Charles de la Fosse 1637-1716. Le maître des Modernes


Author : Clémentine Gustin-Gomez

This two-volume work is the result of a Doctoral thesis submitted by the author at Paris-IV Sorbonne in June 2003. The first tome is prefaced by Marc Fumaroli (L’Académicien Charles de La Fosse et la genèse de l’art rocaille français), and covers the artist’s life and work in two long sections. His early training with the engraver François Chauveau, then his apprenticeship to Charles Le Brun, his trip to Italy (1659-1664), ending with his stay in Venice are in turn closely analyzed. La Fosse gained success while working next to Charles Le Brun but it was his acceptance by the Academie on March 7, 1671 that brought him his first commissions. (The Assumption of the Virgin, Paris, église Sainte-Marie de l’Assomption, the “Grands Appartements” at the château de Versailles). Under Le Brun’s guidance his best students : Gabriel Blanchard, Claude II Audran, Jean Jouvenet, René-Antoine Houasse, Michel II Corneille and La Fosse were entrusted with the decoration of the “Grands Appartements” at Versailles followed by the first project for a church at the Invalides in Paris (1677). It is between 1680-1715 that his art reached full maturity. He divided his time between private orders and commissions by the “Grande Mademoiselle”, duchesse de Montpensier (1627-1693). La Fosse was in England between 1689 and 1692 but there are few works after this period.

The Invalides project then took up his attention once again, while he also carried out private orders (for either easel paintings or décors, cf. Hôtel Mansart de Sagonne, Hôtel de la Ravoye) and continued to receive royal commissions (the salon for the château in Marly). His last years were quite active : Charles de La Fosse was first the Directeur, then the Recteur of the Academie, although he was never granted the title of Premier peintre du roi. He went back and forth between the décors at the Invalides, the project for the Hôtel Crozat and the Chapelle at Versailles. His social contacts with the banker Crozat, as well as his relation to Antoine Watteau are also well analyzed. A number of paintings and drawings prove there was a mutual influence between La Fosse and Watteau, during the period 1712-1716.

In the second section, C. Gustin studies the work of the artist (the visual culture, his style and how it changed, La Fosse and the use of colors, the role of tradition and a new freedom). Driven by his insatiable curiosity, La Fosse turned to the most famous painters of the past for inspiration while still appreciating the talent of his contemporaries. The study of the Old Masters and the Moderns explains the progressive changes in the artist’s style, nourished by his growing experience.

Thanks to the quality of the reproductions and the fact that most of these are in color, the author’s demonstration carries weight. The reproductions speak as forcefully as the text. The importance of Rubens, Van Dyck, of Italy are of course underlined and the suggested comparisons are well chosen : The Rest of Diana Saint Petersburg (P 102) and The Hunt of Diana by Domenichino (Domenico Zampieri) at the Galleria Borghese.

But other, lesser known Italian models might also have been pointed out. In the The Abduction of Proserpine, a major work by the young La Fosse, the daring representation of Pluto’s chariot (from the back, at an oblique angle, with the horses seen from below) is simply a readaptation of a motif taken from a print after Giulio Romano.

Among the Italian influences visible in La Fosse, Clémentine Gustin-Gomez cites, and correctly so, Pier Francesco Mola, master of Jean-Baptiste Forest, La Fosse’s brother-in-law. No doubt this explains the importance of landscapes in his work. Although we only know a few by Forest, the question of a mutual influence might have been raised. Moreover, Charles de La Fosse’s business activities can only be explained by considering Forest’s role as a dealer at the turn of the century. The connection between the two accounts for the large number of easel paintings (two hundred) found when La Fosse died, as well as his contacts with two of the best-known art dealers of the following generation, André Tramblin (1672-1742) and Pierre Testard (before 1673-1749).

The author excludes any ties to classical art (p. 136) although La Fosse often refers to antique sculptures such as the Belvedere Torso in his work. This applies also to the academicians of the time.

