This is an excerpt from my longer rendering into English of one of the first modern art historical texts, written by Étienne La Font de Saint Yenne (1747). Poorly received by the French Beaux Arts community, La Font's work daringly proposed that paintings be evaluated more by their viewers casting votes as to their merit than by the judgments of a few, analogous to evaluations of authors in commercial eco-systems of print and publishing in the 18th century.
Aside from this compelling central project, La Font remains interesting: his language is both eloquent and slippery, and his program idiosyncratic: he is at once in the mainstream (in terms of his assumptions about gender and the role of royal patronage in the arts) and in the margins (seeing the potential of arts which use historical approaches beyond the motivations of verisimilitude).
This little work was going to appear during the exposition of paintings at the Louvre last September. But due to a few unforeseen hitches, its printing has been delayed until the present.
We risk several digressions by throwing a little variety into style and avoiding the always lethargic monotony of long dissertations on the same subjects, by which few are amused. Otherwise, how can we save readers the boredom of praises being repeated? We hope that this essay can engage many of our better writers, versed equally in stylish graces and knowledge of the Fine Arts, to complete a project which could be extremely advantageous to them.
...It is hoped that this exposition will be followed judiciously, feeling the character of each painter, and the different parts in which they excel. I agree that this project requires the author to examine much knowledge, on the whole, this amenity of style, which makes critique useful and harmless. A similar work gradually and senselessly learned would put spectators with some genius in a state in which they are not risking judgments as bizarre as I hear sometimes. The beauty of coloring no longer seduces enough to give elegance to the gravity of draperies and to the irregularity of ordering. Durability won't be confounded with power of expression, elegance with coyness, and so on.
Love of painting and the Fine Arts and zeal for their advancement are the only themes that make these sentiments appear in public, on the works shown this year at the Louvre. We must wholly maintain that they be given as verdicts. If it is thought that nothing would be more absurd than the project of wanting to subject the judgment of others to one's own, it will be believed simultaneously that it could be very advantageous to progress in the arts, as in letters, to propose critical reflections, yet modest, without passion and without any personal investment, which should allow us to perceive faults of authors along with them, and encourage them to reach a greater perfection.
A painting exhibited is a book updated by printing. It is a work modeled on the theater: each person has the right to give his judgment. These judgments are the fairest and most unified of the public that are collected and presented to authors and are not at all their own, having been persuaded that this same Public, whose judgments are so often bizarre and unjust by their prejudice or their haste, is rarely deceived when all its voices are reconciled on the merit or defects of a given work, as it were.
It is with the most scrupulous regards and the very real intention to not offend anyone, that judgments of judicious connoisseurs are related, enlightened by sources and enlightened still more by this natural light called sentiment, since it makes us feel the dissonance or harmony of a work upon a first glance, and this sentiment is the basis of taste, a taste closed and never varying from the true beauty that it has almost never acquired unless it were the gift of a happy birth.
Few authors arrive at a reputation of the first order without the help of advice and critique, not only from their colleagues, many of whom only judge the beauties and errors of their art relative to a coldness and drought of rules, or by a routine of comparison to their own methods (often uniform and repeated), but by the critique of a disinterested and enlightened spectator, who without manipulating a paint brush, judges by a natural taste and without a servile attention to rules. We must not consult rules on the decorum of tones, on the choice of details, on their particular and general effects, and on the harmony of this beautiful ensemble which charms the eyes.
Several painters have not yet arrived at this reputation of first order of which I am going to speak, because they lack a good choice of subjects. This is the dangerous obstacle of painters poorly versed in history, or those who, presuming to have power, and, ignorant of the limits of their talents, want to shine in all genres, often by an excessive vanity, sometimes too by a base envy of the success of their Colleagues in genres other than their own. This jealousy, so contemptible to the man of genius, this odious daughter of pride and often sister of mediocrity, how many good Writers has she seduced who have wanted to try all sorts of things, and pass for universal geniuses? A mind [Mr. Fontenelle] of the first order of the last century, of which he has still good fortune to illustrate, who is celebrated within all the genres, has made many poor imitators, who would have perhaps been models themselves, if they had known to stay within the sphere of their competency.
I return to the choice of subjects on which the fortune of Paintings most often depends. Although the number of those that offer us sacred History, common and mythical would be almost infinite, we nevertheless always see lazy authors, born plagiarists, attaching themselves to subjects treated thousands and thousands of times. Are they ignorant of novelty's control on our mind, and that it always holds a merited place in our writings? It is only given that great geniuses, seeking intensely to discover in subjects exhausted in the eyes of vulgar minds, an infinity of new, interesting circumstances, which linked to the principal action, and presented under new and ingenious aspects, know to rejuvenate these subjects used in appearance, by choosing a more beautiful moment and novel interest. An author in painting, as in poetry, must measure his project by these powers, in order to not fall into the error of certain painters who flatter themselves by charmingly disguising the novelty of subjects which have tumbled down from old age. But they cannot imagine new beauties in their compositions, compositions in which they still desire to sustain a certain reputation of the merited mind of which they constantly remind themselves: too level-headed, besides, to add inappropriate episodes in all subjects sacred and historically inviolable, they weaken the essential in action in order to substitute exaggerated and violent attitudes: they throw on faces, particularly in one overstated expression of gazes that becomes a grimace as indecent to the Sacred, as comedy is to the Profane.
Of all the genres of the painter, the greatest by far is that of history. The history painter is alone the painter of the soul; others paint only for their eyes. This painter alone can make a work of enthusiasm, this divine fire that he can conceive for his subjects in a strong and sublime manner: this painter alone can form Heroes for posterity, by grand actions and virtues of celebrated men that present by eye, and not by cold lecture, but by the same view of facts and actors. Who does not know the advantage of this sense over all others, and the control that it has on our soul by carrying a most fundamental and profound impression?
But where do we find our young cultivating the fire and warmth of these eloquences, the force of these grand ideas, of these striking or interested tractates, which characterize the true history painter? In the same foundations where our better poets always have power, in the work of the great writers of antiquity: in the Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer, if endowed with sublime images: in the Aeneid if rich in heroic actions, pathetic narrations and great sentiments: in the Poetic art of Horace, of inexhaustible good sense to then conduct a plan for epic or tragic painting; in those of Despreaux, his imitator; in the work of Tasse, Milton. It is these men who have opened the human heart, who have known and seen it, who give us their troubles, their furors, their agitations with an eloquence and a truth that instruct us, while satiating our pleasure.
The historical painter: is he religious? Can he devote his brush to subjects of piety? What of an abundant source of great events of marvelous and respectable truth alone, of pathetic majesties, as in our sacred Books, and all within the five great prophets, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Daniel, and the prophet king? Does not this last, who inspired the celebrated Rousseau, this poet so sublime and precise, whom the force and beauty of genius have given so much honor to this century and to French poetry! Is it not to David that he owes the ravishing beauties of his sacred odes?
