Only here and there does a faintly individual work, like Le Sueur’s Christ and the Magdalen, and Bearing of the Cross, or Lebrun’s Crucifixion, arrest for a moment one’s passing attention. The crudeness of the colour, and the insufficiency of the composition, will be the chief points, in a general survey, to strike the spectator. (On a screen in the centre, out of proper place among its contemporaries, hangs at present Paul Delaroche’s famous Christian Martyr.)

The student who has courage to attack this mass of uninteresting art in detail, should observe particularly the works of N. Poussin, as forming the point of departure for the school in general. His bacchanal and other mythological works set the fashion of those dreary allegorical scenes which cover so many yards of ceilings in the Louvre. Observe the mixture of religious themes, like Lebrun’s Martyrdom of Stephen, and N. Poussin’ s Holy Family, with classical pictures like the Rescue of Pyrrhus, and the Alexander and Porus, as well as the close similarity of treatment in both cases. Among the best of the lot are jouvenet’s Raising of Lazarus, and Le Sueur’s Paul Preaching at Ephesus (partly after Raphael). Poussin’s ” Et in Arcadia ego,” a rustic morality, is also famous, and is regarded as the greatest achievement of this artificial school. Claude’s landscapes, often with a small inserted mythological story by an-other painter, deserve attention. (Note that landscape has hardly yet vindicated its claim to independent existence.) On the whole, it may be said that this room represents the two prevailing influences in French art of the purely monarchical period of Louis XIV., — either the pictures are quasi-royal and official, or else they are religious, for church or monastery. The mythological scenes, indeed, have often a royal reference, — are supposed parallels of contemporary events; and even the religious scenes, wholly destitute of spiritual feeling, are painted in a courtly, grandiose manner. They are saints as conceived by flunkeys. Not till the Revolution swept away the royal patron did the French spirit truly realise itself. This room reveals the court, not the nation.

The next room, in the Pavillon Denon, a connecting passage, contains portraits of painters, chiefly by themselves, a few of which are worthy of attention. Among them is the famous and touching portrait by ** Mme. Lebrun of herself and her daughter, which, in spite of some theatrical sentiment here and there obtruded, is a charming realisation of maternal feeling amply reciprocated.

Beyond it we come to the French gallery of the eighteenth century, reflecting for the most part the spirit of the Regency and the Louis XV. period. Much of it is meretricious ; much of it breathes the atmosphere of the boudoir. The flavour of Du Barry pervades it almost all. It scents of musk and powder. The reader will pick out for himself such works as he admires in this curious yet not wholly unpleasing mass of affectation and mediocrity. Indeed, as op-posed to the purely official work in the preceding French room, the growth of the rococo spirit, to be traced in this gallery, is by no means without interest. The one set of works set forth the ideal of monarchy as a formal institution ; the other displays its actual outcome in royal mistresses and frivolous amusements. Here, too, the ornate French taste — the Dresden china and Sévres taste — finds its first faint embodiment. Greuze’s famous * Cruche Cassée (263) is the chief favourite with visitors to this room. It has about it a certain false simplicity, a pretended virginal innocence, which is perhaps the highest point of art this school could attain. Drouais’s child portraits (187) are more entirely characteristic, in their red-and-white chubbiness, of the ideas of the epoch. The pastoral scenes by Watteau and Vanloo represent nature and country life, as they envisaged themselves to the painted and powdered great ladies of the Trianon. Coypel’s Esther before Ahasuerus is a not unfavourable specimen of the inflated quasi-sacred style of the period. Some good portraits redeem the general high level of mediocrity in this room, but do not equal those of the daintily aristocratic English school of the end of the eighteenth century. Two Greuzes (267 and, still more, 266) reveal the essentially artificial methods of this superficially taking painter. Most observers begin by admiring him and end by disliking his ceaseless posing. Boucher’s artificial pink-and-white nudities (as in 24 and 26) have the air of a man who painted, as he did, in a room hung round with rose-coloured satin. He is perhaps the most typical of these rococo artists : he imitates on canvas the coquettish ideals of the contemporary china-painters. Fragonard, again, throws into this school the love of display and bravado of a Southern temperament. At the far end of the room we find in Greuze’s later moralising pictures faint indications of the altered and somewhat more earnest feeling which produced the revolutionary epoch, still closely mixed up with the ineradicable affectation and unreality of the painter and his period. Two little stories of a prodigal son and his too late return, on either side of the doorway, with their violent theatrical passion and their excessive expression of impossible emotion, illustrate well this nascent tendency. They are attempts to feel where feeling was not really present. David’s Paris and Helen introduces us, on the other hand, to the beginnings of the cold classicism which prevailed under the Empire.

