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Italian painting

Lamentation sur le Christ mort
Leonello Spada
Lamentation sur le Christ mort, Vers 1610 - 1611
Huile sur toile, 120 cm × 158 cm
Musée Fabre Achat de la Communauté d’Agglomération de Montpellier, 2012

Since its foundation in 1825, the Musée Fabre has owned a significant collection of Italian paintings from the 16th and especially the 17th century, which is still being enhanced today. This singularity can be explained by the tastes of its founder, François-Xavier Fabre (1766-1837); born in Montpellier, this painter and collector spent more than thirty years living in Rome, then Florence. He became fascinated with the artists of the Italian peninsula, especially the 17th century Florentine and Bolognese painters. On his return to Montpellier, Fabre donated around one hundred Italian paintings to his native city.

Today, the acquisition policy of the Montpellier museum strives to perpetuate this taste, while opening up its collections to hitherto underrepresented Italian movements and territories. Caravaggio’s painting, which was very popular with contemporary audiences, finds a masterful and moving expression in Leonello Spada’s The Lamentation over the Dead Christ, a National Treasure acquired in 2012. Neapolitan painting has also received special attention, as since 2013, paintings by Andrea Vaccaro, Bernardo Cavallino, Salvator Rosa and, most recently, a spectacular Judith and Holofernes by Filippo Vitale donated to the museum (on display from 28 January) have illustrated the sense of drama and love of chiaroscuro characteristic of Neapolitan painters. The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine by Giovanni Battista Paggi (on display until January 27) offers a different aesthetic, one that is both devout and precious, from the beginning of the 17th century.

Filipo Vitale, Judith et Holopherne, vers 1635, Huile sur toile, 126 x 154 cm, Inv. 2020.34.1

Sébastien Bourdon and the Grand Siècle

Born in Montpellier in 1616, painter Sébastien Bourdon was a leading artist from the French 17th century, a major period of artistic development known as the “Grand Siècle”. His Europe-wide career took him to Rome, Paris and even Stockholm. He was interested in all genres and painted religious, mythological, landscape, battle and tavern scenes. He was curious about all styles, inspired by the colourful scenes of the Nordic painters and the seductive mythologies of Nicolas Poussin, his elder, before evolving towards a more intellectual classicism with demonstrative eloquence.

The Musée Fabre pays particularly attention to offering the richest possible overview of every facet of this major painter.

Bourdon’s contemporaries, models and colleagues are not to be outdone. Thus, a Fortune Teller, inspired by Caravaggio and painted by Jean Tassel, and a strictly classical religious composition by Eustache Le Sueur have recently joined the collections.

Vénus et Adonis. Paysage de Grottaferrata
Nicolas Poussin
Vénus et Adonis. Paysage de Grottaferrata, Vers 1626
Huile sur toile,
Musée Fabre Don François-Xavier Fabre, 1825

Nicolas Poussin’s poetic and sensual painting Venus and Adonis was cut into two parts towards the end of the 18th century. The right part, illustrating the embrace between the goddess of love and the young hunter, was donated by Fabre in 1825. The left part, portraying the river god, is classified as a work of major heritage interest and was purchased ten years ago thanks to the joint efforts of the Agglomeration of Montpellier, the Languedoc-Roussillon Region, the Ministry of Culture and numerous corporate sponsors. This acquisition returns this early work by Poussin to its full glory and illustrates the ability of museums to recreate a heritage sometimes cut off by history.

Jean Tassel, La Diseuse de bonne aventure, vers 1645-1650, huile sur toile, 99 cm × 137 cm, 2014.9.1

Fabre and his era

Jean Baptiste Mallet
L’Hymen, Vers 1800-1810
Huile sur toile, 32 cm × 40 cm
Musée Fabre

François-Xavier Fabre (1766-1837), collector and founder of the Montpellier museum, was also a painter; a pupil of David and winner of the Grand Prix de l’Académie, he trained in history painting in Rome and became a portraitist particularly popular with the cosmopolitan clientele of Florence. Through its acquisitions, the museum is striving to fully establish his stature as a painter and evoke the many aspects of his art and the evolution of his career from the 1780s until his death in 1837.

Neoclassical tastes, which advocated straight lines, simple forms and an elegant style, were spreading throughout Europe at this time. Fabre, who was a full member of this artistic movement, was keen to collect works by his contemporaries who shared his principles.

This approach, which has continued to the present day, has made the Montpellier Museum one of the richest collections in France and in the world of neoclassical art from the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The compositions of Bidauld and Valenciennes reveal a new conception of landscape; whether narrating a mythological tale or depicting a picturesque site, the artist based his composition on a precise knowledge of nature, light and atmospheric effects. The paintings of Mallet and Gagneraux, inspired by the language of Antiquity, illustrate the appeal of sentimental allegory during the Revolution and the Empire. Louis Léopold Boilly’s Conjugal Tenderness offers a different approach; sensitive to the light and colours of the 17th century Dutch painters, he offers a tender, appealing chronicle of bourgeois life at the time.