Everyone knows the perfect relationship of the Painter with the Poet. He will lack warmth and life, and his genius will be soon be cool, if he does not grow warm in stubborn commerce with these great men of whom I speak. When I advise this study to our painters of history, I suppose that it has been preceded and based on those of our ancient and modern painters most celebrated within this genre. Raphael, Dominican, the Carraccis, Jules Romain, Pietro de Corona, etc. and among us, Rubens, Poussin, Le Sueur, Le Brun, Coypel, Lemoyne and his Versailles ceiling, masterpiece of art, and comparable to everything that has been beautiful in this genre, whether in France or in Italy: finally of all the excellent works of which he must have profoundly meditated upon their economy, the order of effects of their learned compositions, and copied the pieces most esteemed for design and coloring. Without an abundant collection of these excellent materials, he will never succeed in constructing a solid and durable edifice of a great reputation.
After having given to the history painters the rank and the praises that they merit, then can I not lavish them on today's, and cultivate them, or at least compare them to those of the past century! What a marvelous century! Where the progress and the perfection in all the arts has made France the rival of Italy! I am nevertheless quite far from thinking that French Genius would be extinguished and its vigor entirely enervated. The famous painters of our school I mention, and who also equal the century from Louis XIV to Leon X, in the Fine Arts, and, even surpassed by many who would still find imitators today if the taste of the nation had not much changed, and if, through revolutions that necessarily lead the succession of years and the control of novelty back into states just as into minds, there would not be joined an excessive taste to an embellishment with such a success that it has been extremely harmful to the painter.
The looking glass, of which we regard the narrative of its effects like a fairytale, a miracle beyond all belief, if its reality has not become too familiar to us, the looking glass, which makes paintings with imitation as perfect as it is equal to this same nature in the illusion that it makes to our eyes; these looking glasses, rare enough during the past century and extremely abundant in this one, have carried a funeral blow to this beautiful art, and have been one of the principal causes of its decline in France, in banishing the great subjects of History which had allowed its triumph in places it possessed, and in capturing the decoration of salons and galleries. I grant that the advantages these glasses have kept from prodigy would merit in many ways the favor that they have obtained from fashion. To pierce walls, to then exaggerate apartments and join them there anew; to wear them with rays of light they receive, whether by day or by candelabra, how many enemies of man were born from darkness, and, from every fear that can occasion sadness, would he have been able to defend his love of embellishment which equals it and enlightens it, and which in deceiving his eyes, does not deceive him in the real pleasure that he receives? How will he prefer the ideal, often somber beauties of painting, of which the pleasure uniquely depends on the illusion we lend ourselves, and that affects neither the common nor ignorant man?
The rapid success of a discovery as favorable to general pleasure and to individual taste of a nation avid with all that is brilliant and new must not surprise us despite its purely material pleasantness born entirely to the pleasure of the eyes. Interest has realized them in perfecting manufactures, and through multiplying them to infinity. But as it would be impossible to recreate the walls of great rooms totally, because of considerable costs or by the taste that would have caused the uniformity one has imagined filling out the intervals with these varnished colors lying upon a panel enriched with gold or even without, the clarity and polish of these pleasing varnishes astounds as those glasses that reflect the greatest light.
The science of the paintbrush has thus been forced to yield to the clarity of glass; the mechanical facility of its perfection, and its abundance have exiled from apartments the most beautiful of the arts, left to fill no miserable places, havens from above the doorway of coronations of chimneys and those of looking glass arches economically shortened. From there, tightened by the fault of the space into the small petty subjects out of scope of the eye, the painting is reduced in these great pieces to some cold, insipid and uninteresting representations: the four elements, the seasons, the senses, the arts, muses and other places, common triumphs of painterly plagiarizing and manipulation, requiring neither genius, nor invention, and which pitiably come and go over eight years in ten thousand different manners.
I must pass in silence in honor of this beautiful art, these ignoble places where painting takes refuge, exiled from its apartments. Could our ancestors see a day amidst the dust of hangars, and replaced orders, in which curieux come to admire the beauties of a learned brush in these vile hovels? Nothing rings as true as the time before curtains overtook carriage embellishments, seen for several years in colored paintings, pricey and of superior perfection, or at least equal to all those that adorn the apartments of the masters of these houses. These beautiful paintings were but drawn out of their shameful cases, dragged in the streets to wipe the outrages up from the slop, and caught always without any defense, cut in pieces by the shock of the dirtiest dump carts, by charrettes or by the impetuous pace of these same carriages, ultimately by infinite encumbrances on public roadways so inevitable in such a great city. So what do foreigners admire the most ? Either ignominious mistakes and ridiculous abuse in place of this beautiful art, or the excesses and bizarreness of our luxury carried to so high a degree of extravagance?
A fertile and favorable field remains in subjects of Fable or History for the genius of the great painter in the science of beautiful openings, and of shortenings, and where all the magic art of Perspective could be realized, in ceilings. But a public accustomed to the clarity of looking glasses that still cannot be considered new, and that I do not despair to see admired some day, has preferred, to some beauties of the springs of the mind that ask for reflection and some knowledge, the material whiteness of the plaster cut-out in filigree in the rise of archivolts, angles, and midpoints by ornaments of the same material - often gilt, sometimes painted - most imperceptibly grotesque, which Voltaire has very appropriately critiqued in his shrine to Taste:
“I will cover ceilings, vaults, arches
With a hundred maggots carefully worked,
An inch or two to see from afar.”
And in another place,
“......The entire glass, varnished, bleached, gilt;
And gawkers admiring with a determined glance.”
And so there you have the principal causes of the present decline of Painting. I do not doubt that they will have forced several pupils, in whose hands genius will have placed these brushes, to abjure their talent and to remove it, as well as shall authors in works of the mind with futile subjects of fashion and the times, or even better, the most lucrative genre of this Art, for several years now, that of the portrait.
A painter obstinately attached to history today by the elevation of his thoughts, and by the nobility of his expressions, will see reduced to works for Churches, “Gobelins”, or a very small number of Paintings by easel almost entirely proscribed by furnishings because they spoil, it is said, tapestries of which one prefers to present the luster and uniformity of learned varieties of the paintbrush and all productions of the mind. What will be the resource of the history painter if he is not in a condition to nourish his family from meals more solid than those of glory? For his needs he will sacrifice his favorite taste and natural talents, so as to not see his fortune packed up despite his science and labor, vis-à-vis the rapid opulence of his colleagues in portraits, and all in pastel. He will suffocate the voice of his genius, and will divert his brush from the route of glory to follow those who will ease his state. He will suffer in truth during times of seeing himself forced to flatter a miniature face often deformed or superannuated, almost always without physiognomy, to multiply obscure beings without character, without name, without place, without merit, often mistaken, sometimes even odious, or all at least indifferent to the public, to their posterity, to his same heirs who have abandoned their lines for the power of Galeteas, and for the tooth of sows, or they come to pass coldly from a slum to a decoration of garnished chambers, to illustrating Bergame tapestries. We are not astonished, then, that the portrait would be the most cultivated and the most abundant genre of painting today, for even the most mediocre brushes. Its repute is very ancient and based upon several good reasons.
Although the general taste of the present for the beauties of a Damas tapestry constructed by richly gilt and pleasingly sculpted edgings, should have banished from apartments like a boring and superfluous ornament, the paintings of history, those in portraits have managed to replace them and to procure a fashionable exception and for caprices in their favor.