In order to continue the chronological examination of the French school, the visitor must now return to the Salon Carré and traverse the vulgarly ornate Galerie d’Apollon by its side, which contains objects of more or less artistic interest in the precious metals and precious stones, many of which, especially those in the two last cases, deserve careful inspection. A morning should, if possible, be devoted later to this collection.

A short connecting room beyond (with gold Etruscan jewelry) gives access next to the Salle des Sept Cheminées, which contains many stiff but excellent works of the period of the Empire. The most noticeable of these are by David, whose formal classicism (a result of the revolutionary revolt from Christianity, with its reliance upon Greek, and still more Roman, morality and history) is excellently exemplified in his large picture of the * Sabine Women Intervening between their Husbands and their Fathers. This is considered his masterpiece. Its frigid style, not very distantly resembling that of a bas-relief, and its declamatory feeling do not blind us to the excellence of its general technique and its real advance on the art of the eighteenth century. David imitated the antique, but was always sculpturesque rather than pictorial in treatment. Among other fine examples of this classic period, — the transitional stage between the eighteenth century and the distinctively modern spirit, — attention may be called to Gérard’s Cupid and Psyche, and to his fine portrait of the Marquis Visconti. Mme. Lebrun’s charmingly animated portrait of Mme. Molé-Raymond, the comedian, is full of real vigour. Two good portraits by David, of himself and Pius VII., deserve close inspection. Gros’s Bonaparte at Arcola, is also interesting. Mme. Lebrun’s earlier portrait of herself and her daughter is less beautiful than the one we have already examined. Several military portraits, such as Gros’s Fournier-Sarlovèze, reflect the predominant militarism of the epoch. David’s huge canvas of the Coronation of Napoleon I. in Notre-Dame is typical of another side of the great artist’s development. Gradually the frigidity of the early revolutionary period gave way to the growing romanticism of 1830. Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa (sighting a sail after twelve days out) strikes the first keynote of the modern romantic movement. It created a great sensation in its own day, and gave rise to endless discussion and animadversion. It marks the advent of the emotional in modern art. Gros’s Bonaparte Visiting the Plague-stricken at Jaffa, also indicates in an-other way a marked modernising tendency. The school of blood and wounds, of the morbid and the ghastly, has here its forerunner. All the works in this room (which modernity forbids me to treat at adequate length) should be carefully studied in detail and comparison by those who wish to understand the various steps which led to the evolution of modern French painting. Guérin’s Return of Marcus Sextus, and Girodet’s Burial of Atala, in particular, mark special phases of transition from the coldly classical to the romantic tendency. This room, in one word, begins with the severe; it ends with the melodramatic.

The room beyond, known as the Salle Henri II., is so nearly modern in tone, that the reader may be safely trusted to inspect it on his own knowledge. Giraud’s Slave-dealer and Chassériau’s Tepidarium are its most popular pictures. It lies outside the scope of the present handbook.