Louis Léopold Boilly, La Tendresse conjugale, vers 1807-1810, huile sur bois, 52,5 x 43,5 cm, inv. 2021.5.1

The beautiful work of Montpellier

The redevelopment of the Hôtel de Cabrières-Sabatier d’Espeyran was based on the principle of developing the decorative arts department of the Musée Fabre. It was therefore decided to expand the collections to include the great traditional creations, mainly in the fields of apothecary earthenware and goldsmithery, which were contemporary with the development of the city of Montpellier in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Friends of the Musée Fabre and the Fondation d’entreprise have made a major contribution to this new direction, notably through the acquisition of remarkable pieces from the Jacques Ollivier “manufacture royale” for earthenware, and for goldsmithery from the Bazille dynasty, master goldsmiths over several generations.

All eras have their large building sites and the project that shook the whole of the 18th century in Montpellier was that of the Place du Peyrou, which dominates the city, coupled with the construction of the Arceaux aqueduct to supply the city with water. These major works did not fail to capture the imagination of artists and to encourage them to create monumental decorative projects.

The sculptor Etienne d’Antoine was commissioned to create the Fountain of the Three Graces and the Fountain of the Unicorns, while Jean Journet, a native of Sumène, created a fountain - now on Place Chabaneau - representing Montpellier in the guise of Cybele, distributing water to the inhabitants. The great sculptor Augustin Pajou, whose spectacular bust of the perfumer Riban sits in the middle of the room, also took part in the unfulfilled projects to adorn this royal promenade. The decoration on the front of the chest of drawers may be related to the inaugural festivities for the square.

Painters also played an important role in the cultural dynamism of Montpellier in the 18th century. With their ornamental paintings, Dominique Van der Burch and Jean Coustou helped to decorate the interiors of private mansions and churches, and also helped to lead the Société des beaux-arts founded in 1779. Joseph Marie Vien also contributed to the fame of his native city by becoming Director of the Académie de France in Rome from 1775 to 1781.

Manufacture Jacques Olivier, Plat, décor à la Bérain,, XVIIe siècle, faïence stannifère, décor de grand feu en camaïeu bleu, 46 x 34,5 x 4,5 cm, inv. 2010.1.1.

Walks in Rome

The Eternal City has attracted travellers eager to discover its ancient remains and monuments since the Renaissance. But this journey of initiation took on a new dimension for artists at the end of the 18th century and throughout the 19th century.

Painters sought to gain a fresh perspective on their art by combining an increasingly detailed archaeological knowledge of Antiquity with their observation of contemporary Italian sites and customs. The Musée Fabre’s collection has been deeply affected by these trajectories, and continues to be enhanced by these examples today.

Whether at dawn or at noon, the inflections of light on the topography of a site fascinated the English painter Joseph Wright of Derby as well as the Swiss painter François Sablet. The Belgian Philippe Van Brée and the German Henri Lehmann tried to find the “Beau idéal” through the picturesque figures of the people of Rome. For Dominique Papety, a faithful follower of Ingres, a thorough knowledge of archaeology allowed him to bring out, in his Greek Women at the Fountain, a new vision of Antiquity that was coherent, tangible and colourful. More sensitive to the Renaissance period, Montpellier artist Alexandre Cabanel offered a striking portrayal of Michelangelo’s studio; lost in his meditations, the tormented artist does not notice the arrival of Pope Julius II and his court.

His pupil Louis-Emile Adan, no doubt influenced by the new medium of photography, took a more realistic approach, extensively painting the spectacle of preaching in a church in Rome.

Henri Lehmann
Mariuccia, 1841
Huile sur toile, 96 cm × 71 cm
Achat de Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole en 2016
Dominique Papety, Femmes à la fontaine, entre 1839 et 1840, huile sur toile, 96 x 135 cm, inv. 2010.17.1

Masterpieces of paper, fragile beauties

By donating his entire collection of drawings and engravings, amounting to more than a thousand pieces, François-Xavier Fabre created the first graphic arts cabinet, at the same time as the museum’s creation. He composed it along two major axes: a first set corresponding to his tastes as a collector and artist trained in the neoclassical school, with Italian and French drawings from the Renaissance to the 18th century, and a second set, just as important, made up of nearly six hundred of his own drawings, both preliminary and final, all from his studio.

