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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

The Art Of The Louvre

( Originally Published 1913 )



The Louvre was once a French palace; its history is lost in uncertainty, yet modern investigation has cleared up many facts in connection with the contributions and changes made in the building itself by succeeding kings. It was finally joined to the Palace of the Tuileries, which was destroyed during the French Revolution. The famous collection of paintings which now occupies the first floor, with three additional rooms recently added on the second, is one of the most valuable in the world. While other picture galleries contain single paintings of greater worth than any here, the Louvre is distinguished as being probably the most representative of all painters and periods. The collection was begun by Francis L, who induced several Italian painters of note to assemble at his court. Subsequent rulers added to the nucleus of pictures he had accumulated, and before the time of Napoleon the collection had grown to large proportions. Napoleon's pillages have been frequently mentioned in connection with countries whose art treasures he shamelessly exported to France, yet we seldom realize how tremendous were these wholesale appropriations of priceless paintings.

"From Italy, Holland, Austria, and Spain came the caravans of precious objects which he had pillaged. Immense wagons, carts, vans of every description were laden with boxes and bales to the number of thousands. As they were landed from the ships on the Seine, the Parisians swarmed over the quays in vast herds, greeting each new arrival with cheers. The huge crates were all marked with the names of the contents, and as one after another was carried away, the crowds would fall in behind, screaming a welcome to the pictures or statues, and escort them in triumph to the Louvre. These processions have been likened to Caesar's triumphal returns to Rome, laden with the spoils and captives of his conquered countries."

It is gratifying to all art lovers to know that after the hopes of the aspiring world-conqueror were shattered at Waterloo, the victorious nations insisted upon the return of the greater portion of these spoils, in spite of the indignation in France attendant upon their removal.

Of the three thousand paintings today in the Louvre, it is possible to mention only the gems of the gallery and a few paintings of French artists. Before the recent disappearance of Mona Lisa, six of Leonardo's oil-paintings were here-the Madonna of the Rocks being second only in importance to the more famous picture. Eighteen of Titian's are shown, the Entombment being regarded generally as the most remarkable among them. The Madonna of the Rabbit, the Pilgrims of Emmaus, and, among mythological subjects, Jupiter and Antiope, are all striking examples of his genius. Only two by Correggio have found their way thither-one a mythological subject, the other, his Marriage of St. Catherine. The story was told of St. Catherine that in youth she was widely sought in marriage but found none of her suitors to her liking. In a dream one night the Christ Child placed a ring upon her finger and awakening in the morning she found it still there. She interpreted this to imply that she should spend her life in religious work, which thereafter engrossed her.

Raphael's Madonna of the Garden is best known of his thirteen productions in Paris. Del Sarto's Holy Family; Ghirlandajo's Visitation, and two of Paul Veronese's paintings; the Marriage at Cana and Yeast in the House of Simon the Pharisee, both acquisitions of the Napoleonic period, are rarely prized. Under names of this kind Veronese painted scenes of his own day and it has been thought that many of the faces seen in both pictures are portraits of his contemporaries. "Thus, among the guests in the Marriage of Cana, some have recognized, or thought they recognized, Francis L, Charles V., the Sultan Soliman L, Eleanor of Austria, the Queen of France" Mary Queen of England, the Marquis of Guastella, the Marquis of Pescara, the celebrated Vittoria Colonna, etc. In the group of musicians placed in the center of the long table, in the shape of a horse-shoe, may be recognized with more certainty Paul Veronese himself, dressed in white silk, seated and playing on the violoncello."

Here is Murillo's Holy Family, and, more beautiful still, his Immaculate Conception which one feels to be almost inspired. In spite of a sentimentalism that renders his work secondary to much that is less pleasing but more sincere, people are as a rule attracted by these pictures.

