The French school of painting does not date earlier than the sixteenth century, and the painters of that time were few in number, and little is known of them. Before the time when a French school could be said to exist the kings of France employed foreign artists to decorate their palaces and churches, and they naturally turned to the Italians for all that they needed. Hence it happened that in its earliest days the French school was almost entirely under Italian influence, and I shall first speak of French masters who studied in Italy.

Nicholas Poussin (1594-1665) may be said to belong to the seventeenth century, since he was born so late in the preceding one. Poussin was born in Normandy, and early began to draw and paint. He studied somewhat in France, and when thirty years old went to Rome, where, in reality, his artistic career began. He was a pupil of Andrea Sacchi, and received some instruction from Domenichino also; but he formed his style principally by studying the works of the ancients and those of the great Raphael. He was so devoted to the study of the habits and customs of the Greeks that he almost became one of them in his modes of thought.

Fig 67 Fig. 67.—Arcadian Shepherds. Poussin.

He was very poor when he first went to Rome; but he worked hard, and began to be known and to receive orders for pictures. Louis XIII. heard of Poussin, and invited him to Paris, where he gave him apartments in the Tuileries. But the artist longed to return to Rome, and made a plea of going for his wife. Soon after he left, Louis died, and Poussin never returned to France. Poussin was always busy; but he asked such moderate prices that he was never rich, and, when a great man pitied the artist because he had so few servants, Poussin pitied him in return for having so many. His portrait painted by himself is in the Louvre, where are many of his mythological pictures. His love for the classic manner makes these subjects his best works. His paintings are seen in many European galleries.

Claude Lorraine (1600-1682), whose real name was Claude Gelée, was born in Champagne in Lorraine. His parents were very poor, and died when he was still young: he was apprenticed to a pastry-cook, and so travelled to Rome as servant to some young gentlemen. Not long after his arrival he engaged himself to the painter Agostino Tassi, for whom he cooked, and mixed colors. After a time he himself began to paint. Nature was his teacher; he studied her with unchanging devotion; he knew all her changes, and was in the habit of sitting for a whole day watching one scene, so that he could paint from memory its different aspects at the various hours of the day. His works brought him into notice when he was still young. He received many orders, and when about twenty-seven years old some pictures he painted for Pope Urban VIII. established his fame as an artist of high rank. His character was above reproach, and his feelings were as tender as many of his pictures. He was attractive in person, though his face was grave in its expression. It would seem that he should have left a large fortune, but he did not. This was partly because he suffered much from gout, and was often unable to paint; but a better reason probably is that he gave so much to his needy relations that he could not save large sums.

Claude Lorraine has been called the prince and poet of landscape painters. Lübke, the German art writer, praises him very much, and his praise is more valuable than it would be if it came from one of Claude’s own countrymen. He says: “Far more profoundly than all other masters did Claude Gelée penetrate into the secrets of nature, and by the enchanting play of sunlight, the freshness of his dewy foregrounds, and the charm of his atmospheric distances, he obtained a tone of feeling which influences the mind like an eternal Sabbath rest. In his works there is all the splendor, light, untroubled brightness, and harmony of the first morning of creation in Paradise. His masses of foliage have a glorious richness and freshness, and even in the deepest shadows are interwoven with a golden glimmer of light. But they serve only as a mighty framework, for, more freely than with other masters, the eye wanders through a rich foreground into the far distance, the utmost limits of which fade away in golden mist.”

His two great charms are the immense space which he represents in his pictures and his beautiful color. The latter appears as if he had first used a silvery gray, and then put his other colors over that, which gives his works a soft, lovely atmospheric effect, such as no other artist has surpassed. When he introduced buildings into his pictures they were well done; but his figures and animals were so imperfect that he was accustomed to say that he sold the landscape, and gave away the figures.

Before his death his pictures were so much valued that other artists tried to imitate them, and he was accustomed to keep a book of sketches by which his works could be proved. He called this book “Liber Veritatis,” and before his death it reached six volumes; one of these containing two hundred drawings is at Chatsworth. A catalogue of his works describes more than four hundred landscapes. All the principal galleries of Europe have his pictures, and there are a great number of them in England, both in public and private collections.