Major donations followed in the 19th century, with Valedau, Bruyas, Bonnet-Mel and Canonge enhancing and expanding the Fabre collection. The 20th century continued the tradition begun by Fabre the artist, with the acquisition of monographic ensembles, such as those by Vincent Bioulès, Alexandre Hollan, Daniel Dezeuze, Dominique Gauthier, Christian Jaccard and others, for whom drawing and works on paper occupied a fundamental place in their artistic practice.

Today, for reasons of preservation, the fragility of graphic works, the media and certain techniques of which do not easily withstand exposure to light or humidity, requires the strict control of the climate, light and duration of presentation. These specific exhibition constraints also play a role in the choice of acquisitions for the drawings room.

Every opportunity to enhance the collections of leading artists such as François-Xavier Fabre, Dominique Papety and Alexandre Cabanel and, more broadly, all artists with a link to the region, is encouraged and carefully monitored. For example, a solid reference collection has been built up over the last twenty years for the work of the painter, draughtsman and writer Jean Hugo, great-grandson of the illustrious poet.

François-Xavier Fabre, Bélisaire, vers 1789-1800, plume, encre métallogallique et encre noire, lavis d’encre métallogallique sur dessin au crayon graphite sur papier vergé, 20,5 x 15,1 cm

Southern landscapes

The emergence of representations of southern sites in painting was one of the major trends in landscape art during the 19th century, and is one of the major focuses of the Musée Fabre’s collections.

The Languedoc paintings of Gustave Courbet, who stayed in Montpellier during the summer of 1854, and the paintings of Frédéric Bazille, bear witness to the emergence of a particular sensitivity to the light of the South at the dawn of Impressionism. The recently acquired set of letters from the young painter’s correspondence with his family attests to the need for a link with his native environment. Although the artist from Montpellier was living in Paris, many of his works were inspired by the land of his childhood, particularly the domain of Méric. He became one of the leading figures in the regional art scene throughout the following century. While his cousin Max Leenhardt, his contemporary Édouard Marsal, and, more recently, Philippe Pradalié, liked to show the social life and the changes of their era within these radiant landscapes, many painters have endeavoured to faithfully portray the bare, austere beauty, following the example of Jules Laurens and Vincent Bioulès in their paintings and watercolours.

Hommage à Nicolas Poussin - L'Automne - Pomone et Vertumne
Philippe Pradalié
Hommage à Nicolas Poussin - L’Automne - Pomone et Vertumne, 2010
Huile sur toile, 205 cm × 270 cm

A former student of the Montpellier School of Fine Arts, the painter Jean Pierre Blanche, who lives near Aix-en-Provence, continues to express the material and temporal rendering of light through his favourite motifs, namely the trees and the twilight atmosphere around the farmhouse where he lives. The diversity of the landscapes, the strength of the sun, and the natural mysteries of the area around the Mediterranean have been sources of inspiration beyond the national borders, as shown by the enigmatic Île Maïre, near Marseille, by the Dane Emanuel Larsen.

Édouard Antoine Marsal, Palavas-les-Flots, 1889, huile sur toile, 55 cm × 100 cm

George-Daniel de Monfreid and Auguste Chabaud, figures of Modernity

Over the last fifteen years, the museum has continued to grow its collections in the tradition of its founders and major donors of the 19th century, but has also built up new collections around important figures at the crossroads of the Parisian art networks and the painting scene in the Midi.

Between 2017 and 2021, it acquired six works by the artist George-Daniel de Monfreid, previously absent from the museum’s collection. A painter and art collector, he was born in New York in 1856 and spent his childhood in the Pyrenees before turning to painting and taking courses at the Académie Julian in Paris. He became friends with many artists and poets, including Paul Verlaine, Victor Segalen, Aristide Maillol, and most importantly Paul Gauguin, whom he met in 1887, becoming his confidant and one of his first biographers and patrons. He exhibited for the first time at the Salon de Toulouse, then at the Salon des artistes français in Paris in 1877, and participated in the Exhibition of paintings of the Impressionist and Synthetist group at the Café des Arts set up by Volpini during the Universal Exhibition. In 1891, he exhibited for the first time at the Salon des Indépendants. While in his early years Monfreid was part of the pointillist movement, at the turn of the 20th century his style became closer to that of Gauguin and Les Nabis, to whom he was close.

Although the City of Montpellier acquired the work of Auguste Chabaud in 1940, six paintings and several drawings by the painter have entered the collections thanks to donations and purchases over the last ten years. Born in Nîmes, Auguste Chabaud entered the Avignon School of Fine Arts in 1896. He left for Paris to continue his studies at the Académie Julian and the School of Fine Arts, in Fernand Cormon’s studio, where he met Henri Matisse and André Derain. It was during his military service in Tunisia, between 1903 and 1906, filling sketchbooks with drawings, that he set out to portray local life, including the daily lives of soldiers and native communities. On his return to Paris, he exhibited in 1907 at the Salon des Indépendants among the Fauves, offering a disenchanted vision of modernity in an outrageous colourful style. He depicted the atmosphere of the Parisian night with its cabarets and brothels. It was not until after the First World War that he moved back to the Midi, to Graveson. He then devoted himself mainly to painting regional scenes and landscapes, in cooler, earthier tones.

