From "The Louvre European paintings" by Michel Laclotte and Jean-Pierre Cuzin (Published by Editions Scala - 1993)
Ce'zanne once said "It seems to me that the Louvre has all we need, that everything can be loved and understood there". Few of the great museums of the world contain such varied collections of all schools of European painting from the end of the thirteenth to the nineteenth century, and illustrate such diverse styles and formats. The collections range from small, intimate paintings to monumental canvases, from frescoes to whole decorative schemes, and offer examples of schools rarely represented ourside their native countries. The wide range of the collection, despite the inevitable serious gaps and weaker sections, is the result of the long history of the formation of the collection over more than four and a half centuries and of the fact that it was a royal collection before it became a national museum. The nineteenth- and twentieth-century acquisitions followed the evolution of taste and the discovery of the discipline of art history, and the royal collection was thus complemented and balanced by previously unknown or disregarded paintings.
It is often forgotten that the collection originated in the sixteenth century with a "museum of modern art". Francois I followed the example of his predecessor Louis XII, and with a bravado which was envy of other European monarchs approached the most prestigious living artists, either buying their paintings or bringing them from Italy to work for him. The patronage of contemporary artists continued to sustaint he royal collection, and the then 'Old Masters' were also purchased.
|Leonardo da Vinci
Vinci, 1452 - Cloux, 1519
"La Gioconda", called Mona Lisa, circa 1503/06
Wood 77 x 53 cm
Collection of Francois I
Not only does Francois I's collection of contemporary Italian paintings, given place of honour at the Chateau de Fontainebleau, testify to the personal taste of an enlightened prince, but it is also one of the clearest indications of the introduction from Italy into France of the Renaissance. Francois I called upon several French and Flemish painters (Jean Clouet and Joos van Cleve, for example), as Henri II and Catherine de Medicis were to do with Francois Clouet, but it would seem that this was solely for portraiture, a field in which the competence of Northern artists was acknowledged. It did not, nevertheless, prevent the King from asking Titian to paint his portrait.
After the reign of Henri IV, who used French artists or artists working in France, such as Ambroise Dubois, for the decoration of his residences, a short but brilliant perios of royal patronage was initiated by Marie de Me'dicis. She commissioned Rubens to decorate the gallery of the Palais du Luxembourg in 1625 and she also employed another Flemish artist, Pourbus, and the Italian, Gentileschi, at a time when the most promising young French painters such as Vouet, Poussin, and Claude Lorrain were themselves in Italy and as yet unrecognised.
The great tradition of Francois I was resumed by Louis XIV. As soon as he took power in 1661, the King began to enrich the royal collection, advised by his minister Colbert, until its magnificence soon reflected that of the reign of the Sun King himself. This was largely thanks to two spectacular acquisitions: a large part of Cardinal Mazarin's famous collection, and in 1662 and 1671 that of the banker Everhard Jabach. Masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance which had always been revered (works by Leonardo, Raphael, and Titian and also by Correggio and Veronese), most of which had come from the collection of Charles I of England, were reunited with those from Francois I's collection, while the work of more recent artists such as Caravaggio and Guido Feni also entered the royal collection. It was continually enriched with other sixteenth-century paintings, particularly by the great Venetian artists, and by paintings from seventeenth-century Rome and Bologna which appealed ot the French taste for classicism; a taste nurtured by the art of Poussin, Claude, Le Brun, and their followers. The northern Renaissance is also well represented in the collection of Louis XIV with an impressive series of portraits by Holbein and works by Beham and Anthonio Moro. The acquisition of Dutch and Flemish art of the seventeenth century indicates the change in taste of both collectors and young artists themselves at the end of the century. More colourful and sensual painting, which exhibits not so much idealisation but rather expressive animation and, indeed, the picturesque, is exemplified by the paintings of Rembrandt, Rubens, and van Dyck.
Although magnificent private collections, which were to be gold mines for the princely galleries of Germany, for Catherine the Great, and for British collectors, were assembled under Louis XV, and although Paris became one of the centres of European art, the Cabinet du Roi (King's collection) hardly increased at all. Some foreign paintings, mostly bought from the estate of the Prince de Carignanin 1742, were added, and constituted an excellent selection, dominated by Flemish and Dutch art
Towards the middle of the eighteenth century the public began to demand that the royal collections should be on general view. The idea of installing a suitalbe museum in the old palace of the Louvre materialised under Louis XVI. The Surintendant des Batiments, the Comte D'Angiviller, began a programme of acquisitions. His policy was not just a case of enriching the King's gallery with costly works in order to boost royal prestige; it was a deliberate effort to build up a more representative collection of the different schools of paintings as they were known and appreciated at the time. The Age of Reason and of Diderot's 'Encyclopedia' demanded this approach. Additions to the foreidn collection were principally to the Flemish and especially to the Dutch seventeenth-century sections. The Italian 'primitives' were still not appreciated, but there was another innovation in the acquisition of Spanish painting, at last represented in the royal collection by Murillo.
Towards the middle of the eighteenth century the public began to demand that the royal collections should be on general view. The idea of installing a suitable museum in the old palace of the Louvre materialised under Louis XVI. The Surintendant des Batiments, the Comte d'Angiviller, began a programme of acquisitions. His policy was not just a case of enriching the King's gallery with costly works in order to boost royal prestige; it was a deliberate effort to build up a more representative collection of the different schools of painting as they were known and appreciated at the time. The Age of Reason and of Diderot's 'Encyclopedia' demanded this approach. Additions to the foreign collection were principally to the Flemish and especially to the Dutch seventeenth-century sections. The Italian 'primitives' were still not appreciated, but there was another innovation in the acquisition of Spanish painting, at last represented in the royal collection by Murillo.