Sebastian Bourdon (1616-1671), who was born at Montpelier, made his studies in Rome. He brought himself into notice by a picture of the Crucifixion of St Peter, which is now in the Louvre. He was one of the earliest members of the French Academy. Bourdon resided in Sweden for some years; but was in Paris, and held the position of Rector of the Academy when he died. He painted a few genre subjects, and two of his portraits by himself are in the Louvre; but his best works were landscapes, and in these his style was like that of Salvator Rosa. It has been said that Rigaud assisted him in his portraits of himself. Bourdon made some engravings, and collectors prize his plates very much.

There were other French painters who studied in Italy, but those that I have mentioned are the important ones. Of those who studied in their own country only, Eustache le Sueur (1617-1655) was the first of any importance; but his life was short and uneventful, and he was not appreciated. His most important works are in the Louvre.

Charles le Brun (1619-1690) was very prominent in his day. His father was a sculptor, and was employed by the Chancellor Segnier. This nobleman’s attention was attracted to the son, and he at length sent the young Le Brun to Italy to study. He remained there six years, and after his return to Paris he was made painter to the king, and became the favorite of the court. He used his opportunities to persuade Louis XIV. to found the Royal Academy at Paris, which was done in 1648. All his principal pictures are in the Louvre.

Pierre Mignard (1612-1695) has been called “the Roman,” because he lived in Rome twenty-two years, and while there was patronized by three successive popes. In 1664 he was made President of the Academy of St. Luke in Rome. At length Louis XIV. invited him to return to France. In 1690 he succeeded Le Brun as court painter, and was made Chancellor of the Academy. His portraits are his best works, and these are seen in the galleries of various European countries.

Hyacinthe Rigaud (1659-1743) became the most distinguished French portrait painter of his time; but his pictures are not very attractive or interesting in our day. He finished them too much, and so gave them an artificial appearance. Then, too, the costume of his day was such that his portraits seem to be the portraits of wigs and not of people. They are very numerous. He often painted the portrait of Louis XIV., and had illustrious people from all parts of Europe among his sitters.

Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) was the first to practise a new style of painting. The habit of the French court was to pass much time in elegant out-door amusements. Watteau represented the scenes of thefêtes galantes and reunions then so much in fashion. His pictures are crowded with figures in beautiful costumes. There are groups of ladies and gentlemen promenading, dancing, love-making, and lounging in pleasant grounds with temples and fountains and everything beautiful about them. The pictures of Watteau are fine, and are seen in many galleries. His color is brilliant, and to their worth as pictures is added the historical interest which belongs to them, because they give us the best idea of court life, dress, and manners of the reign of Louis XIV. which can be had from any paintings.

The followers of Watteau were numerous, but are not of great importance. There were a few painters of animals and flowers in the French school; but we shall pass to the genre painters, among whom Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805) was important. He painted very beautiful pictures of young girls and children. His color is very agreeable, and some of his works are finished as finely as if they were done on ivory. Most of his pictures are in private galleries, but they are seen in some public collections. Probably the “Broken Jug,” in the Louvre, is his best known work. His pictures sell for very large prices. At the Forster sale in 1876, “A Little Girl with a Lap Dog in her Arms” brought six thousand seven hundred and twenty pounds; in 1772 the same picture was sold for three hundred pounds, and in 1832 it was again sold for seven hundred and three pounds. Thus we see that in fifty-four years its value had increased to more than nine times its price, and in one hundred and four years it brought twenty-two times as much as it was first sold for.

Claude Joseph Vernet (1714-1789) was the best marine painter of the French school. Louis XV. commissioned him to paint the seaports of France. Fifteen of these pictures are in the Louvre. There have been many engravings after his works. His pictures of Italian seaports and views near Rome and Tivoli are among his best paintings. His color has little variety; but his drawing is correct, and his finish is very careful and fine. Vernet also made a few etchings.

In the early part of the eighteenth century Joseph Marie Vien (1716-1809) returned to the classic style of painting, and created a feeling against the pretty manner which had been the chief feature of French pictures for some time. His pictures are very numerous in the churches and galleries of Paris. He was not a great painter, but he marks a change in the spirit of French painting. Vien was the teacher of Jacques Louis David (1748-1825), who was considered the first painter in modern art at the close of the eighteenth century. He was so devoted to the classic style that he took the remains of ancient art as models for the figures in his pictures. His groups are like groups of statues, and his flesh looks like marble, it is so hard and lifeless. During the time of the first Napoleon this style was carried to excess in everything connected with the arts. David was such a favorite with the emperor that after the return of the Bourbons he was banished, and his family were not allowed to bury him in France. He lived in Brussels, and executed many of his best pictures there.