Twenty-three of Van Dyck's, including his famous portrait of Charles the First with his horse, the unfortunate king's children, and several portraits, one of the artist himself, may be seen. Ruben's portrait of Helen F ourment, with her little son and daughter, is given place in the Salon Carre, where are hung only the finest paintings. Rubens is further represented by fifty-three paintings, thirty of them forming the Maria de Medici series, executed by the Flemish artist for the queen's apartments in the Luxembourg Palace, and now hung in the Rubens Salon. With an exaggerated conception of her importance, Maria de Medici, queen of France, commissioned Rubens to present her life in a series of scenes, these to exemplify the trend of her career. Fulsome flattery thus required of the artist, he fulfilled her order to the letter. Beginning with the Fates measuring out her portion, she is shown to have been educated by Minerva, Apollo and the Graces, or more truthfully, her presence with these deities is symbolic of her education. Juno and Jupiter are present at her marriage, and thus the incidents of importance are recorded. These pictures were done in Rubens' studio in Antwerp and are largely the work of his pupils, although the master himself finished them, retouching here and there, and his designs were used throughout.

Two rooms are devoted largely to Rembrandt's pictures, showing him in every phase of his work. The Home of the Carpenter-a rendering of the Holy Panily-Christ at Emmaus, and several of his portraits are well known.

Velazquez may be studied in seven paintings-the greatest being the Infanta Marguerita, wonderfully sweet and simple, and one of the best child portraits ever executed.

Aside from works of the greatest masters, those whose time is limited should give special attention to the study of French painters, whose works are frequently shown incompletely in other galleries. There is much satisfaction to be gained from viewing a painter's work in his native land.

Among the French Primitives, the Last judgment by Jean Cousin deserves mention-less because of any intrinsic value of the picture itself than because he belongs to the earliest French school. Two portraits by Francois Clouet-Charles IX. and Elizabeth of Austria-are among the earliest French productions.

Le Sueur (1616-1655) was a contemporary of Le Brun, who far outshadowed him. Le Sueur's pictures illustrating the life of St. Bruno, founder of the Carthusian Order, are in the Louvre. Lebrun's scenes from the life of Alexander, in which guise he glorified the career of Louis XIV. appear theatrical and extravagant in comparison.

Nicholas Poussin is represented by nearly forty picturesreligions, historical, mythological, as well as landscapes. His Rape of the Sabines is forceful. The Four Seasons are alle gorically represented by biblical scenes: Spring, by Adam and Eve in Paradise; Summer by Ruth in the field of Boaz ; Autumn by the great clusters of grapes, brought by the spies in Canaan ; Winter by the Deluge. These have been popular and highly praised by the French but less favorably by foreign critics.

Poussin, it will be remembered, studied for years in Italy and when he returned to Paris by invitation of the king, French painters uninfluenced by the Italian masters so derided his work that he shortly went back to Italy, never to return. Before taking leave of France he painted a picture as a last shot to his enemies: Time Rescuing Truth from the Attacks of Envy and Discord. This is unique among his productions.

Claude Lorrain created his own serene world, far remote from the hard lot of humanity. His pictures are often characterized by groups of trees, arranged like curtains on either side of the scene. Limitless vistas rest the eye and delectable mountains rise-criticized by some as unlike real ranges, but wholly appropriate for his scenes, which are quite as unreal. The landing of Cleopatra at Tarsus, the Village Dance and many of his Seaports are found in this collection.

During the first portion of the eighteenth century art reflected the insincerity of the age. Louis XV. had succeeded, and the rigid rule of his illustrious predecessor given way to a laxity and license previously unknown. Madame Pompadour exercised the controlling voice and she favored Boucher ( 1704-1779), whose work was now greatly in demand. Watteau transferred to canvas the spirit of the times as reflected in the gay life of the court, light and unsubstantial, like the very basis upon which it stood. Confining his subjects to those pertaining to the noblesse, they supplied his patronage. The Embarkment for Cythera is best among his pictures in the Louvre.