Self-pride, with sway still more powerful than that of fashion, has made the art of presenting to the eyes, and to all those of the ladies, the mirrors of themselves, as enchanting the less true they are, and so has made the greatest number of preferences for these too silver looking glasses. And in effect, what spectacle is comparable, for a real or imaginary beauty, to that of being seen eternally with the graces and cup of Hebe, the goddess of youth? To be staged always in the dress of Flora, charms born of Spring of which she is the image, or quite equal in attributes to the goddess of forests, with a quiver on the back, the hair tossed with elegance, a treaty in hand; how could the rival of this charming god whom blesses all hearts not be believed? The example of true beauty to which the advantageous attitudes of these metamorphoses have still added a novel beauty, and seduced the less lovable. She has imagined the same graces as adjustments. She has no doubt that the youth of Hebe will avenge the insults of times less gallant, and the most impolite of all the gods. She is easily persuaded that our sex, always complacent, forced to see in her place two physiognomies, would prefer that of the infantine goddess to the dowager divinity, or at least as it has realized her by her efforts, and given the time that she always loses by trying to resemble her. After all, is it an error more pardonable in the beautiful sex? If the hell of pretty women is old age, given a sentiment of one of the most beautiful minds of the court of Louis XIV [Monsieur de La Rochefoucauld], why do the arts, and all painting, not try to hide from them the decline of a state which made all their goodness, and to distance them, or even disrobe them entirely, if the thing were possible, in view of their greatest torture?
In such fashion, the taste of these deified travesties is suddenly illuminated in the company of most. Their prompt success in the company of pretty women, vividly shocks those who are so little, whether envy or jealousy. They avidly intake the name of the author of the Metamorphoses. We thirst for his work. He has little difficulty persuading us of the miracles of which we are more convinced than him. He presents the roll to the heavenly court. Divinity is chosen, sketched, complete. Finally she makes her entry within the temple where she is adored; arriving (barely), everyone applauding, crying: this is you yourself, we lack nothing but the words. It's too much. These words would often be necessary to say to her, “just as I am”. Finally, ecstasy and rapture are finessed by the painter who returns famous, admired and well paid.
After all, I do not fear that those who labor in this genre today should pick holes in these hardly amusing reflections, and that they disgust the public by their talent. As much as they possess an art of flattering their originals, with sufficient address to persuade them that they do not indeed flatter them, self-pride in the two sexes is a certain guarantee of constant success and of a fortune above mediocre.
Imitation deserves this last advantage and also superabundant productions that we always see in this genre. Masters Nattier, Tocqué, La Tour, Aved, Nonnotte and many others (I do not speak of the established reputation of the ancients) consoling perhaps Rigaud, Largillière, Troye. A pleasing brush is found in their hands, carrying life and truth in flesh tones, a singular imitation of things of all kinds, a beautiful enough ordering in some, with a science of local colors and the distribution of parts which comprise the foundation and the details.
The number of pastel paintings is infinite. But we need fear that the ease and the speed of these fragile crayons should make us neglect oils, which come much slower to truth, but infinitely more learned, and incomparable in the long run.
Now given my remarks on the obstacles of progress of painting in the French School, whether by so little encouragement and fortune for the Fine Arts, by the error of zealous or intelligent Mecenes, or finally by new decorations of building interiors, I see only one favorable resource for our history painters, and this would be the marvelous amateur cabinets of this so beautiful art. Only by these famous curieux, these magnificent protectors of good taste, the scourge of the mediocre and the frivolous, can History be given the re-establishment of its honor and progress. The Cabinets of Monsieur Julian, Blondel, de Gagny, de la Boissiere, and some others will signify for them the most honorable places. Their sketch of the best ancient and modern works, the excellent pieces of sculpture in bronze and marble, embellished by the shine of pastes of Kiangsi and Dresden associated with them, the new appearance and settling of their mountings, the elegant and contrasted ordering of each piece, a type of distribution which entails as much of the art and taste as its choice of the same pieces; everything that forms a raptured spectacle in the eyes of a sensitive and austere connoisseur. These precious cabinets are composed, and must be, of all painting genres. Although the abundance of those of history necessitates its price and capital merit, the grace and charms of a beautiful countryside, the suavity, freshness, the naïveté of Flemish brushes, their magic in the effects of violent or reflected light; the brilliance and the suppleness of their fabrics perfectly imitated; the choice of learned positions in their horses and their most beautiful forms - such pleasant parts must make them pardon the baseness of their coarsest subjects, ignoble, without thought, or interest. Finally, even with excellent paintings of animals, fruits, and flowers - the most mediocre genres - everyone must enter in to the structure of these small enchanted palaces, as dear today to the Fine Arts of which they are a haven, and at the same time dear to the admiration of strangers and delight of the connoisseurs who inhabit this capital.
There might be still a middle good, superior to that of which I speak, which would protect our school from inclination towards its ruin, and which would be dignified by the grandeur and magnificence of our King, the sovereign of a Nation of which genius is so suited for the Fine Arts, in a way in which its execution would illustrate to none whom his majesty makes the honor of conferring the protection that he accords them, and the care for their advancement.
This would be to have constructed a vast gallery or several adjoining galleries, quite brilliant, in the superb Chateau of the Louvre, this inhabited palace (although, if it dignifies habitation by Monarchs, who still have the admiration of foreigners, and at the same time their astonishment at seeing it abandoned and its mistakes carried to the point of letting there be elevated today in the middle of its court, where an isolated fountain with Bassin must be placed - more for public utility than for the decoration which would result - and which would permit, for those that enter by a door, to see it, opposite in symmetry upon their exit; to see, so I say, in the middle of this court, an individual building at several stages, and in stones of size, to last a very long time and to better remove, by Nation, the view of the interior of the palace, after having already deprived the exterior by an indecent collection of stables, of remiss, styluses, of Shops that besiege and dishonor this superb edifice on all of its sides) as much P.P. de l'Oratoire as the place of the old Louvre and the superb facade that looks out at St. Germain l'Auxerrois.
This insult made wholly recently at the palace and still not finished, torments good citizens again, having broken through to see the house of their king dishonored at his own expense, by those same ones of which the duty of their costs, although inferior, would be to employ all their credit to arrest such bold abuse, which renders to us the object of the stranger's and voyager's exact pleasantries, to mark in their relations that the Capital of the most beautiful kingdom stands alone in Europe, where the palace of the sovereign would be imperfect and abandoned until discovered, and exposed by this to total ruin. The public quite zealously hopes however for attention from Mister Tourneheim, today Director General of the Buildings of his majesty and who will employ all his authority by raising the honor and reestablishing the decency of what is, without contradiction, the first of the royal buildings, and which therefore requires the best care. The weather not being nice enough to ponder an enterprise so considerable as his achievement (although there should be one hundred ways to finish, without possible cost to his Majesty) it would entail a very small expense to put an attendant at the shelter from the decay caused daily by the rain, and begin to cover only the most beautiful and most precious part, that facing St. Germain. This important attention joined to it to arrest all the shocking indecencies around it, and to impede the elevation of great and small buildings on the whole interior, which debases this respectable palace throughout the whole nation. These attentions on the part of Monsieur Tourneheim, as dignified by the honorable place that the King has confided to him, will make an eternal name and assure him the esteem, the recognition, and the hearts of all honest people.
