A painting by Benigne Gagneraux purchased by the Musee de la Revolution Francaise

Bénigne Gagneraux (1756-1795)
The Genius of the Arts, 1789
Oil on canvas - 109.5 x 83.5 cm
Vizille, Musée de la Révolution Française
Photo : Musée de la Révolution Française

13/8/10 – Acquisition – Vizille, Musee de la Revolution Francaise – We have not written about the additions to the Vizille collections since 2006 although it is one of the most active in France in terms of acquisitions. Upcoming news items will soon provide a complete account, but in the meantime we would like to begin by pointing out their most recent purchase, a superb painting by Benigne Gagneraux, The Genius of the Arts (ill.) from a private Roman collection through the Galleria W. Apolloni.

Born in Dijon, Gagnereaux was trained at the Ecole de dessin in that city, directed at the time by the painter Francois Devosge. The first student to win the Prix de Rome, established in 1776 by the Etats de Bourgogne [1], he left for Italy that same year and was to remain there until his death at an early age [2]. He thus spent his entire professional career there producing, notably a ceiling for the Villa Borghese and receiving various important commissions from the Swedish king. The artist was highlighted in a retrospective in 1983 organized by the Academie de France in Rome in conjunction with the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Dijon [3].

Although the painting acquired by Vizille had not yet reappeared in 1983, its composition was known through anotherversion, of similar size and with no significant variations but in poorer condition which belonged to the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Dijon [4]. The composition had been described by the artist’s brother in a letter mailed to Devosge on 20 May 1789 : the Genius is surrounded by three putti each representing a different art (from left to right : sculpture, drawing, architecture) ; in the background on the right, on top of a hill, one glimpses the temple of glory to which the figures are walking, “on a path covered by thorns symbolizing the pains one suffers before arriving [there].” The Genius of the Arts and its almost androgynous delicacy is very representative of Gagneraux’s style. In this way, Sylvain Laveissiere correctly opposes his art, Anacreontic and gracious, to “David’s pure and severe Neo-Classical” one.

This work now joins a section in the museum which opened in 2009 entitled Galerie de l’Academie, “devoted to the relations between the younger generation of painters and sculptors and the organizations of traditional teaching of the arts, severely questioned during the Revolutionary period.”

Didier Rykner, vendredi 13 août 2010


[1] The contest, with similar conditions to the Prix de Rome de l’Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, took place four times until 1787. Prud’hon won in 1780.

[2] He died after falling out of a window, probably a suicide.

[3] Catalogue : Sylvain Laveissiere, Birgitta Sandstrom, Paola Hoffman, Sara Staccioli, Benigne Gagneraux (1756-1795), un peintre bourguignon dans la Rome neo-classique, Rome, 1983.

[4] Catalogue of the Benigne Gagneraux exhibition, no. 44, p. 122.

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