"Observe all that ground lightly coated with a transparent and golden varnish, all that ground covered with rapid strokes of the brush lightly laid on with a delicate touch. Notice that green of the trees shot through with red tones, penetrated with quivering air, and the vaporous light of autumn. Notice the delicate water-colour effect of thick oil, the general smoothness of the canvas, the relief of this pouch or hood; notice the full modelling of the little faces with their glances in the confused outlines of the eye and their smiles in the suggested outlines of the mouth. . . . And the spirit and the gallantry of touch of Watteau's brush in the feminine trifles and headdresses and finger tips-and everything it approaches! And the harmony of those sunlit distances, those mountains of rosy snow, those waters of verdurous reflections; and again those rays of sunlight falling upon robes of rose and yellow, mauve petticoats, blue mantles, shot-coloured vests, and little white dogs with fiery spots. For no painter has equalled Watteau in rendering beautifully coloured objects transfigured by a ray of sunlight, their soft fading and that kind of diffused blossoming of their brilliancy under the full light. Let your eyes rest for a moment on that band of pilgrims of both sexes hurrying, beneath the setting sun, towards the galley of love that is about to set sail: there is the joyousness of the most adorable colours in the world surprised in a ray of the sun, and all that haze and tender silk in the radiant shower involuntarily remind you of those brilliant insects, that we find dead, but with still living colours, in the golden glow of a piece of amber. This picture is the wonder of wonders of this master."

In strong contrast to these visions of thistledown lightness were the productions by a genre painter of different mindChardin, who found his themes among the simple people. The Blessing, the Busy Mother, the Housekeeper-these are subjects similar to those of Dou and other of the Dutch genre painters. In the clear judgment of an age more than one hundred years removed, we find far greater satisfaction in these commonplace subjects, charming in composition and true to nature, than in all the artificiality of court life, however enticing the scenes. Watteau, who concealed his life-long suffering in much the manner of Stevenson, pictured the life around him with grace and charm, but we can see the unrest that the nobles try in vain to dispel and hear the ominous words of the king: "After me the deluge!" In Clrardin's naive canvases we find elements common to all countries and all ages and the truth of his portrayals appeal to us deeply.

The Napoleonic period produced many of the masterpieces of David. He was a devout follower of the antique, and his work reveals the bent of the sculptor as well as the painter. The Coronation of Napoleon is regarded as his most important work. The painter, too near the event to see it in its true relation, could not know that the triumphal moment he had recorded was destined to be of fleeting significance, nor to imagine that a future generation would smile in recalling the conqueror's words when he viewed the painting completed. "C'est bien, tres bien; David, je vous salue."

Gerard and Ingres were pupils of David. Gerard was rated more highly in his own day than at present. He painted portraits, and several historical pieces as well. His Cupid and Psyche is widely known. Ingres ever maintained the principles of David and the classic school. He believed that "in Nature all is form." But the romantic movement under the leadership of Delacroix was destined to overthrow the theories of the older school and to substitute contemporaneous life and nature in place of the antique.

For years the war between classic and romantic schools waged bitterly. The Academy was for a long time under the control of the classicists and impressionists were practically excluded from the yearly exhibitions. Meantime a new school arose, made up for the most part of landscape painters, and known as the School of 1830 or the Barbizon School. Several painters left Paris, where French art centered, and went into the Forest of Fontainebleau to study nature and follow the guidance of her teaching rather than attempt longer to adhere to rules and principles which failed to satisfy them. The little town of Barbizon, so simple and devoid of comfort that an old barn served some years as a rallying place, became their home. From the first dawn of morning until the last ray had darkened at night they were at work. Then canvases and brushes were stowed away in hollow trunks of trees until they should be needed next day. Surely in modern times no group of men ever lived more thoroughly in harmony with Nature. All at work upon trees, vistas and skies, the differences among their pictures are explained by the difference in temperament existing in the men themselves. Rousseau painted proud, gnarled trees, in russet yellow foliage. Always impersonal, he was the only one of the group of whom it could not be said: to them landscape was not a scene but a condition of soul. He chose to let Nature manifest herself through his pictures, as Holbein had chosen to let character reveal itself in his portraits. A master of drawing, possessing qualities of the sculptor as well as the painter, he continued to experiment, turning restlessly from one phase of Nature to another. Several of his paintings are in the Louvre: An Opening in the Forest at Fontainebleau, The Marsh, The Storm, and Along the River are perhaps best known.