Volume II includes the catalogue raisonné of the paintings (196) and drawings (311), followed respectively by works mentioned then lost (p. 132) and works rejected (p. 152). C. Gustin wisely chose to include in the analytic catalogue those paintings and décors which were lost or destroyed thus illustrating the chronological progress of La Fosse’s work. The author studies and reproduces engravings by Charles Louis Simonneau, Louis de Chastillon, Mariette, Nicolas Henri Tardieu that provide visual documentation of lost works. It is regretful however that there are no accompanying legends. When changing subjects it is easy enough to find the corresponding title in the catalog but when there are three versions, of the same size, of Noli me Tangere listed in the catalog and only one illustration, as on page 41 (vol. II) one is at a loss in determining which one it is. Does the reproduction correspond to the one with the longest text, the one with the best pedigree ? Is it because the dates of the Noli me Tangere in Saint-Petersburg go back to the XVIIIth C. (Count of Brühl) that it was chosen ? One runs the risk of mistaking provenance and quality. In fact, the one from Saint Petersburg is only a copy by one of the best academic artists of the XVIIIth C. (see our corrections and remarks at the end of the text). The vague connection between the reproductions and the notes is sometimes awkward : for example, at bottom right on page 240 (vol. II), where is the legend for the picture of a figure raising a glass ?

Let us remember that the painting intended for the Collégiale Saint-Pierre in Lille, around 1700, Saint Peter Receiving the Keys and which today hangs in the city’s museum, was until recently attributed to Pierre Bergaigne, a fact which is not mentioned in the notes (Gustin n° P 131). La Fosse, the colorist, was a prolific drawer : of the 1538 drawings mentioned in the inventory after his death, only 308 are known. That is to say that 1230 drawings have disappeared.

Besides the famous works that were brought to light by Margret Stuffman, among other art historians, Clytie Turned into a Sunflower, Venus Asking Vulcan for Arms, Bacchus and Ariadne or Moses Saved From the Water, C. Gustin adds many new ones, such as the drawings in Saint Petersburg, or the important group of thirty drawings at the Martin von Wagner Museum in Würzburg (Gustin D 149 to D 178). Pierre Rosenberg indicates that this ensemble of works which celebrate French victories between 1672 and 1674 during the first Dutch war and the peace treaty of Nijmegen (August 10, 1678) are beautiful proof of a project for a décor, probably intended for the château de Versailles, in its final draft and ready to show to the patron. Certain historical sources are corrected : for instance, Pandora’s Triumph (Paris, private collection, Gustin P 86) that A. Chéreau in 1992 had tied to the central piece in the ceiling of the Galerie in Choisy but which is a preliminary study for a ceiling in the château de Meudon.

We regret that the question of Charles La Fosse’s influence on his students and imitators was not touched upon. A study of the direct connection between La Fosse’s art and that of his closest pupil, François Marot (1666-1719) would have avoided a full page reproduction of one of Marot’s works in the catalogue of paintings (see our corrections and remarks). The similarities between La Fosse’s work and some by Louis de Sylvestre as a young artist such as Apollo and Daphne (Dijon, Musée Magnin) are also too obvious not to wonder about the links between the two artists.

Some corrections and remarks concerning the catalog :

° P 1 and 2 (p. 8) : Venus and Pluto, The Abduction of Proserpine (location unknown) : by Henri de Favanne (1668-1752). This pair of canvases does not date back to La Fosse’s early years but to the middle of the XVIIIth C. The systematic lack of balance of the figures reveals the hand of this artist, whom we know better thanks to the research of A. Schnapper. It is possible that one of the works might have been displayed at the Salon in 1751 with the title Venus Coming to See Neptune to Ask Him to Help Her Son Aeneas on his Trip to Italy.

1. Here ascribed to François Verdier (1651-1730)
The Sacrifice of Manoe
Oil on canvas - 100 x 78 cm
Rennes, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Rennes, Musée des Beaux-Arts

° P 13 (p. 13), The Sacrifice of Manoe (ill. 1) : by François Verdier (1651-1730). The colors used here differ sharply from La Fosse’s usual range, which always favors ochre tones. The contrast of vermilion red and green of the cloth draping the male figure, the combination of golden yellow and blue, together with the subtly deepening silverish blue, used for the angel’s feathers, are nowhere to be found in La Fosse’s art. In the same way, the vertical positioning of the angel and, more generally, the parallel lines of the figures in the painting, are not typical of his style. These features can be found more convincingly in one of Charles Le Brun’s most famous students, François Verdier. This attribution had been rightly suggested some time ago.

° P 15 (p. 14) The Holy Family with Saint John (Warsaw) : a mediocre imitation of the La Fosse style. The emptiness of the background, totally indiscernible, the superficial treatment of the head of Jesus and the Virgin, whose feet are cut off, indicate a painting entirely redone by the artist or an imitation of the La Fosse style.

