Monday, April 21, 2014

Ten Masterpieces of French Painting at the National Museum of China

Date : April 12 - June 15, 2014
Venue : Gallery N1
Hosted by: National Museum of China
                  Réunion des musées nationaux - Grand Palais
This exhibition gives Chinese viewers the chance to discover masterpieces that are symbolic of the museums they belong to. Each painting represents an important era or artistic movement in France. The paintings tell many stories: the stories they depict, but also stories about the artists and what they wished to express. Although each painting is presented independently, the group forms a history of French art, from the Renaissance to after World War Two.
Francois Ⅰ and Louis ⅩⅣ were both patrons of the arts who helped establish French art collections. The portraits of these kings highlight the State’s role in protecting and promoting artists.
Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger were both members of France’s pioneering 20th century avant-garde scene. The two painters, who were both part of the Cubist movement, show the different forms taken by modern art.
Despite their differences, these artists--Clouet, Rigaud, Picasso and Léger-- all painted pictures of people, producing images that appealed to viewers’ emotions. Whether they lived in a monarchy or a republic, they used portraits to explore different ways of portraying the world and reflections of reality.
Regardless of the era or artistic movement, there are clear parallels between artists such as La Tour and Soulages, or Fragonard and Renoir. Some painters focused on light and dark, and others on love, seduction, relationships between men and women--and were passionate about using colour. These timeless themes linking classical and modern art tell the story of an extremely rich heritage.

Jean Clouet
Portrait de François I er, roi de France
Paris, musée du Louvre

From the 15th century onwards, the art of portrait painting spread throughout the Western world. In Europe, monarchs used portraits to influence how they were seen in life and after death. This portrait of François I by Jean Clouet is one example.

In this painting, the artist underlines the French king’s power by emphasizing his broad shoulders, sword, Grand Master pendant of the Order of Saint Michael and gold-embroidered clothing. François I is wearing a beret, but the crown is also visible behind him.

François I was a major patron of artists and the arts. He was fascinated by new ideas emerging in Italy as part of the Renaissance movement. He invited many Italian artists to France to work for him, including the painter Leonardo da Vinci. His castle at Fontainebleau became a centre for artistic creation renowned throughout Europe.

George de La Tour
Saint Joseph charpentier
Paris, musée du Louvre

Georges de la Tour is a talented painter of night scenes. In his paintings, the only sources of light are candles or firelight.

This painting is of a carpenter working at night to the light of a candle held by his son. The carpenter is Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father in the Christian religion. The child’s face is unnaturally bright, to reflect his holiness. However, his dirty fingers and fingernails remind the viewer that he is real.

The looks exchanged by the old man and the child are central to the painting. Joseph’s tender gaze shows his love for the boy. He is perhaps frowning because he is worried about his son’s future. The wooden beam on which he is working is a reminder of the cross on which Jesus died.

Although the painting has a religious theme, the childhood scene appeals to universal emotions. The subject matter and characters affect all viewers. Georges de la Tour has produced a simple image that conveys the holiness in everyday life, an approach encouraged by the Catholic Church.

Jean Honoré Fragonard
Le Verrou
Paris, musée du Louvre

Early in his career, Fragonard painted serious works inspired by ancient history. However, he later chose to focus on less serious subjects, such as love and sensuality.

This painting is about forbidden passion between a man and a woman. Its composition is remarkable: an invisible diagonal line runs from the apple to the bolt. The apple symbolises sin in the Western world, and the bolt reflects the idea that there is no turning back. The painting seems to capture the moment when time stops—the point of no return.

The scene was possibly inspired by 18th century libertine novels, which were condemned by the Church. However, the painting was presented with another of Fragonard’s works that had a religious theme, The Adoration of the Shepherds. This second painting shows shepherds adoring the baby Jesus. Seen together, the works present two different forms of love: the love that brings us closer to God and the love between men and women.

Hyacinthe Rigaud
Portrait en pied de Louis XIV, âgé de 63 ans, en grand costume royal
Versailles, châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon

Louis XIV changed the course of Western history. During his reign (1643-1715), Versailles became the capital of France, and his castle became an artistic centre renowned throughout the rest of Europe.

When he was 63, Louis XIV decided to send a portrait of himself to his grandson Philip V, King of Spain. He asked Hyacinthe Rigaud to complete this painting. Extremely satisfied with the result, he then asked Rigaud to paint a second copy for his own castle. In the end, both paintings stayed at Versailles. It is the second painting that is displayed here.

In this painting, Louis XIV appears with several symbols of power, including the throne, the sceptre and the crown. His blue robes are embroidered with the fleur-de-lis, the emblem of the French royal family. These robes were worn during coronation, a religious ceremony giving the king royal power. The composition of the painting became a reference for official portraits in later years.