Plympton, 1723 - London, 1792
Master Hare, circa 1788/9
Canvas 77 x 63 cm
Baron Alphonse de Rothschild,
The project was completed by the French Revolution. The 'Museum Central des Arts' was opened in the Louvre in 1793. The resources of the royal collection, now the national collection, were soon augmented by numerous paintins seized from churches of collectors who had emigrated and then, in the wake of French military victories, by masterpieces seized in Flanders and Holland, Italy and Germany. It was thus that a fabulous museum, called the Musee Napoleon from 1803, was founded. It was dominated by foreign art: masters of the Renaissance and seventeenth century in Italy, Flanders, and Holland, but also early Flemish and early Italian masters and painters of the German Renaissance, rescued at last from oblivion. Today's international moral code would condemn such an enterprise, yet it would be wrong to attribute it simply to the ritual plundering of victorious armies. The Musee Napoleon was undoubtedly formed in the spirit of its creators, above all of its admirable director, Vivant Denon, as a High Temple of Art for the edification of the citizens of Imperial Europe. It was designed to illustrate the moral and intellectual progress which stemmed from the Revolution: in the words of Denon, the 'comparison of the efforts of the human spirit throughout the centuries'. The creation of other museums in the main provinicial towns (such as Brussels, Geneva, Mainz, and Milan) with Parisian funds conformed to the same nobly educative policy.
In 1815, after Waterloo, representatives sent by the beleaguered countries took back more than five thousand works of art. Only about a hundred paintings escaped restitution and were left in the Louvre by the allies of France. However, the wealth of its reserves ensured the survival of the Museum. During the Restoration and the July Monarchy efforts were either directed elsewhere, to the creation under Louis XVIII of the Musee du Luxembourg for living artists, and, under Louis-Philippe, of the Musee de l'histoire de France at Versailles, or were without lasting benefit for the national heritage, as in the establishment of Louis-Philippe's Spanish collection, returned to the Orleans family after 1848 and shortly afterwards sold in England. But after the Revolution of 1848 and under the Second Empire, the Museum took on a new lease of life. Thereafter, and until the First World War, the curators were to be in competition with their English and German colleagues, and later American collectors, for the purchase of paintings missing in the collection. The history of art, now an acknowledged academic discipline, had begun to define the true perspectives of European painting, from early masters to the eighteenth century, resurrecting this or that artist or entire school from years of neglect. The continueal purchases of collectors increased the rarity of works on the market, but the Louvre gradually filled some of the gaps in its collection, especially in the field of 'primitives'. The purchase of the Campana collection in 1863 consisted of about a hundred such 'primitive' Italian panels of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
| Thomas Gainsborough
Sudbury, 1727 - London, 1788
Conversation in a park, circa 1746/7
Canvas 73 x 68 cm
Presented by M Pierre Bordeaux-Groult, 1952
The Spanish and English collections were also increased and Italian eighteenth-century painting were bought. Simultaneously, the great variety in taste of the connoisseurs who generously gave or bequeathed works to the Louvre balanced and diversified the representation of different schools, whether recently brought to light or traditionally appreciated. In the first rank of these connoisseurs must be placed Dr La Caze, whose collection entered the Louvre in 1869.
Throughout the nineteenth century the abundance of French painting and its influence internationally on both offical and avante-garde art distracted museum curators and French collectors alike from the contemporary art of other countries. It was only from the end of the century that works representative of most of the European countries and of the United States were acquired for the Musee du Luxembourg (later these paintings were to gorm a special museum for modern foreign schools at the Musee du Jeu de Paume). This contemporary harvest was rich but uneven. Whistler's The artist's mother, and remarkable paintings by Winslow Homer, Watts, and Pelizza da Volpedo were acquired to the exclusion of Klimt or Munch, the most original of the Symbolists. All these paintings are now exhibited in the Musee d'Orsay with the French paintings of the same period from the national collections presented successively to the Jeu de Paume, the Louvre and the Palais de Tokyo.
Less stringent credit terms and new legal provisions which authorised gifts of works of art in lieu of death duties secured for the Louvre major works by Filippino Lippi, Rubens, Vermeer, Hals and Goya and have enabled the museum to pursue a new programme of acquisitions.
After 1918 the era of great purchases seems to be over. The Louvre bought Durer's Self portrait , but lack of funds, despite the constant help and foresight of the Societe des Amis du Louvre, prevented the possibility of acquiring masterpieces from private collections which foreign museums and art lovers, especially Americans, were able to acquire. Yet on the eve of the Second World War the spirit of the Museum was revived once again. A general reorganisation, which continued after the War, was begun. Several important donations from great and established collections (Rothschild, Groult, Pereire) or more recent ones (Beistegui, Nicolas, Lyon, Salavin) enriched different sections of the foreign schools. Less stringent credit terms and new legal provisions, which authorised the gift of works by Filippino Lippi, Rubens, and Goya, enabled the pursuit of a new programme of acquisitions.
The redevelopment of the former Ministry of Finance, now the museum's Richelieu wing in the north of the palace, has allowed the department of paintings to expand considerably. The whole first first floor of the south wing is devoted to the Italian school, the second floor of the Cour Carree is given to the French school, with the large-scale works of the nineteenth century remaining in their vast rooms. Much of the remaining part of the second floor of the Richelieu wing is shared by the Flemish, Dutch, German and English schools.