Sunday, 25 October 2009

ART SUNDAY - LE SUEUR


“A man's work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.” - Albert Camus

Art Sunday today hosts a French painter of the 17th century, Eustache Le Sueur (1617-1655). He was a painter known for his religious pictures in the style of the French classical Baroque. Le Sueur was one of the founders and first professors of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. Le Sueur studied under the painter Simon Vouet and was admitted at an early age into the guild of master painters. Some paintings reproduced in tapestry brought him notice, and his reputation was further enhanced by a series of decorations for the Hôtel Lambert that he left uncompleted. He painted many pictures for churches and convents, among the most important being “St. Paul Preaching at Ephesus” (now in the Louvre), and his famous series of 22 paintings of the “Life of St. Bruno”, executed in the cloister of the Chartreux. Le Sueur was stylistically dominated by the art of Nicolas Poussin, Raphael, and Vouet. He had a graceful facility in drawing and was always restrained in composition by a fastidious taste.

Most of Le Sueur’s works have been engraved, and this is because his work lent itself readily to the engraver’s art, for he was a good draughtsman. He had a truly delicate perception of varied shades of grave and elevated sentiment, and possessed the power to render them. His graceful facility in composition was always restrained by a very fine taste, but his works often fail to please completely, because, producing so much, he had too frequent recourse to conventional types, and partly because he rarely saw colour except with the cold quality proper to the school of Vouet.

He was long considered the 'French Raphael' and the equal of Nicolas Poussin and Charles Le Brun. His reputation reached its zenith in the first half of the 19th century, but since then it has been in decline, largely as a result of the simplified and saccharine image of the man and his art created by Romantic writers and painters. Nevertheless, more recent recognition of the complexity of his art has resulted in a new interest in him and in his place in the evolution of French painting in the 17th century. Despite the almost total absence of signed and dated works, the chronology of Le Sueur's oeuvre can be established with the aid of a few surviving contracts, dated engravings after his paintings and the list of works published by Le Comte in 1700.

The painting above is called “A Gathering of Friends” and was painted between 1640 and 1642. It is an informal picture, of a genre quite uncharacteristic of Le Sueur’s usual mythological or religious paintings. The artist was surely painting a group of his own friends and there is indication in the painting that these are fellow painters, literati, musicians and other artists. The composition is lively and complex and each of the sitters displays quite a lot of his personality through his interaction with the painter (and hence the viewer). The central figure looks at us unflinchingly and with a contemplative air. The well-dressed gentleman on the right draws a drape, seemingly inviting more guests to the gathering. The musician and the man with the dog are absorbed in what they do as are the men with the fruit in the background. The artist on the left looks at us with interest and occupies a position well-suited to a self-portrait. It is one of my favourite Le Sueur paintings.

3 comments:

  1. I like this one. The faces are interesting and full of character. I think that the artist knew them quite well and was making some wry observations about their personalities. I didn't know this painter at all. thanks for the introduction!

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  2. Nice painting, but four of the men in the painting look like the same man to me...but maybe I need better glasses!

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