Hyacinthe Rigaud became famous after painting this portrait. He had a real talent for capturing the personality of his models, as well as the dignity of their rank. He completed many portraits for members of the European nobility.


photography by Chen Lusheng More>>
The Musée d’Orsay opened to the public on 9 December 1986. It is home to many different forms of artistic creation produced in the Western world from 1848 to 1914.

The museum has an unusual history. It is located in central Paris, in the former Gare d’Orsay train station on the banks of the Seine River opposite the Tuileries gardens. This train station was built for the Universal Exhibition in 1900. In 1978, the building was listed as a protected historical monument. The Musée d’Orsay public institution was created to manage the museum project.

Since 2010, the Musée d’Orsay public institution has also run the Musée de l’Orangerie, where Claude Monet’s famous Water Lilies are exhibited.

The Musée d’Orsay has extensive collections in several fields: painting, sculpture, decorative arts, architecture and photography. With masterpieces by artists such as Renoir, Courbet, Cézanne, Monet, Rodin and Van Gogh, it is an internationally renowned institution.

Auguste Renoir Le Bal du Moulin de la Galette Paris, musée d’Orsay

At the end of the 19th century, Paris underwent major transformations, like the rest of French society. To improve traffic, new roads were built. Shops, cabarets and cafés became new meeting places, as seen in many paintings.

During this period, several painters decided to move to Montmartre, an area located on a hill to the north of Paris. With its narrow streets and old houses, Montmartre had a village-like atmosphere. Auguste Renoir was one of the first painters to set up here. He discovered a population of workers and city dwellers who were determined to enjoy themselves.

Artists, workers, friends and passers-by met at guinguettes, open-air dance halls like the Moulin de la Galette in this painting. This scene is typical of the atmosphere at the time. The freshness and beauty of the dancers inspired Renoir, who took pleasure in painting the era’s joie de vivre.

Auguste Renoir
La Balançoire
Paris, musée d’Orsay

Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro were all founding members of Impressionism, an artistic movement that emerged in France in the second half of the 19th century. The Impressionists’paintings were often completed outdoors and featured bright colours. Although critics attacked these works, they went on to gain recognition around the world.

Classical painters liked to present major historical, mythological or religious themes. The Impressionists chose to paint the world as they saw it, often focusing on landscapes.

In this painting, Renoir captures a particular time of day, when sunlight filters through the trees. The shadows are blue and the sunlight is pink —the artist chooses colours based on his impressions of the moment. Similarly, the young woman’s white dress is actually many different colours of paint that are applied quickly to the canvas. This style is typical of the Impressionist movement.

Pablo Picasso
La Lecture de la lettre
Paris, musée Picasso

Pablo Picasso was remarkable because he changed painting styles regularly over the course of his life. It is difficult to believe that the same artist painted Reading the Letter and The Matador.

As a pioneer of the Cubist movement, Picasso used simple geometric forms to show the world from different angles. However, after World War One, he returned to a more classical way of portraying people, as in this painting.

Two men are sitting side by side on a stone. They occupy all of the canvas. Their suits contrast with their natural surroundings. The men are friends —one has his arm around the other’s shoulders and they are sitting close to each other. The letter and the book suggest writing and literature.

Many consider this painting is of Pablo Picasso and French author Guillaume Apollinaire. The two men met in Paris in 1904 and became great friends. This artwork, completed in 1921, is thought to be Picasso’s tribute to his friend, who died in 1918.

Fernand Léger
Composition aux trois figures
Paris, Centre Pompidou, musée national d’Art moderne / Centre de création industrielle

Early in his career, Fernand Léger focused more on geometrical shapes, mechanisms and everyday objects than on people. Composition with Three Figures, which was painted in 1932, was the beginning of a new era for him.

From the 1930s onwards, Léger wanted to attract a wider audience. To do so, he chose to work on larger canvases, focused on figures, and used more realistic shapes. However, he did not paint these figures to tell stories. Instead, he assembled the different shapes to create a visual poem.

Léger’s work explores contrasts. This painting is all about opposition: between animate and inanimate objects, the colour yellow and the figures in black and white, and the volume of the shapes and the one-dimensional background.

When Léger painted Composition with Three Figures, he made no secret of his personal and political views. He considered humanity, education and living conditions were extremely important subjects. In 1936, the French government bought Composition with Three Figures to recognise the artist and his commitments. After World War Two, Léger officially joined the French Communist Party.

Pierre Soulages
Peinture, 195 × 130 cm, 10 août 1956
Paris, Centre Pompidou, musée national d’Art moderne / Centre de création industrielle

The French painter Pierre Soulages was born in 1919 and became a key figure in abstract art. His work explores the colour black. His paintings do not express messages but, at first glance, seem to be simple associations of shapes and colours. Each of his paintings is an invitation to take part in a unique experience.

He gives viewers the freedom to interpret his paintings in their own way, in line with their own culture, history, perceptions and feelings.

“The painting is not a sign, it is a thing. Through it, the senses come to be made, and unmade.”
PIERRE SOULAGES, Le prétendu métier perdu (the supposedly lost profession), 1981