Rousseau loved to paint on cold, gray days, when shadows were dark and forms of objects striking. Avoiding people, finding companionship in trees more to his liking, he placed them on canvas as no one else has ever done.

In decided contrast are the landscapes of Corot, who never set up his easel upon days best suited to his friend Rousseau. Corot's life was happy and genial. He never grew old. Warm hearted, content to paint, indifferent to compensation and using it when received largely for the relief of friends, all who came in contact with him shared his generous, whole-hearted sympathy and joy. He loved the springtime best, when trees were just leafing out in shimmering mists of green. He seldom painted the oak-Rousseau's favorite tree-liking better the aspen, the willow, and the silver birch, whose tremulous leaves reflected fleeting, shimmering glimpses of the light. In the Louvre may be seen his Dance of the Nymphs, wherein Nature dances with them in leaf and bough. To fully appreciate Corot one should recall his love of music and the sense of rhythm that his compositions suggest. Early morning or twilightthese were his favorite hours. The joyous songs of birds can be felt in his pictures of the dawn; the soothing murmur of drowsiness in those of closing day. Evening, Morning, Landscape with Cows and many others are here.

Diaz, another of the little group, was of Spanish birth, and Spanish tendencies and characteristics frequently manifest themselves in his pictures. It has well been said these are not landscapes-for there is no land. Trees are everywhere, painted always in the full flood of summer or the rich warmth of autumn. Light scintillates and sparkles among the leaves as when caught by precious gems. Under the Trees, The Bohemians, A Birch Tree Study-these are important and characteristic of his genius. He expostulated with Millet for his selection of themes. "You paint stinging nettles and I prefer roses," he insisted. Yet Millet's "stinging nettles," if so they may be characterized, are destined to live, while Diaz' roses are forgotten.

Dupre supplies the minor note-the wail of the violin in its deepest grief. A passionate creature, who was keenly sensible and acutely conscious of the tragic element in Nature, he painted the forest when a wild tempest tortured the trees and bent their boughs, tearing the leaves and scattering them broadcast; the sky lurid with angry light or threatening with clouds; the set when lashed into fury; the desolate steeple when around it wailed and moaned the wind, vibrating with all the sounds of agony and grief and suffering it had heard as it swept over land and main. Even in his Sun Smiling After the Storm it is the storm one feels rather than the peace that followed. This and several of his Oaks are in the Louvre.

Daubigny, influenced by these men of original genius, is perhaps rightly included with them. He loved the country as they loved Nature. Fields of corn, wide reaches of waving grasses, glorious apple trees in snowy bloom, farm houses, old mills-country scenes where one feels rather than sees humanity, supplied his subjects. And sometimes the tenants are included in the pictures. The Louvre contains some of his Springtimes and river scenes. Much of his life was spent on the Oise, mooring wherever his fancy led him.

Constant Troyon (1810-1865) was primarily a cattle painter. He studied in Holland and found Cuyp a safer guide than Potter. His Oxen Going to Work hangs in the Louvre; the animals seem to breathe as they patiently move over the steaming earth. The Return to the Farm was presented to the French government by his mother after the painter's death. Greatest of the Barbizon school was Millet, whose rare talents are today everywhere recognized. His noblest production, the Gleaners, is here, together with Burning Weeds, The Winnower, and others.