The means I propose for the promptest advantage, and at the same time the most efficacious for a lasting re-establishment of Painting, will be to then choose, in the palace or some other part, an appropriate place to set to rest the innumerable masterpieces of the greatest masters of Europe, of an infinite price, which comprise the Cabinet of Painting of His Majesty, piled up today and shrouded in tiny obscure rooms and hidden in the city of Versailles, unknown or indifferent to the curiosity of foreigners by the impossibility of seeing them [This is how the precious and immense Library of the King, rue Vivienne historically existed for a few small pieces, before Monseiur Father Bignon - whose name will be eternally dear to the Nation and praised among the learned - had enabled the construction of the superb building where it is stored today, rue Richelieu.].
Another pressing reason for giving them an inviting lodging, and which merits quite serious attention, is that of imminent, inevitable waste by fault of air and exposure. What would be today the type of admirable paintings of the royal palace, had they been piled up for twenty years in obscurity, and were impossible to visit and maintain by the fault of the space, such that they have been for a longer time those of the King? But the Prince Regent who in having produced the magnificent assemblage with unbelievable care and having transported it from a very distant country with precautions that would merit the excellence of their choice and their great price, had not refrained from burying this treasure, and left it in the dirt. This great Prince whose genius encompasses all, born with a love of the Fine Arts, and very convinced that their perfection in a state with that of Letters is the most sensible proof of the grandeur and superiority to accord them with the mildest leisures; but he would know the most precious details of painting, all the most delightful. He would have studied all beauties, and would be able to have revealed these most secret mysteries by a skilled painter [Mr. Coypel].
The same hands which have gathered all these laurels, have not disdained to handle their brushes and crayons, in short, to know all the most noble subtlety of amusements. It is uniquely in the extension of this light and in the superiority of its taste that France is indebted to the masterpieces he has given a so honorable haven within its palace, and which has made its reputation equal to those of the most renowned cabinets of Europe. It was in lighting them on the most favorable days that he added to these apartments this magnificent hall where the light is taken in at height by large sheets of stained glass. If Francois I is immortalized for having appealed to the Fine Arts, and principally painting, the nation will have an eternal obligation to Philip of France for having assembled and superbly housed within his Capital the greatest number of marvels in this art visited by all the European curieux, and honored with the greatest praises of foreign countries. What school of painting that these rich cabinets open to everyone with a dignified ease of grandeur of the Prince, where one is instructed in all manners, and all ages of painting! If the paintings of his majesty surpass the latter in number and value, as it is said, without power to assure, never having had a public catalogue, what loss for the talents of our Nation and their captivation! With what satisfaction the curieux and the foreigners would see in liberty, exhibited in a habitation suitable to works of which the greatest part is priceless! Such would be the royal gallery that we propose built deliberately in the Louvre, where all these immense and ignored riches would be arranged in a beautiful order, and kept within the best state for the cares of an intelligent artist, and made to age with attention to their perfect conservation. So, they would be kept from falling into the shameful destruction of those of the Palace of Luxembourg, the triumph of painting, and of which the possession is envied by all the strangers who would give immense sums to have in their place these divine works that give the most honor to the paintbrush of the immortal Rubens. They are however on the side of the Court in this gallery, so esteemed, almost destroyed by criminal negligence of concierges who open all the shutters and window panes on the most burning days, and let devour in the ardor of the sun from noon until the sun completely sets, these precious paintings, these beauties of all the richness of sovereigns that could not be replaced today.
It was at Antwerp that I learned of this irreparable damage that continues, from a famous curieux of this city, Monsieur Vanhaggan, who was stricken by indifference to our Nation for what is rarest and of the greatest price in this genre, without excluding any work in our royal house. He still makes me share the pain he had in the gardens of Versailles, where he saw our more beautiful statues and every other unrivaled one of the famous Puget, Milon - and Andromeda, equal to the most perfect of Antiquity - even superior, according to the judgment of several able Italian sculptors, and which would merit much better the honor of being in these apartments in shelter from the frost and outrages of air, as those that are conserved there, so preciously, having no other title of veneration than their extreme old age and having come from a very distant country. When he sees them, I say, scour like a cauldron with the coarsest sand and raise not only the polish, but yet (what is irreparable) this skin, this precious epidermis, the branching veins and all the subtlety of this learned chisel might then be admired. He recalled unfortunate times when the Barbarians came to smelt Gaul, and destroyed our temples, our edifices, our statues in seeing our hands, our own hands dissecting traces of the learned chisel of Puget, who gave movement and respiration to matter, and knew how to make it suffer and groan. When Master Lemoyne the Younger, the excellent sculptor, labored at Versailles, he spoke to me more than once with a discomfort stemming from what had caused this barbarous spectacle.
An interest in the glory of our nation by the conservation of rare beauties that it possesses has strayed me a little from my subject. I thus return to the advantages of this latest means I have proposed in favor of Painting.
What motif of emulation would be more startling for our painters to present, than the honor to obtain places in this royal gallery beside so many illustrious men of all countries - and in all Italy - who make up the immense and learned collection of Paintings of the Cabinets of the King? Honor all the more flattering, as it is accorded neither to cabal, nor to protection of Greats, nor to the caprice of junior directors, nor to the passing brilliance of frivolous beauties of fashion who always excite cries of admiration from petty masters of both sexes, and of the kindest the empire extends to all works today, above all. These petty junior judges, these prodigious distributors of a weekly immortality to our illuminators of engravings, could not make the decision to open the entrance to the Sanctuary for them. This would be a decided reputation in title alone, and supported by several excellent works marked with a seal of universal approval and public admiration, given to this precious distinction.
But it is time to finish these - perhaps - too extensive reflections, and to go on to the examination proposed.
To keep some order, it is necessary to begin with the first works in this genre, the sacred historians and those that are called paintings of devotion.
With the most advantageous place in the Salon, and presented first, is the painting by Master Carl Van Loo, made for the Church of the Little Fathers of the Place of Victories, where it has already been for several months at the base of their choir. This painting represents Louis XIII paying homage to the Virgin of Victory which he has brought back to the Heretics for the prize of Rochelle. The ordering is indeed beautiful and judicious; the composition simple and not burdened with superfluous episodes. Only more nobility is to be desired in the character of the virgin, and a happier selection. The infant Jesus shows a contrived taste and is dryly and sloppily painted and does not respond to other beauties, no more than to the look of the head, and to the angel figure to whom its attitude is cold and its idea very mediocre. But the principal figures have rare beauty. The figure of Louis XIII has great character, a lot of decorum and dignity in its action, rendering its subject perfectly. There is a an admirable truth in the head and whole figure of he who presents keys to the city. That of the nun who is behind is illuminated by learned reflection. The Draperies, and all the details of the figures of this beautiful group are given in one great technique of the author, and can be called enlightened. It could still have a little more harmony on the whole, and be more in accord with its slightly twinkling but different tones, and so that the eye would desire more rest and unity.