° P 38 A (p. 29) Europa : by Gabriel Blanchard (1630-1704). Nicolas Milovanovic had guessed the mistake in the attribution of this section of the painted décor in the ceiling of the Salon d’Apollon in the Grands Appartements at the château de Versailles. The classical features of Europa’s face, the oblique line of her leg exactly identical to that of the river painted by Blanchard next to the personification of Africa, in the same Salon d’Apollon, and the straight lines of the wrinkles in the hanging cloak, are all stylistic characteristics that are alien to La Fosse’s artwork.

° P 58 (p. 44), Apollo and the Muses (private collection) : unfortunately not reproduced.

°Under P 71 (p. 50), tapestry of Acis and Galatea (Amsterdam) : J. Vittet has just studied the historical sources of this Gobelin tapestry which is part of an ensemble of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The group, designed probably for Louis the XIVth was payed for and delivered to the “Garde Meuble” on April 17, 1680 (cf. J. Vittet, Les Tapisseries de la Couronne à l’époque de Louis XIV. “Du nouveau sur les achats effectués sous Colbert”, in Versalia, n° 10, 2007, p. 197-198 and fig. 20). The tapestry was thus not woven « between 1680 and 1684 » as indicated by C. Gustin (p. 51). It is a shame that the tapestry is not listed in the catalog on its own and that the historical sources for this cycle of Ovid’s Metamorphoses are not traced.

2. Here ascribed to François Marot (1666-1719)
Venus Asking Vulcan for Arms
Oil on canvas - 113 x 80 cm
London private collection
Photo : London, Prudence Cuming Associate Limited

° P 101 (p. 68), Venus Asking Vulcan for Arms (ill. 2) : by François Marot (1666-1719). The colors used in this work, and in particular the contrast of the pink drape and the greenish-blue sky, are never found in La Fosse’s work. The poorly executed foreshortening, the clumsy anatomy of the figures and the awkward postures-especially that of the ‘putto’ leaning over in the foreground-are alien to this artist. The author of this mytholocial subject was familiar with La Fosse’s style, and of course with the painting of the same subject in Nantes. We must therefore, acknowledge here the style of his closest student, François Marot : the figure of Venus appears in a very similar way in the painting commissioned to him for the Trianon (in situ). In our opinion, this is a late work.

° P 102 (p. 70), The Rest of Diana (Saint Petersburg, Hermitage Museum) : a beautiful preliminary sketch can be found at the Prouté Gallery in Paris.

° P 143 and P 144 (p. 101), The Visitation (Paris, private collection and Tours, Musée des Beaux-Arts) are reductions of very poor quality.

° P 155 to 163 (p. 106), project for the décor of the church at the Invalides : none of the studies from the Musée des Arts Décoratifs is presented here.

° PP 78 and 79 (p. 139), Flora and Ceres, The Rise of Aurora (former Hôtel de François Le Juge then d’Anglade) : the analysis of both ceilings is too brief. A. Gady and I. Dereins (article quoted in the bibliography) remind us that when the Parisian building was destroyed at the end of the XIXth C., this act of vandalism provoked an uproar ; both ceilings then left for England (the ceiling with The Rise of Aurora went on to London where it was reinstalled in a private mansion on Curzon Street), then destroyed during the London bombings of 1939-1945. Photographic records must surely exist.

° PR 3 (p. 153), Jacob Meets Rachel (unknown location) : by Victor Honoré Janssens (1658-1736). No connection to Noël Coypel or the French school. The painting is typical of the Belgian artist from Brussels whose works reappear periodically on the art market.

° PR 10 (p. 155), Saint Catherine (Quimper) : very modest partial copy after Guido Reni.

° PR 12 and 13 (p. 156), The Dormition of the Virgin and The Presentation at the Temple (Cherbourg) : one might probably attribute them to Claude-Guy Hallé (1752-1736) and his workshop.

3. Charles de la Fosse (1636-1716)
The Virgin
Oil on canvas - 90 x 73 cm
Lille, Musée des Beaux-Arts

° PR 15 (p. 157), The Virgin (ill. 3) has been excluded as a Charles La Fosse work when in fact it shows all the characteristics typical of his art.

° PR 25 and 26 (p. 159), Saint Peter’s Vocation and Christ Preaching (London, private collection) : by Wampe or by Pierre Ignace Parrocel ?