George-Daniel de Monfreid, Le peintre René Andreau, 1895, huile sur toile, 97,5 x 130,5 cm, inv. 2020.19.1.

New approaches to abstraction

Peinture 181 x 405 cm, 12 avril 2012
Pierre Soulages
Peinture 181 x 405 cm, 12 avril 2012, 2012
acrylique sur toile, 181 cm × 405 cm
Musée Fabre Donation de la Fondation d’Entreprise du musée Fabre, 2013

Abstraction became the dominant trend on the French art scene in the aftermath of the Second World War. Abstraction, promoted by critics, galleries and salons, took different forms, from so-called lyrical abstraction to geometric abstraction. Modern art made its entry into the Musée Fabre as early as the 1940s, and eminent figures of abstract painting held several exhibitions and had their first acquisitions there, notably in 1975 Pierre Soulages, who had briefly studied at the Montpellier School of Fine Arts thirty years earlier.

In this vein, the Musée Fabre has been building up a consistent collection representative of post-war abstract painting in France over the past twenty years. In 2005, a donation of some twenty works by the Aveyron artist, master of “outrenoir” and a major representative of French abstraction, significantly enhanced the museum’s collections, supplemented by a new donation from the Fabre Museum Corporate Foundation in 2013.

This Foundation has made a major contribution to acquisitions relating to the different paths of abstraction, firstly monochrome art, through the purchase of a work by Geneviève Asse, who was also the source of a major donation in 2013. The work of the recently deceased Breton artist initially featured primarily still lifes and landscapes, before evolving at the turn of the 1960s towards total abstraction, in which the artist studied light and the effects of transparency. From the 1980s onwards, Geneviève Asse devoted herself exclusively to chromatic research on blue in the style of Pierre Soulages’ exploration of black.

In Martin Barré’s work, we see the same reduction of pictorial means, as the artist from Nantes was interested in the space in the picture where the painting is revealed.

From the 1960s, the painter worked directly with a sliced tube of paint, which became his tool, and only worked on a very small part of the canvas, concentrating on its edges. This tension between formal elements is found in the work of Didier Demozay, heir to Parisian abstraction but even more so to the American art he discovered in the gallery of Jean Fournier. His faltering writing rubs shoulders with imposing swathes of colour, echoing, as with Barré, the structure of the painting.

The Supports/Surfaces movement

Embellie I
Pierre Buraglio
Embellie I, 2013
Peinture sur contreplaqué, 130 cm × 195 cm

Sometimes considered the last avant-garde movement of the 20th century, although its protagonists always rejected this notion, the Supports/Surfaces group was officially formed in 1970 during an exhibition of the same name at the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris. This exhibition featured Vincent Bioulès, Marc Devade, Daniel Dezeuze, Patrick Saytour, André Valensi and Claude Viallat. These artists were joined by André-Pierre Arnal, Louis Cane, Noël Dolla, Toni Grand and Jean-Pierre Pincemin in three other exhibitions held under the name Supports/Surfaces, the last of which took place in 1972 at the Centre Lacordaire in Montpellier. These exhibitions marked what some call “the return to painting”, but with radically new means; the use of the free canvas, the refusal to use the brush, the simplicity of the compositional schemes and the banality of the material observed from a formal point of view were all procedures used in order to leave the way in which the canvas is made visible and immediately perceptible.

Most members of the group had known each other since the mid-1960s. In 1970, on the initiative of some of the group’s founding members, the “One hundred artists in the city” event took place in Montpellier, allowing art to take over the public space.

The artists were more interested in the overall perception of the space in which the works were displayed than in each individual piece. These artists performed an analytical critique of the traditional painting based as much on aesthetics as on ethics. In a political context strongly influenced by Marxism and Maoism, these artists shared the militant desire to place the work of art at the heart of daily life, in a comparison with the work of the craftsperson.

This movement brought together many artists from the Montpellier region who had passed through the city’s school of fine arts. This is why, since the end of the 1990s, the Musée Fabre has built up an exceptional collection of works by representatives of this movement and its offshoots, with more than 100 paintings and volume works that evoke the diversity of the group’s practices. This collection would not have been possible without the generosity of the artists themselves, who donated many of their works to the museum, as is the case with all those presented in this room.

Sans titre
Claude Viallat
Sans titre, 1992
Acrylique sur fragment de tente orange, 213 cm × 220 cm
Musée Fabre Novembre 2014