This defect is often that of great Paintings of which their vast mechanics requires an habitual intelligence often great enough to take in all parts, and to create this harmony which gives charm to the expert eye and creates the principal merit of the work. How many painters of a great reputation in average paintings have failed to a certain extent? The great painting requires a special study and a science quite lengthy to acquire - given all faults, and on the whole, those in the part of the design being much more obvious. In short, its correction is perfect and in great taste, and all execution is made in a great and learned manner.
The straight and irregular form of three other paintings by the same author is very awkward, and requires an indulgence in its composition. No one would be obligated, however, in the Visitation of the Virgin to deploy the enormous panel of a poorly made doorway beside these two principal figures. The idea is not noble, nor the effect happy, since it impoverishes its composition. Some have not found Saint Elizabeth old enough in regard to the Virgin. The Scriptures say that she had reached old age. The blue drapery of the virgin is a little heavy and is not truly finished. The tints of the faces of the virgins of these three paintings have not been entirely satisfying; they have as little lividity, and on the whole, for the Presentation requiring more nobility and a pious expression. The head of the old Saint Simeon, his character, his drapery, finally, his entire figure and that of his acolyte, are of a colorful power and of a truth of expression comparable to what is, in it more perfect.
In the Painting of the Annunciation by the same author, the attitude of the Virgin, the beautiful character of her head full of nobility and dignity, its expression seen as holy and profoundly humble, has satisfied all the experts. Her drapery, although its folds must fly into a greatness, is still a little heavy. The attitude of the angel has not been generally applauded. Several have rebuked her position as too perpendicular, and the figure not enough svelte and aerial. The awkwardness of the form of the Painting excuses the author little by fault of his attitude. For her gravity, which is common to many painters in the representation of these incorporeal substances, is augmented in the latter by the excess of her drapery, enormous and without movement. However, everything well examined, this painting gives honor to its author, who treats it in the great manner of Barocci and Lanfranco, and leaves it just as well colored.
In the middle of the front opposite to the windows, we see another great painting of which the subject is taken from the acts of the Apostles. It is the punishment of King Herod of Judea, struck down by God for being attributed divine honors. Its subject is very well chosen, lending itself to action and interest. The composition is quite well conceived and there is much passion and genius in the execution. The pose of Herod, and the reversal of these traits carries to the eyes of the spectator a true enough image of violent despair. The episodic actors have good tone without having an interesting or remarkable character. This painting satisfies the eyes of the Public and the experts from whom it has received many praises, and it merits them. Some have desired more elevation in the tone of the general and local color, which is not brilliant, and even more, have desired great masses of light. The Ecole Française has hope of recovering its ancient vigor for history by the talents of Master Pierre [Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre], author of the painting, who marches in the step of a giant in his career. The Pilgrims at Emmaus painting placed above at the wish of Louis XIII is also by him.
There is color and good enough tone: the composition is nothing remarkable, nor that of the great painting placed beside that of Herod by Master Jeaurat, which portrays a cripple carried to the temple to be healed by Saint Peter. Each figure is, in part, well-treated, suitable to its subject, of good temper and correct design, without interest due to some novelty which should make it different enough from the fashion in which several good Painters in the Churches of this city have imagined the subject.
We see yet in the line upstairs, some Paintings of piety at the height of a single figure with beauty that has halted the gazes of curieux. That of St Charles Borromée by Restout is extremely relished. The pose of the figure has action and a heady look, an interesting, pious character, its drapery true and learned.
The painting of Saint Peter is a counterpoint by the same author, although greatly enough, it has not had as many partisans by fault of the position of the figure, which is in the taste of a Heroes of Theater camped on the scene with a cavalier air, rather than that of a penitent Apostle, humiliated and close to suffering the martyrdom of which he holds the instrument. The idea of the painting of Saint Benoît, by Restout, the first of this line above the stairway, is as mediocre as its execution. We find clouds of glory with tints of a reddish, violent tone, creating a dissonance with those of the painting.
The Baptism of Saint John, of the same greatness as Halle's, although of a very strict design and even a little too pronounced, with a good enough color tone, has nothing new in its composition, which is a good one, but trivial.
At the side we see, at the request of Louis XIII, two great oval paintings by Coypel. The one is an Annunciation with a singular composition; the other represents The Pilgrims of Emmaus, which has remarkable beauty. There are yet, in the line below, two paintings of piety by the same author. One is pastel, that is The Samaritan with Jesus Christ, and the other oil, The Sacrifice of Abraham. I won't enter with any detail into the beauties of the work of this painter. Of the great reputation that he has acquired for so long a time, these difficult productions of mind, in all types of genres and, on the whole, in those of piety, I am dispensing with a special examination which would be too lengthy. One always finds morals and decency in these paintings, with reflections full of spirit. This talent, as interesting for the sensitive spectator, shines with subtlety in a tiny painting of his placed in the line below, on the same side of the ovals. It is The God of Love, a single figure the height of three feet, in front of the spectator it threatens with a hand. The author has known to make a dextrous mixture of physiognomy, of the two characters which belong to him, apparent naiveté and sweetness with a malignancy and deceitfulness. The idea is as awkward in execution as it is true and ingenious. Although it leaves nothing to desire on the side of the mind, a more beautiful choice is desired in the look of the head, slightly ignoble, without an expression of Divinity, and without beauty to represent the most beautiful of all Gods. Its flesh does not have beautiful color tone. No blood is seen, this life that is admired in beautiful pastels, the ornament of Cabinets, and above all, that of our most learned experts, Monsieur Mariette. The drapery of this God, which would have to be extremely obscure, light, and trifling, is here knotted as heavily as a belt, and can be neither light nor pleasant to the figure.
We see at a little distance from the last painting, two others by the same author. They are two busts of the philosophers Heraclitus and Democritus. A truth may be found in the expression of these characters so contrary, although it is a little forced, sought-after truth, which seems belabored. Their extreme decrepitude, without necessity, makes little mistake of the pleasantness of the truth in its expression.
I pass to the great subjects of Common History and Myth, and I begin in the line upstairs beside the stairway, by the two paintings of Master Parrocel, of which the immense grandeur of seventeen feet by eleven, is still not in proportion to his genius. The one represents the entry of the Turkish ambassador by the bridge of Tuilleries, and the other of similar grandeur, his exit from the same place. What multitude of beauties in this vast composition! What superb ordering! What science in the prodigious details of such a subject! Admirable distribution of Groups, astonishing fecundity with the art of their variation and their contrast, truth and pride in characters of opposing Nations: Turks, Swiss, French. Exact and scrupulous research of their dress. Laborious and learned study with the most beautiful positions of horses and their action, with a perfect imitation of wealth and labor in their coverings in gold, pearl, and precious stones. The highest intelligence of perspective for the position of this unmentionable multitude, having as much on the planes pushed forward, as on those behind, and most distant. Finally a delightful harmony which results from the variety of tones and their accord: harmony which links this great whole, this vast ensemble, and which puts the eye at full rest, where it desires nothing, where it enjoys the whole, where it admires all. What glory for the French school to still possess a man so excellent in this genre, who embraces almost all genres!