The Salle La Caze, however, still beyond, contains a collection, kept separately apart by the express desire of the donor, and includes many works both of earlier schools and of the French seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, worthy of the greatest attention. It is especially rich in works of the rococo painters, bet-ter exemplified here than in the main collection. Beginning on the left, I will merely enumerate a few of the most important works. An excel-lent Hondekoeter, skied. A noble portrait by Tintoretto, of a Venetian magnate. A most characteristic Fragonard, full of the morganatic sentiment of the eighteenth century. Portraits by Nattier, affording more pleasing examples of the early eighteenth century style than those we have hitherto examined. Above it, a mediocre Tintoretto of Susanna at the Bath, not good in colour. Centre of the hall, * Watteau’s Gilles, an excellent embodiment of the innocent fool of traditional French comedy. *Frans Hals’s sly figure of a gipsy woman is a fine piece of vulgar character-painting. A good Greuze, etc. Examine more particularly the works by Watteau, Fragonard, and other boudoir painters, whose pictures on this wall give a more pleasing and fuller idea of the temperament of their school than that which we obtained in other parts of the collection. On the right wall returning, — several good Watteaus, Bouchers, Greuzes, etc. Excellent small Dutch pictures. Fine portrait by Rembrandt. Rembrandt’s Woman at the Bath is a characteristic example of his strikingly original conception of the nude. Ribera’s Club-footed Boy is a Spanish pendant to Frans Hals’s Gipsy. This room, containing as it does very mixed examples of all the schools, should only be visited after the spectator has obtained some idea of each in other parts of the collection. Its Dutch works, in particular, are admirable. I do not enumerate them, as enumeration is useless, but leave it to the reader to pick out for himself several fine examples.

Now traverse the Galerie d’Apollon, Salon Carré, and Long Gallery, till you arrive at the hall of painters of the nineteenth century (Room VIII. in Baedeker’s plan). This hall contains for the most part the works of artists of the period of Louis Philippe and the early Second Empire, — almost our own contemporaries. I will therefore only briefly call attention here to the pictures of the romantic historical school, then so prevalent in France, of which Delaroche’s Death of Queen Elizabeth and Princes in the Tower, and Delacroix’s Capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders are conspicuous examples. Devéria’s popular Birth of Henri IV. belongs to the same category. These ” picturesque ” treatments of history answer in painting to the malign influence of Walter Scott and Victor Hugo in literature. Contrasted with them are such semi-classical works of the school of David, softened and modernised, as Ingres’s Apotheosis of Homer, —the great poet crowned by Fame, with the Iliad and Odyssey at the base of his pedestal, and surrounded by a concourse of ancient and modern singers. It is cold, but dignified. LethiIre’s Death of Virginia, and Couture’s Romans of the Decadence, represent to a certain extent a blending of these two main influences. I will not, however, particularise, as almost every picture in this room deserves some study from the point of view of the evolution of contemporary art. I will merely ask the reader not to overlook Flandrin’s famous nude figure, the typical landscapes by Rousseau and Millet, and David’s exquisite portrait of Mme. Récamier, — sufficient in itself to immortalise both artist and sitter. The electric influence of a beautiful and pure-souled woman has here galvanised David for once into full perception and reproduction of truth and nature. Even the severe Empire furniture and background exactly accord with the character of the picture. Ary Scheffer’s religious works, in his peculiar twilight style, on a solid blue background, will strike every observer. Millet’s Gleaners, and Troyon’s group of oxen strike each a new note in art at the period when they were painted. As a whole, this gallery represents all the various strands of feeling which have gone to the production of modern painting. It attains to the threshold of cosmopolitanism in its Arabs, its negroes, and its Algerian women : it is blood-thirsty and sensuous ; it is calm and meditative ; it dashes with Courbet, it refines with Millet ; it oscillates between the world, the flesh and the devil ; it is pious and meretricious ; it sums up in itself the endless contradictory and inter-lacing tendencies of the nineteenth century. As regards chronological sequence, one may say pretty fairly that it begins with classicism, passes through romanticism, and ends for the moment in religious reaction.

Come back often to the pictures in the Louvre, especially the Salle des Primitifs, the Salon Carré, and the first two bays of the Long Gallery.