The museum’s collections provide an overview of the major currents that crossed the 19th century.
Let’s start with Romanticism, of which the museum preserves some works by one of its main representatives : Eugène Delacroix and also a work by the young Gustave Moreau.
This is one of the three existing versions that Delacroix painted in the latter part of his career when he returned to religious painting. The subject was inspired by a Flagellation by Rubens that he saw during a trip to Antwerp in 1850. Despite his admiration for Rubens, Delacroix gives a very personal view of the theme here. He leaves aside the historical aspect (he rejects the figures of the executioners in the shadows) to concentrate solely on the figure of Christ and his isolation. Unlike Rubens, who shows a bloody back, the artist insists on the curved back, highlighted by violent lighting. He shows a Christ more prey to spiritual pains than to carnal pains, an image of a universal humanity.
It is a work of the painter’s youth, at a time when he was still influenced by Delacroix and Chassériau. It is also one of his greatest works, although he was more of a fan of smaller formats. Moreau was passionate about the Bible and he chose here a passage from the Song of Songs which tells the story of the rape of the Virgin of Sulam by drunken soldiers while she was on her way to join her beloved. The pyramid construction is typical of the Romantic period, as is the contrast between the young woman and the soldiers (in attitudes and colours).
In sculpture, the period is dominated by the figure of François Rude. Born in Dijon in 1784, he was awarded the Prix de Rome in 1812. Exiled to Brussels at the fall of the Empire because of his Bonapartist ideals, he never made his stay in Italy. On his return to Paris, he presented at the 1828 Salon a Mercury reattaching his heel and, in 1833, a Neapolitan Fisherman’s Boy, which designated him in the eyes of the Romantic artists as one of the principal sculptors of his time.
Rude chooses an anecdotal and picturesque subject for a life-size figure. He is in total rupture with classical sculpture, which considers this type of subject unworthy of statuary art. If the child is shown naked, like the ancient heroes, his body is not idealized and a broad smile uncovers his teeth. His bonnet and scapular designate him as a child of Naples and insist on the popular aspect of the representation.
François Rude was the teacher, at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, of another great 19th century sculptor: Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux.
In his portraits, Carpeaux likes to capture the intensity of the gaze. He tries to transcribe a liveliness in the pose, the treatment of the hair and the clothing (open jacket, untied collar). In this he stands out from the many academic portraits of his time.
Romantic artists are showing a renewed interest in historical subjects, especially medieval ones. This trend was to translate, in both sculpture and painting, into the birth of a genre known as the « troubadour style ».
Daughter of Charles the Bold, Mary of Burgundy died in 1483 from a fall from a horse during a falcon hunt. The artist focuses on anecdote and the representation of period costumes.
Wife of François Rude and a Dijon native like him, Sophie Rude produced a few historical paintings before turning to a career as a portrait painter. The composition based on plays of movements and colours is typically romantic.
The taste for oriental motifs, which we have already seen at Moreau’s, is another aspect of the interests of the Romantic generation. Following the conquest of Algeria by France in 1830, many artists were fascinated by the light and the new landscapes they discovered. This trend continued throughout the century, whether it was Oriental subjects shown in a realistic, even quasi-documentary manner or whether it was a completely fantasised Orient.
Delacroix witnessed this scene during his trip to Morocco in 1832. He painted this sketch on the spot but did not present the final version at the Salon until thirteen years later. Already in the sketch all the attention is focused on the figure of the sultan on horseback. It heralds the bright colours of the painting and shows an extremely free touch.
Originally from Burgundy, Ziem has travelled all over Europe and the Middle East. It was in 1847 that he discovered Constantinople.
Gasté, a great traveller, made frequent trips to North Africa where he revealed his talents as a colourist and a pronounced taste for portraits. His attention to physical types and costumes attests to a desire for documentary research. This descriptive tendency is increasingly present among orientalists in the second half of the century and echoes the rise of ethnographic photography.
The Revolution of 1848 allowed the emergence of a social and realist art whose main figure was Gustave Courbet and which, once again, was to last throughout the second half of the 19th century.
The subject was inspired in Courbet by a storm he witnessed in 1865 on the Normandy coast. The painter seeks to block the viewer from an unbridled nature. There is no way out for the gaze (background blocked by the wall of water, furious waves on the left, cliff on the right).