Among the great paintings of the most superior line, there is still one by Master Pierre that has attracted no mediocre attention by the most terrible of subjects sensitive to power and violent expression. It is set in an ancient myth and represents Medea, who stabs one of her children. The horror of this parricide is rendered very well by the character of atrocity painted on the traits of this barbaric Greek and by the action of her arm, equipped with a disgusting knife of blood from her son that she holds, and at the moment she has already struck. But one wishes for a happier composition in this painting. The position of the child, not more than that of the chariot, is neither realistic, nor helpful. The dragons which must be held back during this action, and of which we only see the heads, are of a quite mediocre taste. The conflagration of the Palace of Jason, with only one part completely out of perspective, is (executed) in an ambiguous and dissonant tone. The public cannot compare this work with that of the painting of Herod, for which there has been so much prodigious admiration and praise, as there has been greed for Medea. It is an important lesson to young Painters who have, with great talents, begun a reputation, and who aspire to that of the first order, to not risk in public, works neglected, either in the plan or in the execution. Nothing is more capable of stopping them along the route of glory, than these reproaches of inequality, negligence, or precipitation.
We see yet the same author in the line upstairs, the last of the front side, which peers at the entrance, a painted portrait in profile of one quite pretty person disguised under disgusting dress of these bitches who exhibit a magic Lantern or marmots in Paris. I have been charmed to see the most noble member of the public and the most sensible reject this emblem in admiring the work, which has true beauty and has a seductive and original naïveté. This base and depraved taste, in being forced to be painted in a friar, a Grey nun, a cardinal, in a chimney sweep, has appeared in the work of some people of the first order who've been amused but for a moment by this joke. The Bourgeoisie of Paris, this eternal ape of the court without power resembles it, and who in ridicule has known this fashion with avidity, like all those that it foolishly imagines can give it a conditioned gaze.
The Public, whom the paintings of Master Pierre extremely please, strongly advises him to abandon his quite mediocre talent painting bambocciates [A type of genre painting originated by a group of Italian painters (Bamboccianti) in the early 17th Century], undeserved works of a man of whom genius is elevated enough to conceive and to execute the painting of Herod. It's the cloth sack of Scapin vis-a-vis misanthropy, the author of Le Cid and Rodogune parading around at the fair. These types of subordinate tastes often dishonor good geniuses by soft complacencies they have for friends of a certain genre, those who adore these types of productions, and who think like a people uniquely sensitive to the representations of subjects that are familiar to them. It is important to a painter who by talent aspires from history to the most elevated ranks, to search again for gens d'esprit, and amateurs of good company. The character of decorum and of nobility, which will be spread upon all these works, will add much to their price, and will contribute the most to causing the delight of honest people.
Their authors respond to me that they do not look at these types of paintings as relaxations of their great works, and as an amusement which cost them no sadness of mind. And me, I declare to them that they always fill themselves with mediocrity, as if they were not used to regarding these productions as a gallant man who writes poor verse to amuse himself, and protects its publication. They persuade me not that it can be attained in an original manner and in a style new in this genre, nor in any other they enjoy, and without a strong application - without studies after the singularities of nature. In short, without considered study and many exercises, he will fall into the vile multitude of painters of this genre who inundate the bourgeois Cabinets of our petty curieux of whom they are the delight.
Besides, the leisures of a great history painter are rare and precious. After having fulfilled what he must to his religion, to his family, his friends, to the society he must never leave himself to, what could he take as diversion from the great occupations he possesses, if he employs the least that remains for him to work on new paintings? Can he come to know best the relaxation of a history painter? This is to read and study our best books of history: disentangling there the subjects not only interesting and picturesque, but yet singular, and off the beaten path. To throw at once ideas on paper in initial heat, fearing that they've not cooled upon return, as all our great poets and our famous writers have done. This is to begin a review of designs in which he will have copied the pieces of our great masters that have stricken him: or even to go beyond into marvelous engravings of excellent ancient and modern painters, profoundly meditating on their beauties, striving to discover the source that produced them, the germ that has in them engendered this life, this heat of expression, this rare intelligence, this elevation of sublime ideas in their composition - which are admired. Enjoying these leisures he must still study the role of costume, which is the religion, morals, dress, buildings, sites, even trees of each country, of each nation, and above all, that which creates the subject of the painting on which he labors.
There you have the paths leading Raphael, Poussin, Rubens, Le Brun and others to the summit of this steep mountain where the temple of immortality rests.
Barely having wrestled chisels from goddesses,
And the greedy deities put all their labors on sale.
In the great painting of Sr. Oudri, eleven feet high, which represents a wolf hunt powered by rare breed dogs belonging to the King, we must take note of everything. The action of these animals and the frightening expression of their furor is not less admirable than the art of the brush in the firm and ferocious touches of their heads and of their great, singular and bristly fur, no less admirable than the correction of the design of these moments, and difficult to master.
We see a painting yet of the same author, and in the part of the Salon on the stairway. A hunt for the lynx, only it is less up to par in magnitude.
It is rare that a painter, like an author, would excel in several genres. Life barely suffices more in studies and laborious observations than requires a great superiority in one alone. Although the public has not yet decided if paintings of the hunt and animals, which Master Oudri seems to have carried to their perfection, are stronger than his landscapes. The great number of those that he has painted for the King, and for several in particular, he has established a name for this last talent. He has preferred in this genre the most striking, firm and vigorous style to a vague, soft style with much polish. The three paintings that we see here from his brush seem to still surpass those of the preceding years. Nothing is more successful than his choice of these sites. We might say that nature veils its charms to the gazes of others in order to develop its own. She shows herself arrayed there with these naive and rural beauties a thousand times more delightful, and more analogous to our natural taste, than those of the Palaces of the King. We perceive; we feel almost a real freshness under the thickness and the greenness of the these groups of trees of which the foliage is admirable, and of which he can vary the forms, touches and tones with a limitless art. This freshness appears favorably for waters so well distributed, tranquil, the others with movement; his able brush knows how to make beauty within the whole: here a ruined bridge, there a mill. Farther away, a thatched cottage and with hovels adding to familiar sites a picturesque scene to delight, and forming such amiable aspects as nature seems to have arranged for the charm of these compositions.
It would be too boring if I ventured to examine in particular the great number of paintings exhibited this year at the Salon having quite a beautiful order, with a pleasant and challenging symmetry among so many different forms. The green tapestry with which Monsieur Tourneheim, Director General of Arts and buildings of his majesty, has been able to cover the walls of the Salon before attaching the paintings there, is extremely advantageous to them, and this attention on his part is equally favorable to painters and to spectators that the public has noticed with pleasure, and has given its praises and recognition.
