French Paintings from the Musée Fabre, Montpellier

National Gallery of Australia
7 November 2003 – 15 February 2004

The National Gallery of Australia’s major summer exhibition, French Paintings from the Musée Fabre, Montpellier, opens on 5 November 2003. The show covers three centuries of French painting from the golden age in the seventeenth century to the rise of Impressionism in the late nineteenth century, drawing exclusively from the holdings of this renowned French museum.

The Musée Fabre, which opened in 1828, is one of France’s oldest public museums and holds one of the country’s most outstanding art collections, represented in this exhibition by 84 works from 55 French artists.

French Paintings from the Musée Fabre, Montpellier is organised by the Gallery in close collaboration with the Musée Fabre and includes many of the best-known and most representative French painters from the Baroque, Neo-classical, Romantic and Impressionist movements, including key figures in art history such as Nicolas Poussin, Eugène Delacroix, Gustave Courbet, Berthe Morisot and Edgar Degas.

‘This exhibition presents a unique opportunity for the Australian public to visit and appreciate an outstanding survey of French art and culture’, notes Brian Kennedy, Director of the National Gallery of Australia.

Michel Hilaire, Director of the Musée Fabre, says, ‘The Musée Fabre in Montpellier, France, stands out for the quality of its paintings, amassed over the years by a handful of discerning collectors, all native to the region and proud to contribute towards the creation of a first-class museum outside the nation’s capital.’

The artist and collector François-Xavier Fabre founded the museum in 1828 and its collection grew through his generosity and that of such notable benefactors as the wealthy banker Antoine Valedau and Alfred Bruyas, an artist and passionate collector who donated a group of exceptional paintings by Delacroix and Courbet.

A well-known masterpiece from the collection is Courbet’s iconic painting The Meeting or Good Day, Monsieur Courbet. This work documents the close friendship between the painter and patron and is one of the most widely discussed of all Modernist paintings, or, as Michel Hilaire concludes, ‘one of the gems of the Bruyas collection and a work that is pivotal to the understanding of nineteenth-century Modernism’.

The show opens with a wonderful selection of works created under the reign of Louis XIII in the Baroque era, among them exquisite paintings by Poussin and Jacques Stella, and continues with works by Simon Vouet and Laurent de La Hyre, painted during the sumptuous reign of Louis XIV.

The carefully selected works of the eighteenth century reflect the evolution from an official French painting style to an extremely playful and sensual art, characterised by the dazzling paintings of Jean Ranc and Jean-Baptiste Greuze. The nineteenth century is represented by sublime Neo-classical landscapes and conversation pieces. Later works demonstrate the radical innovation and breakthroughs of French art at the threshold of Impressionism and the origin of Modern Art. A splendid group of paintings by Delacroix, Courbet, Morisot and Degas herald the significant changes in French society and their impact on daily life, and superbly illustrate that these artists captured the world in a new, spontaneous way, translating reality into daring compositions full of shimmering light and vivid colours.

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