° PR 27 (p. 160), Sinite parvulos (unknown location) : typical of Pierre-Jacques Cazes (1677-1754), the work probably hung in a church given its very large format.

° PR 39 and 40 (p. 165), Bacchus’s Child (unknown location) : copies after François Boucher.

° PR 41 (p. 165), The Triumph of Amphitrite (unknown location) : by François Marot (1666-1716). We find the same foreshortening, a bit awkward, as in Venus and Aeneas by Marot (P 101), and the same gesture of the hands held together over the head. We will correct its title here : Portrait of a Woman in Amphitrite.

° PR 42 (p. 165), Jupiter and Callisto (Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts) : by Auger Lucas (1685-1765). In spite of the damage to the canvas, one recognizes here the stroke of the painter and not that of an assistant. The putto’s deformed face, the foliage of the reddish trees and the skilful finishing of the complexions constitute the most visible stylistic marks of this painter of historical subjects whose works have come up for sale again in the last few years.

° PR 44 (p. 166), The Sacrifice of Iphigenia (Musée de Vendôme) : partial copy of a painting by François Lemoyne.

4. Charles de la Fosse (1636-1716)
The Triumph of Galatea
Oil on canvas - 102 x 129 cm
Agen, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Agen, Musée des Beaux-Arts

° PR 46 (p. 167), Venus and Vulcan (Toulouse, Musée des Augustins) : probably by an Italian artist.

° PR 53 (p. 169), (ill. 4) : in the same way as the Virgin in Lille (PR 15), the work has been excluded from Charles La Fosse’s corpus when it in fact contains all of his characteristics.

° PR 59 (p. 170) : Bacchus and Ariadne (Karlsruhe, Staatliche Kunsthalle) : is by Louis de Sylvestre ( 1675-1760). Although in poor condition, the canvas bears the stylistic imprint of this artist, especially during his stay in Dresden. The museum in Dresden owns many mythological subjects similar to the painting in Karlsruhe.

° D 51 and D 52 (p. 198), Head of a Black Youth (London, British Museum) : the photos are of poor quality and do not do justice to the beautiful and important discovery by J.-P. Cuzin.

° D 102 (p. 219), Christ Lying on the Cross (Saint Petersburg, Hermitage Museum) : by a Nordic artist active in the XVIIth C. The viewpoint of Christ’s body, the graphic detail, and the faulty proportions of the human body (the legs are much longer than the arms) prevent us from attributing it to La Fosse. This drawing is not only foreign to the artist but to the French school as a whole.

° D 106 (p. 222), the Noli me Tangere (private collection), which cannot be associated with La Fosse if only because of the stiffness of the figures, is by an artist of the first half of the XVIIIth C.

° D 110 (p. 223), The Lamentation over the Dead Christ (unknown location) is by a French artist of the first half of the XVIIIth C. This study is a mistaken pair for The Angels Waiting on Christ which can be safely attributed to La Fosse. In our opinion, it is a later work.

° D 122 (p. 229), Diana and Actaeon (Paris, Ecole nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts) is by a French artist active at the end of the XVIIth C. No analogies can be drawn with La Fosse’s style which is characterized by a subtle development of the lines. If it is indeed a project for a large décor, it would be surprising that La Fosse, whose spatial perspective is particularly well rendered, place his figures on a plane parallel to that of the representation.

° D 125 (p. 231), Bacchus (Alençon, Musée des Beaux-Arts) is by a French artist of the first half of the XVIIIth C. The treatment of the light and the very precise use of sanguine have nothing in common with La Fosse’s art.

° D 126 (p. 231), Bacchus (unknown location) is by a French artist active around 1700. The joining of the bust with the head, which itself is foreshortened, reveal poor drawing skills, not found anywhere in La Fosse’s art. The study of even one of his academic sketches is enough to illustrate the stark differences.

5. François Marot (1666-1719)
Mercury and Argus
Black chalk, red chalk, heightened with white gouache - 26,3 x 24,3 cm
New York, Galerie L’Antiquaire & The Connoisseur
Photo : D. R.

6. François Marot (1666-1719)
Mercury and Argus
Oil on canvas - 130,8 x 114,3 cm
Present whereabouts unknown
Photo : Christie’s

° D 134 (p. 235), Mercury and Argus (ill. 5) is a beautiful preliminary study for François Marot’s painting (ill. 6) which was one of a series of four mythological subjects sold at Christie’s New York (April 6, 2006, 2nd part, n° 275) under a mistaken attribution to Jean-François de Troy. Another drawing (D 212) related to the same decorative ensemble was erroneously attributed to La Fosse.