An early artist, the Dijon-born Félix Trutat presented this successful double portrait at the 1846 Salon. An excellent portraitist, his career was soon halted by his untimely death in 1848 at the age of 24.
Another Dijon native, the painter Louis Galliac, proposes an unusual format for a genre scene, rarely painted on large format. In a sober composition, he insists on the realism of expression.
Henri Bouchard develops a naturalist approach, very close to the world of work. Here, the man is represented sharpening his scythe, in a daily costume. The sculptor tries to capture the most natural attitude possible.
This naturalistic current was adopted by a group of painters who gathered in Barbizon in 1830 to paint landscapes on the motif. Their work would spread among provincial painters, as well as the Burgundian Louis Carbonnel.
The artistic ideal of the Second Empire and the Third Republic is represented by the « firefighter » or academic artists who imposed an official art, in accordance with academic rules.
Mercié confronts himself with the biblical subject to give it a political resonance. The young shepherd trampling on the head of the giant Goliath evokes French society’s desire for revenge in the aftermath of the defeat and humiliation of the War of 1870. The sculpture was an immediate success.
From the 1860s onwards, a craze for Japanese art began to spread in the West. Artists appropriated both the simple representation of exotic objects and the stylistic choices of Japanese painting. This movement, Japonism, became a source of inspiration for many artists.
Worldly portrait painter James Tissot accumulates elements of Japanese décor to adorn his Western Venus with a slightly artificial exoticism. Nevertheless, he breathes modernity into his canvas by constructing a complex space teeming with Asian references.
Two great artists from Realism, Edouard Manet and Eugène Boudin, were to become leaders for the Impressionist generation.
Manet shows great skill in the use of pastel. He exploits the technique to bring out the dark mass of the dress, the vaporous face with pinkish flesh.
Born in Honfleur, son of a sailor, Boudin seeks to make the world around him (boats, ports, beaches, the changing skies of Normandy). He reserves a large part of his canvas for the representation of the sky and the reflections of the clouds in the water, with a very free touch.
These two great painters paved the way for a group of young artists who came together under the name Impressionism. The museum has mainly landscapes in which the painters seek to capture the fleeting aspect of climatic and luminous phenomena.
A great lover of the cliffs of Etretat, Claude Monet paints about fifty canvases related to them. Here, he chooses to represent the departure of the boats for herring fishing. His fragmented touch transcribes the sparkles and movements of the water. Another canvas, kept in Moscow and painted at the same period, shows the Gate of Aval from the same angle. The idea of painting the same subject, with the same framing but only interested in light variations heralds the series of the 1890s.
Sisley places the horizon line very low, which allows him to leave a large space in the sky. As with Monet, his touch captures the glitter of the water and the effects of the wind.
Wishing to develop and rationalise the impressionists’ research on light, Georges Seurat developed pointillism (the division of juxtaposed strokes of pure colour). After him, other artists were interested in the process, including Henri Edmond Cross.
In this view of a small Provençal port, Cross abandons Seurat’s point system for a touch, still divided, but freer.
In the last years of the century, the Symbolist movement abandoned reality for a more spiritual conception of the arts and a return to literary sources. This current, far from being homogenous, is illustrated by a great diversity of trends.
Refusing colour, Carrière drowns the figure in a monochrome of browns. He highlights the face and hands that seem to emerge from a ghostly mist.
The Burgundian Jean Dampt, like many symbolists, frequently addresses the theme of the ages of life. Here he contrasts the smooth, chubby face of the baby with the face of the old woman marked by time.
Dampt was not only a sculptor but also a cabinetmaker. His woodwork, while remaining within the symbolist movement, makes him a precursor of Art Nouveau. On this neo-gothic inspired bed, we find the theme of the ages of life.
The group of artists, calling themselves the Nabis, also wanted to renew painting at the end of the century.
Vuillard gives the impression of movement thanks to an unusual framing, inspired by photography.
The point of view of this composition is unprecedented. Not only does it show the audience in an almost empty room (and not the stage, as one might expect) but its alignment of seats across the entire surface of the canvas crushes all perspective.
Finally, to conclude this overview of the century, let us evoke the figure of Rodin, of whom the museum owns several works. He is considered the father of modern sculpture and will take us back to the collections of the 20th century…
( to be continued…)