Georges de Lastic. Le Cabinet d’un amateur, collectionneur et conservateur

Paris, Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature and Senlis, Musée de la Vènerie, from 7 December 2010 to 14 March 2011
Georges de Lastic. The cabinet room of an amateur, collector and curator

One man and two exhibitions, Georges de Lastic (1927-1988), a curator and collector, amply deserves this celebration in the two locations which distinctly marked his professional life. After graduating from the Ecole du Louvre, where he completed his dissertation on François Desportes, famous for painting Louis XV’s hunting parties, Georges de Lastic took over as head of the Musée de la Vénerie in Senlis in 1955, then the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in 1962. As director of both of these establishments, he carried out important museographical projects and added extensively to the collections, either through judicious purchases or by negotiating deposits from the state. In Senlis, he supervised the installation of the Vénerie museum within the royal château, recently acquired by the city. This vast domain, in the very heart of the town, surrounded by the Gallo-Roman wall is made up of the remains of the former Capetian palace and the Saint Maurice priory, housing the monks sleeping quarters and the main lodgings. The latter, built in the early 18th century, inspired Georges de Lastic for his museum. The curator displayed the full range of his talent as a decorator applying his impeccable taste to adapting this beautiful manor house. No doubt thanks to this work, much appreciated by the industrialist, François Sommer, Georges de Lastic was hired to run the future hunting museum in Paris. First, though, he supervised the long rehabilitation of the Hôtel de Guénégaud, a masterpiece by François Mansart, a project which lasted several years. His choices stand out in the decorative and artistic selections of the museum which opened in 1967. An aesthete and historian, both in his professional and personal life, Georges de Lastic assembled a private collection which is now highlighted in the double exhibition presented at the Musée de la Vénerie in Senlis and the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris.

In 1970, Georges de Lastic inherited the château de Parantignat, his “little Versailles in Auvergne”, the residence for the Marquis de Lastic for over three centuries which, along with his Parisian apartment on quai de Bourbon, housed his collection of 17th and 18th century French paintings acquired over the years at the Drouot auction house and from various art dealers. The ensemble is made up mainly of three artists, the portraitists Nicolas de Largillierre and Hyacinthe Rigaud, representative of the “grand genre” in the Grand Siècle and the Regency, as well as François Desportes, an artist who illustrated the Sun King’s hunting parties. His wife, Françoise de Lastic and his son, Anne-François, who today are in charge of preserving the collection, accepted to lend over sixty paintings, drawings and sculptures.

1. Nicolas de Largillierre (1656-1746)
Marie-Madeleine de La Fayette, 1697
Oil on canvas - 146.5 x 113.5 cm
Georges de Lastic’s collection
Photo : David Bordes

Although the sections in each of the exhibitions might seem at first glance to be at odds, they are on the contrary, perfectly in synch. At Senlis, the salons on the ground floor of the former priory manor, left in their original condition from the early 18th century, are a striking backdrop for the hang. Visitors have the impression that the works have been there since the Regency period. This magical effect is achieved without resorting to any further artifice. When entering the long hallway leading to the different rooms, an exceptional canvas by Nicolas de Largillierre, Marie-Madeleine Motier de la Fayette (ill. 1) placed in a niche at the far back immediately draws our attention. The portrait of this six-year old aristocrat, the future duchess of Trémoïlle is remarkably striking. In a parallel with Diana the huntress, the young girl is wearing an open shirt, revealing a budding nipple, and draped in a long blue silk robe in the antique tradition. This impression is underscored by the gladiator sandals on her feet. Her face, made up like that of a great lady, evokes nonetheless the innocence of a little girl. All of this lightness is in sharp contrast with the dark and somber landscape surrounding the figure. The young girl is flanked by two dogs. A magnificent greyhound, fully lit, on which she is placing a crown of plants, symbolizes docility and fidelity. More troubling, in the shadows to the right of her feet, a pug-dog alludes to the baseness of the adult world which the girl is about to enter. The artist seems to be asking the question, which of these two lives will the future duchess choose, virtue or vice ? The same painter also produced another child’s portrait here, that of Nicolas Jean-Baptiste Hallé as Saint John the Baptist. It was a common tradition, begun in the 16th century, to have one’s portrait represented as his or her patron saint, placing oneself directly under his protection. But in this work, the religious theme is only a pretext for an expertly executed portrait made effective through the use of extremely understated means.