Fig 68 Fig. 68.—The Sabine Women. David.

Antoine Jean Gros (1771-1835) was a great admirer of David, and first attracted attention in 1801 by a picture of “Bonaparte on the Bridge of Arcola.” After this Gros painted many such works, and principally represented military events. Many of his pictures are very coarse. The “Plague at Jaffa” and the “Field of Eylau” are of this type, and the first is disgusting. Among his best works is “Francis I. and Charles V. visiting the Tombs at St. Denis.” But although he received many honors, and was made a baron by Charles X., he could not bear the criticism which was made upon his pictures, and finally drowned himself in the Seine near Meudon.

Paul Delaroche (1797-1856) was born at Paris, and studied under Baron Gros. He became a celebrated artist and was made a member of the Institute of France, a Professor in l’École des Beaux-Arts, and an officer of the Legion of Honor. His principal works represent scenes of important historical interest, and he so arranged them that they appeal to one’s sympathies with great power. Among these pictures are the “Condemnation of Marie Antoinette,” the “Death of the Duke of Guise,” “Cromwell Contemplating the Remains of Charles I.,” and other similar historical incidents. His design was according to academical rules; but he was not entirely conventional, and in some of his religious pictures there was much expression and deep feeling.

Fig 69 Fig. 69.—Death of the Duke of Guise. Delaroche.

His largest and most famous work is the “Hemicycle,” in l’École des Beaux-Arts, Paris. He was occupied with this painting during three years; it contains seventy-five figures of life size. The arts of different countries and ages are represented in it by portraits of the artists of the times and nations typified. Thus it is very interesting when considered merely as a great collection of portraits. Delaroche married the daughter of Horace Vernet, and it is said that the figure which stands for Gothic Architecture is a portrait of her. The Hemicycle is richly colored, and has a great deal of fine painting in it; but from its very nature it has no dramatic power, and does not arouse any deep sentiment in one who studies it. Delaroche was paid only about fifteen thousand dollars for this great labor, and refused to have any further reward.

Perhaps none of his works are more powerful than the “Death of the Duke of Guise.” You will easily recall the circumstances of his assassination: the painter has so represented it that one really forgets that it is a picture, and can only remember the horror of the crime. The corpse of the duke is on one side of the immense chamber, near the bed; the assassins are in a terrified group on the other side, and with them the cowardly king, who was absolutely afraid of the dead body of his victim. The picture is a remarkable instance of the power that may be given to what is sometimes called historical-genre art. This picture was sold in 1853 for ten thousand five hundred dollars (Fig. 69).

Jean Louis Géricault (1791-1824). He was born at Rouen, and studied first under Guérin and then in Rome. He was the first master of any power who entirely dismissed the influence of the art of David with its marble flesh and statuesque effect. The one great work by which he is known is the “Wreck of the Medusa,” which is in the Louvre, and which may be said to mark the advent of the modern French school.

Eugene Delacroix (1799-1863) was the son of a Minister of Foreign Affairs, and was born to position and wealth. But through misfortunes all this was changed, and he was forced to work hard for his living. At last he managed to study under Guérin, and in the studio of the master became the friend of Géricault. The first work which brought Delacroix fame was a picture of a scene from Dante’s “Inferno,” in which Dante sees some of his old acquaintances who were condemned to float upon the lake which surrounds the infernal city. This work was exhibited in 1822, and was bought for the Gallery of the Luxembourg. Baron Gros tried to be his friend; but Delacroix wished to follow his own course, and for some time had but small success.

He travelled in Spain, Algiers, and Morocco, and at length was commissioned by Thiers to do some decorative work in the throne-room of the Chamber of Deputies. He was much criticised, but at length was accepted as a great artist, and was made a member of the Institute in 1857. He received another important order for the Chamber of Peers. Some of his works are at Versailles, and others are seen in various churches of Paris. When they are considered as a whole they are effective, but they do not bear examination; his design was free and spirited and his color good, and he painted a variety of subjects, and was able to vary the expression of his work to suit the impression he wished to produce.

