20th October 2020 | Galerie Atena
In the 19th century, painters realised large-size contemporary, allegorical, mythological scenes or still lifes inspired by the great masters of the past. These large-scale paintings were presented at the Salon or decorated Second Empire interiors. Large format was traditionally dedicated to the history painting, including historically important, religious, allegorical or mythological subjects. Those subjects were promoted by the French Académie de peiture et de sculpture, which held a central role in Academic art.
At the Ecole des beaux-arts, the learning about composition, color, style and technique was completed by in-depth history and archaeology. The subjects of the paintings for the Prix de Rome were drawn from classical history, mythology and the Bible, and the winners of the "Grand Prix de peinture" received official honors. Besides high salaries offered by wealthy benefactors of the academic system, they also obtained official commissions.
Particularly abundant during the first half of the 19th century, official orders contributed to perpetuate the supremacy of historical painting.
In the academic system, still lifes were relegated to the lowest place of the hierarchy of genres. But the second half of the 19th century saw this academic hierarchy of genres fade away as history painting evolved in a more intimate sense, opening up to anecdotal and picturesque. At the same time, the so-called "minor" genres rose in power after 1848, when we saw, for the first time, monumental representations of the peasant condition with the paintings of Millet and Courbet. The narrative scenes, then landscapes and still lifes abandoned small format for the monumental size, formerly reserved exclusively to ancient and biblical heroes.
Our two still lifes over two meters high are inspired by the paintings of Gaspare dei Fiori (1667-1732), an Italian baroque painter specialized in outdoor rich floral compositions. The canvases illustrating opulent garlands of flowers are painted with bright and vivid colors. They prove the Second Empire historicist and eclectic taste, when decoration, furniture and works of art were inspired by the Renaissance, 17th and 18th centuries styles.
The bouquets sprouting from the antique urns matched perfectly with the rocaille black lacquered furniture, richly decorated with polychrome floral motifs. Indeed, the floral theme spreaded through the decoration of wallpaper, vases and furniture and became a typical element of Napoleon III interiors.
Given its dimensions and subject, the very large panoramic landscape in Romantic school taste was probably designed as an interior decoration. The idealized landscape, imbued with exoticism, encourages travel and dreaming. Romantic artists were attracted by faraway countries, which confronted them with a different, wild, nature.