I hope that the famous painters whose reputation is ancient and established, such as Galloche, Courtin, Deslyen, du Mons, Boisot, Huilliot, Le Bel, Poitreau and some others will pardon me for not speaking of all their exhibited paintings. This would be to repeat praises their work had received the preceding years, and among others, for Favannes who, being more than eighty years old, has not left pleasant things be yet made, and which are not strong pieces within the context of his long-lived reputation. These landscapes cast an extremely laughable glance by the freshness and verdure of these trees touched in a tender and soft manner, these serene and clear horizons, these crystal clear heavens, often a little too blue; these waters of a celestial limpidity, in short, the choice of these sites always pleasant without being singular. There are four in the middle of the Salon, vis-a-vis windows painted after Nature, which have a charming truth, most of all the two tiny ones. It is unfortunate for our curieux that the most beautiful works of painting would be distant from Paris. It is in the chateau of Chantelou at a quarter league to Amboise built by the late Monsieur d'Aubigni, that this able painter has deployed with all his science in this beautiful art in the large gallery. All the ceremonies and the superb pomp of the first marriage of Philippe V. King of Spain are represented; Monsieur d'Aubigni was sent into this court under Louis XIV and has stayed a while. There are two salons at the ends of this gallery like at Versailles. Phaeton's fable provides the subject of these beautiful paintings. We see there his arrival in the Sun Palace, his imprudent request to his father, the guiding of his chariot; the fright and cries of inhabitants of earth and sea in the approach of a general conflagration; the punishment of his temerity, and finally, his superb tomb raised by his sisters. The entire magnificent Chapel of this chateau is even painted by his hand. We can say with verity that the beauties of these works are very great in number, and will be admired in Versailles.
I return to the principal history paintings according to the order of their grandeur and position.
At the base of the Salon on the side of the stairway, we see two of figural form above the doors, that workers improperly call “cut out”. These two paintings are pendants, and are destined for the cabinet of Medallions of the Library of the King. By Master Boucher, who has quite a reputation, they represent eloquence and astronomy. The ordering is pleasant, the draperies studied and light, their tones varied and contrasted well enough. It would be difficult enough to still anticipate the eloquence of the physiognomy of the figure that represents it, and which is extremely cold and without character. What passion! What vehemence should strike us with traits that announce this so powerful art, which submits minds and crafts, all our passions to its will? A stronger and more vigorous coloring we should desire for this flesh: heady gazes more of nobility and of expression, above all in those of its virgins, that may have had a relationship of dignity and decency to those of Raphael, to Carracci, to Guide, to Carlo Maratti, to Le Brun, Poussin, and Mignard etc., which are all of a noble and devout character without resembling themselves. We wish for a little more truth and naturalness in these attitudes, on all those of the children, of geniuses accompanying these subjects, most confused, violent, lacking necessity and beauty. The public thinks nearly the same of the paintings of Master Nattoire of which the flesh colors are yet weaker, and in petty fashionable taste quite clear in their truth, but at the same time very bland.
Today this is the general color of almost all our productions in letters as in painting; everything is rosy and preserves them for good. We still see in the Salon, two small pieces of Nattoire that represent the union of painting and drawing, and of lyric poetry and of music, achieving pleasure and subtlety in the brush of these two small paintings of which the subjects are very appropriate to a connoisseur's Cabinet as delicate as Monsieur Julienne's for whom they have been made. Although, as we cannot conceive painting without drawing, and as these two ideas are inseparable, a company less trivial would be desired, and not found in all paintings, above the doors, with all ancient and modern emblems, and above all, in the engraved frontispieces of our books which deal with painting. But most of our painters are hardly inventors, because they rarely study and read little; ignorance is the daughter of laziness, and the dear company to mediocrity. Enemy of competition, she shrinks talent and tranquilly leaves to these rival labors the glory of invention, content to obscurely wall themselves up in a crowd of copyists of other peoples' thoughts; resembling stupid animals that do not dare take steps outside of others which precede them. This is not then how the Raphaels, Poussins, Rubens, Le Brun, Le Sueur and so many others have acquired the title of great men and acquired immortality in their profession, and having all been amateurs of knowledge. Their works are books open to all nations, where all learn; no circumstance necessary to the subject is omitted, and their speech that is made understood to their gazes, often penetrates the soul more profoundly than the most eloquent writings.
In the painting of Alexander cutting the Gordian knot, by Master Restout, the ordering and some beauties of detail have received praise. Out of interest in a subject so cold and so difficult, without wishing to handle it with success, we hope for more variety and pleasantness in local color. The number and magnitude of works in which this able painter has excelled have made him a name above all praise, whether by learned routes that he's known how to blaze among the great in which defects are so sensible, or in these new and eloquent expressions in subjects so common and which appear exhausted. Such are those of the painting of the Virgin with infant Jesus in the church of the seminary of foreign missions, where the virgin is represented with an attitude of adoration in a holy trinity so elevated and so sublime that it astonishes the spectator in its penetration of a holy veneration for this mystery. A composition so Christian, so enlightened, appears to be a work of high piety, and of a profound meditation. A great painter has said that it is like wishing that all church paintings were excellent and yet pathetic. He would name them mute preachers who often make more of an impression than words. We find, in saints' lives and in those of several painters, examples of this truth.
Two paintings of Collin de Vermont have pleasantly startled the eyes of spectators. The first is right next to the stairway. Its subject is an allegory taken from history, and the best of thought. Augustus, this Roman Emperor, for whom the love for grand genius and the Fine Arts would give greater immortality than his most heroic actions, appears seated in a place of decorum where he comes to relax from the burden of the Empire, and to taste the most noble leisure of heroes. All the arts surround him. Painting, which must be held there to the first rank, is closer to his person, and offers him an image of The Sacrifice of Iphegenia. The sculpture beside it is modeled on a statue. History is made known by its trumpet and its crown of laurels. Music, geography, architecture form groups with beautiful ordering. The author could have varied more their too mannered dress, most of their draperies being knotted on the shoulder, the others laid bare. This able painter has been for a long time the choice of the Public for history painting. He has shown for some years a great series of that of Cyrus in about twenty small paintings. The public will admire the beautiful choice of events of a reign as celebrated as that of the great King of Persia. These colored sketches have been made for engravings, and Curieux will view them with pleasure. Elegies of the public are not limited to that of Augustus with its beauty of ordering; it senses all the ingenuity of allegory, which has disguised under the traits of Caesar the traits of Louis XV, for which the protection he accords to the Fine Arts creates this subject of the painting. Everyone has suspected our monarch, well-loved in the figure of the emperor, but without power to assure that this was his true portrait, and so here we have what had been much too easy, but less well-adept and flattering. It is thus the reign of Louis XV defined by that of Augustus, and which could excuse the author for the anachronisms we've noticed. Such are that of the engraver who presents him an engraving, which was invented only thirteen hundred years after his reign, along with instruments and books of entirely modern form.