2. Hyacinthe Rigaud (1659-1743)
Louise-Marie du Bouchet de Sourches, comtesse de Lignières, 1696
Oil on canvas - 81.5 x 64.5 cm
Georges de Lastic’s collection
Photo : David Bordes

François Desportes is of course very present in the Senlis exhibition. Apart from the Beagles Chasing the Hare and the Deer Hunt which are characteristic of the production of this artist who illustrated Louis XIV’s hunting outings, there is also a stunning Study of Flowers. This canvas assembles a bouquet of tulips, hyacinths, guilder-roses, peonies, stock, lilacs and narcissus. It recalls the studies on paper produced by the master as models for his large paintings, but the very finished quality of the composition seems to place it rather as a work in itself.
Hyacinth Rigaud is represented with a majestic composition, the Portrait of the Countess de Lignières (ill. 2). A tailor’s son, he mastered the effect of fabrics superbly. An exceptional colourist, he alternates between the rendering of flesh tints and the silkiness of the materials highlighting the contrasts between the lilac of a silk stole and a corset brocaded in gold. Finally, we would like to point out three offerings from the 19th century, all children’s portraits. Adolphe and Blanche by Léon Bénouville and The Little Girl in Blue by Léopold Horovitz hang permanently in the salon of the manor in Senlis. The refined fabrics, the aura of regality, if only bourgeois, is perfectly attune to the collection of portraits from the Grand Siècle from the Lastic collection.

3. Jean-Marc Nattier (1685-1766)
Portrait of Louise-Anne de Bourbon-Condé,
Nicknamed Mademoiselle de Charolais

Oil on canvas - 64 x 53 cm
Georges de Lastic’s collection
Photo : David Bordes

In contrast, the presentation in Paris focuses on reconstructing, based on a watercolour and a gouache by Anatoly Stolnikoff, known as “Garneroff”, the Lastic salon on the quai Bourbon in 1987. The red damask on the walls, the reproduction of the fireplace and the same hang of the works manage to recreate an atmosphere which no longer exists. When entering the first salon, which is green, visitors are struck by three artist’s portraits, all by Hyacinth Rigaud. Louis XIV’s portraitist represented three of his fellow artists, the sculptor Antoine Coysevox, the painter Gabriel Blanchard and someone unknown to us today.
Two beautiful works by Nicolas de Largillierre stand out in the red salon, the Portrait of an Unknown Gentleman and The Marquise de la Tour Maubourg and her Two Daughters. This one is a reflection of the Portrait of Mademoiselle de la Fayette in Senlis. A very curious monk with a sparkling twinkle in his eye and rosy cheeks by Jean-Marc Nattier is also sure to attract visitors. The portrait is thought to be of Louise-Anne de Bourbon-Condé, Nicknamed Mademoiselle de Charolais (ill. 3). The young girl with childish traits is wearing a Franciscan habit in reference to Voltaire’s famous verses : “Angel brother of Charolais / Tell me how it ventured that / The cord of Saint Francis / Serves Venus as a belt – Beautiful Saint Francis, do not suffer / To have your delicate hands pierced / Tell the angel : you must go lower / To apply the stigmata.” This poem stigmatized the dissolute morals and the amorous lifestyle of the young princess, daughter of Duke Louis III de Bourbon-Condé. The charm and grace of the model would appear to be those of Mademoiselle de Charolais whose beauty was legendary, although there is no document attesting to this. Finally, the exhibition in the Marais also welcomes an exceptional ensemble of sculptures, mainly terra cottas, which alone deserve an entire article.

All of these magnificent pieces now on display to the general public will soon return to their private residence, but the catalogue will remain in testimony. The entries, under the supervision of Pierre Rosenberg, were all written by the most respected specialists of each of the artists in the exhibition. Curators, university scholars, historians or researchers, each has achieved a hymn to the glory of French painting during the Grand Siècle and Georges de Lastic’s refined taste.
A visit to the Marais, at the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, is a traditional part of any art lover’s itinerary. They should now add a trip to Senlis to better understand the range and complexity of the Lastic collection. This sidetrip will also allow visitors to rediscover the Musée de la Vénerie, which houses a valuable collection presented with great quality, thus going far beyond the misleadingly limited confines of its name in a historic city which has known how to preserve all of its charm.

General curators : Claude d’Anthenaise, Marie-Christine Prestat, Bénédicte Pradié-Ottinger, Anne-Charlotte Cathelineau.
Scholarly director for the cataloge : Pierre Rosenberg ; scholarly coordination : Karen Chastagnol.

Collective work, Georges de Lastic (1927-1988), le cabinet d’un amateur, collectionneur et conservateur, Nicolas Chaudun, 2010, 240 p., 42€. ISBN : 9782350391021

Visitor information : Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, 62 rue des Archives, 75003 Paris. Tel : +33 (0)1 53 01 92 40. Open every day from 11am to 6pm except Mondays. Rates : 6€ ; 4.50 € (reduced).

Senlis, Musée de la Vénerie, Château Royal, Place du Parvis, 603000 Senlis. Tel : +33 (0)3 44 53 00 81. Open every day except Tuesdays from 10am to 12am and 2pm to 6pm, Saturdays and Sundays : from 11am to 1pm and 2pm to 6pm. Rates : 2€ ; 1(reduced).

Bénédict Ancenay, vendredi 18 février 2011

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