"Burning Weeds is one of the single-figure compositions Millet was so fond of, where a solitary woman stands in a landscape that tells its own story and so helps to tell hers. Here she is leaning on her three-pronged rake, looking down at a burning mound of dry leaves and twigs. She has been clearing the ground and all about her is the dry, hubbly earth, and back, against which she is silhouetted, is the illimitable sky, enveloping all. There is infinite patience, a calmness born of long experience, a oneness with stern nature in this admirably drawn and poised figure, which is in a shadow that is only lightened on her left shoulder and down the left half of her heavy apron. Scarcely any of Millet's pictures are fuller of poetry than is this little canvas...

"The Winnower is still another interior, and one with even less light is the barn wherein is the winnower. Coming from the left, which is the direction from which comes the light also, is the man, bent almost double backwards under the weight of an enormous flat, scuttle-shaped basket. This is filled with grain and from it a cloud of chaff arises. The laborer is in strict profile, dressed in a gray waistcoat and blue overalls. As he staggers across the barn the light strikes against his back and hits his left hand, thus making a spot of brilliancy toward the center of the picture and helping to balance the composition. It is only the simplest sort of scene, of a bit of rough peasant life. But by the arrangement of light, by the choice of sympathetic if very quiet colors, by very excellent and very forceful drawing, it would be a splendid piece of work even without the attribute that was in everything Millet did,-that soul-quality without which none of his canvases would be truly his."

"Mona Lisa"

"La Giaconda is, in the truest sense, Leonardo's masterpiece, the revealing instance of his mode of thought and work.

In suggestiveness, only the Melancholia of Durer is comparable to it; and no crude symbolism disturbs the effect of its subdued and graceful mystery. We all know the face and hands of the figure, set in the marble chair, in that cirque of fantastic rocks, as in some faint light under sea. Perhaps of all ancient pictures time has chilled it least. As often happens with works in which invention seems to reach its limit, there is an element in it given to, not invented by, the master. In that inestimable folio of drawings, once in the possession of Vassaria, were certain designs by Verrocchio, faces of such impressive beauty that Leonardo in his boyhood copied them many times. It is hard not to connect with these designs of the elder by-past master, as with its germinal principle, the unfathomable smile, always with a touch of something sinister in it, which plays over all Leonardo's work. Besides, the picture is a portrait. From childhood we see this image defining itself on the fabric of his dreams; and but for express historical testimony, we might fancy that this was but his ideal lady, embodied and beheld at last. What was the relationship of a living Florentine to this creature of his thought? By what strange affinities had she and the dream grown thus apart, yet so closely together? Present from the first, incorporeal in Leonardo's thought, dimly traced in the designs of Verrocchio, she is found present at last in Il Giocondo's house. That there is much of mere portraiture in the picture is attested by the legend that by artificial means, the presence of mimes and flute players, that subtle expression was protracted on the face. Again, was it in four years and by renewed labor never really completed, or in four months and as by stroke of magic, that the image was projected?

The presence that thus so strangly rose beside the waters is expressive of what in the ways of a thousand years man had come to desire. Hers is the head upon which all "the ends of the world are come," and the eyelids are a little weary. It is a beauty wrought out from within upon the flesh, the deposit, little cell by cell, of strange thoughts and fantastic reveries and exquisite passions. Set it for a moment beside one of those white Greek goddesses or beautiful women of antiquity, and how would they be troubled by this beauty into which the soul with all its maladies has passed? All the thoughts and experience of the world have etched and moulded there in that which they have of power to refine and make expressive the outward form, the animalism of Greece, the lust of Rome, the reverie of the middle age with its spiritual ambition and imaginative loves, the return of the pagan world, the sins of the Borgias. She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants; and, as Leda, was mother of Helen of Troy, and as Saint Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her but as the sound of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy with which it has moulded the changing lineaments and tinged the eyelids and the hands. The fancy of a perpetual life, sweeping together ten thousand experiences, is an old one; and modern thought has conceived the idea of humanity as wrought upon by, and summing up in itself, all modes of thought and life. Certainly Lady Lisa might stand as the embodiment of the old fancy, the symbol of the modern idea."



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