The other painting by the same author is on the end of the same plane and on the same line. It's Cleopatra bowing to the knee of Augustus, now her master as a result his defeat of Anthony. Having no more hope than the form of her beauty, nor more resource than clemency of Héros, she appears in his eyes with a profound humiliation; she employs the entire artifice of her charms and tears to move him. The painter has chosen this moment for the subject of his painting. We see in these traits an affliction accompanied by dignity. This figure is so remarkable in expression, and beautiful light, so widespread that it renders that of Augustus barely interesting. It is true that the character of clemency, the only type the painter must give him in this situation, is an internal enough affectation of the soul, and which produces on the outside almost no sensible movement in traits, nor attitude. For, Le Brun, this great master of the art of realizing passions, has felt in his admirable painting of Persian Queens at the feet of Alexander, a masterpiece of judgment and sentiment in the expression of diverse passions that excite the arrival of this Prince where the tent of Darius remains: the submission, admiration, conscience, respect, fear, terror, all different nuances that produce an abundant variety of physiognomies and experimental attitudes with an eloquence and a perfect decency - and in the dignity of princesses and the state of all persons in the series. Work that will eternally be honor in a great sense and in a sublime genius of that excellent painter, Homer and Quintus Curtius of Louis XIV. He would know that clemency, this virtue otherwise so esteemed by sovereigns, is cold in representation, what has associated him with the happy effect that produces the error of Darius's mother who believes Parmenion to be Alexander by the degree of his stature and the favored look of Héros, who occasions him the action of taking Parmenion and of telling Sisgambis that she is not deceived and that he was another Alexander.
There are many beauties in the painting of Cleopatra by Master de Vermont. The variety and choice of attitudes, the expression of character of women of this princess, and those of the officers of Augustus, the accord of empty tints of figures placed at bottom, with the most vigorous before the scene, forms a beautiful and delightfully harmonious ensemble. But as few beauties are totally exempt from defects, those noticed and considerable, namely that the Queen of Egypt and the Roman Emperor are not articulated enough to be recognized without the help of a printed book explaining the subject. This obscurity is born from the defect of attributes that belong to them, either in dress (the heroes not dressed as Romans, nor the Egyptian in African dress), or in a setting which is not at all historical. This subject should not have been an emblem for the spectator, were she able to see some part of the painting of sumptuous monuments and tombs in the form of pyramids that Cleopatra had built close to the temple of Isis for locking her away with immense riches, and from which she wrote to Augustus on crystal tablets in the most suppliant terms. One of our famous poets, whose subtlety of expression equals that of his feeling, has put this letter in verse. Here it is in two stanzas:
Ah Master, when I will appear before your eyes
Take my irritated face as enemy
Treat me if you can as would a superb master
I fear too much your goodwill.
I'm ready to see myself carried into slavery
Within these prideful walls, of iron
As much as of the king:
The house of Caesars, such is my destiny,
He must triumph over me twice.
So, I think that with a learned academician of our day, a history painter will not know how to study too much and to assemble everything that can aid the intelligence of his subject. This the learned Poussin has practiced with severe exactitude. Nothing is put to chance in the setting of these paintings and without reason relative to place, time, morals, to Religion in the subjects of history he exposes to view. Buildings, temples, idols, dress, all have spoken, all have instructed with this poetry which has only the moment of a rapid action, deprived of preceding circumstances and preparation for leading the mind of the spectator to this present event and spreading the light. Without this maxim and this inviolable law, the historic in painting of which the purpose is to instruct by assent, becomes a labor and an enigma for the spectator, which fatigues and often rebuffs him.
I will finish the history paintings with a small collection of Master Pierre that has astonished connoisseurs. It sits in the lower section above his Medea. Its subject is simple and common. It is Venus on the sea laying in a pearly shell: Tritons and Naiads are in her retinue. Some are harnessed to this singular carriage, and the others are near her in admiration. We first of all have avidly sought the name of this brush, so brilliant that none could foresee, and have been charmed to find an author in Pierre who has taken the coloration in this work to such a degree of beauty and pleasantness. We have always looked at those parts as the most delightful of these three paintings, those which call out to the spectator, and which constitute his name and his character. The painter who only excels in part of this design will never be a great draughtsman. Such correction can even be acquired, to a certain extent, by opinionated study. We will place in the rank of great geniuses and men of imagination, those who provide much passion, singular and poetic traits in their works, and for whom luck will be fecund and rich in inventions. But they will still not be great painters, if they do not delight us by color. An excellent geometer is esteemed as one who will admire the art and science of shortening and of astonishing illusions of perspective. But a true painting could never be conceived without coloring.
It is this charm which attracts me by the brilliant clarity of imitations, and imitation taken to a higher degree is often more seductive and more delightful than truth - to which it even adds by the choice of what is the most beautiful in nature, and of which we can only find an assemblage by happy chance, which almost never arrives; what excites in us a double pleasure at the same instant, the view of an object perfect in all its parts and admiring the art and magic of the imitator who so pleasantly deceives us. And it is not necessary to believe that this lofty intelligence of coloring, and this artifice of seduction would be easy. Among the great number of celebrated painters in schools, just how many are perfect colorists? We must not be astonished by their rarity. Which art is for conserving the purity of virgin and primitive tones, and making them however rise to this eminent degree of cold and light by the mixture of halftones without altering nor exhausting simple and fundamental colors? What limitless research to find the true tones of these half tints, or rather, what happy chance in their discovery! I say happy chance because a great number of painters have spent their lives researching without success. The coloring of the Venus of Master Pierre is much more admirable than were it aided by any base, by any advantageous opposition. It is Ether, it is the celestial color that provides the field of his painting.
After having rendered justice to the beauty of the color in this small work, I believe the passion of the author enough to arrive at the perfection of his art, where he seems to soar, in order to desire to learn the opinions of the public concerning his defects. He has found in the gaze of the head of this brilliant Venus, little nobility nor grace. The choice of his attitude is neither successful nor pleasant; the taste of its design is mediocre and heavy. We see reddish tints displaced to the top of the throat. In the figures of Tritons and the Genies, the cradle from the mother of Loves with traits and lines so gallant, carries a barbaric and almost horrible character which has displeased nearly everyone. Several were shocked by a contrast so violent in the most beautiful divinities, whose sole presence must spread Grace, or at least soften the the ferocity of everything surrounding it. We are convinced that the principal Triton at bottom is painted with much skill, with proud, learned touches in his figure and above all in the head. We find them admirable, yet not pleasing. None is better painted, nor of a greater tone of color than the group of figures at his side. We see reflective lights imagined with a supreme verisimilitude, and which produces very good effects, but there is carelessness in the tuning of the design, which is unpardonable.
In the figure of Triton closest to Venus, and on whom is placed her right hand, the right arm of Triton (who is reclining) appears too long and broken at the part where the left is supporting it. Its effect of foreshortening and even the hand are of a very careless design and hardly correct, just as the left of Venus, in halftone. The author must be careful not to neglect a part so essential, and to remember that Raphael is never elevated so high than by the greater severity in his design where no negligence is ever permitted, and for which he has preferred perfection to that of coloring. Even given a eulogy I have made to this delightful color, it would no longer know how to flatter me when it shines in those parts that shock my view by the defects of their proportions. It would seem only on the contrary to render them more noticeable to me.
Some people have even offered a critique of this charming painting, which has appeared to me judicious. It is not a fault of the art, but only the attention of the Author. The goddess of grace and beauty gives preference to one of these ugly Tritons to serve her in triumph, and to use his back to support her ivory arm. Has it not been more suitable to him than to accord this favor to a young and pleasant Naiad among those idle in the painting, in the place of this figure with a hideous and disgusting beard, to approach - closer than all others - her divine person? A painter must examine well the role that each actor invites for his subject, in short, to put into play nothing out of place nor useless.