° D 136 (p. 236), King Nestor Followed by Two Male Figures (Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada) is a copy after Rubens that cannot in any way be associated with La Fosse. This copy might very well have been produced by a French artist of the first half of the XVIIIth C.

° D 143 and 144 (p. 240-241), Allegory of the Arts Presided by Minerva (both in Paris, Musée du Louvre) by an Italian artist of the early XVIIIth C. None of La Fosse’s drawings known today contains such widespread use of white gouache. The figures show no similarities to those of La Fosse and instantly betray a style belonging to the following generation of artists and, more importantly, from the Italian school.

° D 145 (p. 242), The Abduction of Europa (Saint-Germain, Musée d’art et d’histoire), by a French artist active at the beginning of Louis the XIVth’s reign. The proportions of the body, especially the lower half of the torso, are too clumsy for this drawing to be attributed to La Fosse.

° D 191 (p. 260), Study of an Angel (Paris, private collection) : is not by La Fosse, as demonstrated by the sharp technique used in defining the reliefs, especially in treating the right arm.

7. Bon Boullogne (1649-1717)
Saint Thomas
Black chalk, pen and grey ink, grey wash heightened with white - 32,2 x 26,6 cm
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
Photo : Christie’s

8. Bon Boullogne (1649-1717)
Saint Thomas
Mural painting
Versailles, chapel of the Chateau

° D 201 (p. 264), An Apostle and Two Angels (unknown location) is by Bon Boullogne (1649-1717) : the drawing (ill. 7) was just acquired by the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York during a recent sale at Christie’s (London, July 4, 2006, n° 89) where we recognized this major work by the master. It is a preliminary study for the décor of one of the tribunes in the chapel at Versailles (ill. 8) ; the apostle represented here is Saint Thomas.

° D 204 (p. 265), Study of a Seated Woman with Draped Gown (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, cabinet des estampes) is such a poor drawing that it cannot be attributed to La Fosse.

° D 205 (p. 266), Seated Woman (Paris, private collection), no connection to La Fosse, recalls the style of Guillaume Courtois.

° D 206 (p. 267), Woman with Raised Arm (Paris, private collection) is one of the clumsiest drawings ever attributed to La Fosse. The lack of skill is seen in the mistaken proportions of the body and the awkward use of sanguine. One need only compare this work with the beautiful academic studies by La Fosse at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (reproduced in the following pages).

9. François Marot (1666-1719)
Study of a woman : Syrinx
Black chalk, China ink wash, white gouache - 56,2 x 39,8 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo : RMN / T. Le Mage

10. François Marot (1666-1719)
Pan and Syrinx
Oil on canvas - 130,8 x 114,3 cm
Present whereabouts unknown
Photo : Christie’s

° D 212 (p. 269) Study of a Woman : Syrinx (ill. 9) is a major work by François Marot (1666-1719) for the painting representing Pan and Syrinx (ill. 10) sold at Christie’s on April 6, 2006 (2nd part, n° 277) mistakenly attributed to Jean-François de Troy. The painting, which belongs to the same cycle as Mercury and Argus (see D 134), is known by a similar version mentioned in the royal collections as of 1784 and turned over to the Musée Crozatier in Puy-en-Velay by the Louvre in 1873.

° D 220 (p. 272), Reclining Woman (Paris, private collection) is by an artist working later than La Fosse, of Henri de Favanne’s generation.

° D 257 (p. 290) Male Nude, Three-quarter View (unknown location) is by a French artist of the XIXth C., as shown by the technique and especially the spelling of the accompanying text : “Etude du tableau que j’ay fait”. (“j’ay” for “j’ai”).

° D 266 (p. 294), Study of a Foot (unknown location) is a typical drawing by an artist from the generation of Louis Lagrenée (1725-1805), identifiable from the choppy strokes in sanguine used to bring out the shape in the background.

° DR 10 (p. 325), The Child Jesus Among the Angels (Stockholm) could be by Jacques Ignace Parrocel.

° DR 14 (p. 326),The Resurrection (Arras, Musée des Beaux-arts), which does not date from the end of the XVIIth C., is a study by Hiacynthe Collin de Vermont (1693-1761).w²


Arnauld Brejon de Lavergnée et François Marandet, jeudi 23 août 2007



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