A Maella Painting and a Bust by J.-B. II Lemoyne for the LACMA

Mariano Salvador Maella (1739-1819)
Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata, 1787
Oil on Canvas - 161 x 92 cm
Los Angeles, County Museum of Art
Photo : Galerie Terrades

1/03/12 - Acquisitions - Los Angeles, County Museum of Art - Before continuing with our complete accounting of acquisitions at the LACMA, we can already announce at least the most recent ones. The museum has just purchased two 18th century works in Paris : a painting by Mariano Salvador Maella, Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata from the Terrades Gallery and a bust of Jean Restout by Jean-Baptiste II Lemoyne, from the Jean-François Heim Gallery.
Maella’s Saint Francis is the ricordo of one of the paintings commissioned by Charles III for the altars at the church of Torrecilla at the Casa de Campo : in 1787, the king asked the painter to represent the Immaculate Conception, Saint Anthony of Padua and Saint Francis of Assissi. These three canvases reside at the Museo municipal in Madrid today, while the Museo Cerralbo holds a preparatory study of the Saint Francis. Encouraged by his success, the painter then executed a second version of the ensemble, in a smaller format.
The LACMA owns another work by Mariano Salvador Maella, Saint Julian, Bishop of Cuenca, probably a modello for another Madrid altarpiece. In fact, the painter received many commissions and led a very successful career. Appointed pintor de cámara in 1774, he became the director of the Academia de San Fernando in 1795 before being selected as First Painter to the king in 1799, a position he shared with Goya. However, after the French occupation and the return of Ferdinand II, he was considered afrancesado, having cooperated too much with the French and fell from court favor.

Kneeling in prayer on Mount Alverno, Francis is contemplating a seraphim of fire which has taken on the appearance of Jesus on the cross. The saint, in ecstasy, is receiving Christ’s stigmata. A host of pink cherubs fills the sky while brother León remains oblivious, his nose in a book. At the bottom right, a skull and a scourge constitute a small still-life. The low perspective confers an aura of monumentality to the saint and the seraphim is represented with a pronounced foreshortening effect. Strangely enough, the artist chose to open up the scene with a vast well-lit landscape, unlike Ralph Mengs who represented Anthony of Padua in ecstasy, his arms wide open, thus a similar setting, but in an enclosed dark space which underscores the mystery of the apparition of the child Jesus (London, The Wellington Museum). Maella did indeed hesitate for a long time between the Italian Baroque which he discovered during a stay in Rome from 1758 to 1765 and the influence of Mengs who arrived in Madrid in 1761 and encouraged him to turn to Neo-Classicism.
Several paintings present the same composition : the artist often divides the space into two levels corresponding to heaven and earth, illustrates the main figure kneeling or sitting, alone on a step, a diais or stone and under a host of cherubs ; another figure appears directly behind the foreground and a still-life in one of the corners rounds out the scene. The same formula can be found in Saint Julian of Cuenca at the LACMA as well as in The Vision of Saint Sebastian at the Prado or in The Child Jesus Appearing to Saint Anthony of Padua.

Jean-Baptiste II Lemoyne (1704-1778)
Portrait of Jean Restout, 1761
Terracotta - 58 x 54 x 26 cm
Los Angeles, County Museum of Art
Photo : Galerie Jean-François Heim

It is tempting to compare the bust of Restout to another terracotta artist’s portrait, also by Lemoyne but produced thirty years earlier : the famous bust of Coypel. In both cases, the sculptor avoids a static pose of the model by turning his head to the right. However, with time Lemoyne becomes more temperate ; he does not confer Coypel’s same spirit to Restout but instills a more subtle vivacity : the movement of the head is less noticeable, the flowing drapery replaced by a contemporaneous and carefully detailed suit of clothing (a jacket, vest and ruffle), the curls on the wig are all in place ; this is not so much the portrait of an artist, neglectedly attired, afire with inspiration, but rather the portrait of an Academy director (a position Lemoyne would hold eight years later in 1769). The sculptor scrupulously represented the painter’s features, rendering the texture of the complexion by filing the surface and did not emphasize the chin or nose, unlike Maurice Quentin de La Tour who evoked the figure in pastel. The Jean-François Heim Gallery writes "one of Lemoyne’s formal characteristics, generally useful in attributing unsigned works : a slight tilting to the left of the lower lip with a small break creating a flat surface for catching the light".
Restout does not address the viewer, the sculptor seems to have captured an evanescent expression, the beginning of a smile, a look staring out at an invisible point, freezing them all in the clay. This bust is a beautiful example of Lemoyne’s talent, inspired from reality and not from Antiquity, a choice much criticized by some while others, such as Charles-Joseph Mathon de la Cour, offered praise : "The most obstinate supporters of Antiquity would not disagree that the art with which the moderns give expression and life to the eyes, by marking the pupil, adds much value to their heads", when speaking of a bust of Louis XV by Lemoyne presented at the Salon of 1763.
Diderot, however, was very severe in his opinion of the sculptor’s productions and more particularly of his "grandes machines" but he at least acknowledged his talent for portraits. The writer and critic does not say much about this bust in his account of the Salon of 1761, he adds nevertheless that this work and the portrait of Crebillon are better than those of Madame Pompadour and Mademoiselle Clarion. Speaking of other Salons, he explains that the artist’s terracottas were better than his marbles, finding them more bolder. In fact, terracotta allows the artist to express more spontaneity, which is the quality we find here.

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Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, lundi 5 mars 2012

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