Émile Jean Horace Vernet (1789-1863) was born in the Louvre. He studied under his father, Carle Vernet, who was the son of Claude Joseph Vernet. Carle was a witty man, and it is said that when he was dying he exclaimed, “How much I resemble the Grand Dauphin—son of a king, father of a king, and never a king myself!” In spite of his being less than his father or his son, he was a good painter of horses. When Horace Vernet was but fifteen years old he supported himself by drawing; he studied with Vincent, and drew from living models. In 1814 he showed such bravery at the Barriere of Clichy that he was decorated with the Cross of the Legion of Honor: before he died he was a grand officer of the order on account of his artistic merits. He was also a member of the Institute and Director of the Academy of Rome.

His best works were executed in Rome, where he spent seven years; he travelled in Algiers, Syria, Egypt, Palestine, Russia, and England, and was everywhere received with the honors which his genius merited. His works embraced a great variety of subjects, and it is said that he often finished his picture the first time he went over it, and did not retouch it. There is no doubt that in certain ways the excellence of Vernet has been overestimated, and he has been too much praised; but his remarkable memory, which enabled him truthfully to paint scenes he had witnessed, and his facility of execution, are worthy of honorable mention.

When twenty years old Vernet was married, and from this time he kept an expense account in which all the prices he received for his works are set down. The smallest is twenty-four sous for a tulip; the largest is fifty thousand francs for the portrait of the Empress of Russia.

About 1817 Vernet became the favorite of the Duke of Orleans, and was therefore unpopular with the royal party. In 1820 he had made himself so displeasing to the king by some lithographs which were scattered among the people, that it was thought best for him to leave Paris. However, he overcame all this, and four years later Charles X. sat to him for his portrait. From this time orders and money flowed in from all sides.

The Vernets had originated in Avignon, and in 1826, when the museum there was opened, Horace and his father were invited to be present. Every honor was shown them; poems were read in their praise; they were conducted to the home of their ancestors, which they piously saluted, and inscribed their names upon the door-posts. After they returned to Paris they received rich gifts in return for the pictures they had given to Avignon. The Gallery Vernet, which contains works by Antoine, François, Joseph, Carle, and Horace Vernet, is regarded as a sacred place by the people of that region.

When Horace Vernet was Director of the Academy in Rome he held salons weekly; they were very gay, and all people of distinction who lived in Rome or visited that city were seen at these receptions, dancing and amusing themselves in the lively French manner. But after 1830 he felt that the Villa Medici was a prison. He wished to follow the French army in the East, and three years later did go to Algiers. In the same year the king decided to convert the palace at Versailles into an historical museum, and from this time Vernet had but two ideas, the East and Versailles. Almost every work he did was connected with these two thoughts.

Louis Philippe now desired him to paint four battle-pieces; but Vernet objected that no room was large enough to please him: for this reason a floor was removed, two stories turned into one, and the grand Gallery of Battles made. At length he had a difficulty with the king and went to Russia; but hearing that his father was dying he returned to Paris, and was made welcome back to Versailles, where he was really necessary.

We cannot stay to recount the honors which were showered upon him, and which he always received with great modesty of demeanor. He went from one triumph to another until 1848, when the Revolution almost broke his heart; he worked on, but his happiness was over. In the great Exposition of 1855 he had a whole salon devoted to his works, and men from all the world came to see and to praise. He lived still eight years; he made pictures of incidents in the Crimean War; he painted a portrait of Napoleon III., but he wrote of himself: “When time has worn out a portion of our faculties we are not entirely destroyed; but it is necessary to know how to leave the first rank and content one’s self with the fourth.”

His industry and the amount of work he did are simply marvellous. He loved excitement and adventure, and the works which have these elements were his best—and he liked best to do them. His color cannot be praised; he had no lofty intellectual aims; he was clever to a high degree, but he was not great; he was one to whom the happy medium of praise should be given, for he neither merits severity of criticism nor immoderate praise; he was simply a gifted painter and “the greatest and last of the Vernets.”

He is also the last French painter of whom we shall speak, as we do not propose to take up the excellent artists of our own day, who would require a volume devoted strictly to themselves.

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