La collection Motais de Narbonne. Peintures françaises et italiennes du XVIIe et du XVIIIe siècle

The Motais de Narbonne collection. 17th and 18th century French and Italian paintings

Paris, Musee du Louvre from 25 March to 21 June 2010

The private collections exhibited at the Louvre should be faultless. This does not necessarily mean including great names in the selection. The most important thing is that the works be among the artists’ best. It also helps immensely when the collectors have good taste and choose to bring together an ensemble out of a love for art, not because it looks good or makes a sound investment.

1. Anonymous active in Rome (c. 1620-1640)
A Doctor of the Eastern Church
Oil on canvas - 108 x 80 cm
Paris, The Motais de Narbonne collection
Photo : Musée du Louvre

2. Sébastien Bourdon (1616-1671)
Saint Charles Borromeo Helping the Plague Victims
Oil on canvas - 37.5 x 48.8 cm
Paris, The Motais de Narbonne collection
Photo : Musée du Louvre

The Motais de Narbonne belong to the breed of collectors who love what they buy and buy what they love. Therefore, it is not surprising to find that their paintings [1] are of remarkable quality, except for one or two examples (the Mattia Preti is a bit disappointing and the Le Brun is too worn out). Indeed, the fact that the most beautiful painting here, in our opinion, is by an anonymous artist, is rather significant : A Doctor of the Eastern Church (ill. 1), formerly attributed (by Longhi himself) to Velazquez but today acknowledged as being by a painter active in Rome between 1620 and 1640. At a time when many museums (and the Louvre follows this trend, alas) pride themselves only on authenticated attributions, private collectors are far braver and do not hesitate to buy such works, in the knowledge that an identification may one day turn up.

3. Pierre Subleyras (1699-1749)
The Annunciation
Oil on canvas - 41.2 x 31.2 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo : Musée du Louvre

4. Pierre-Louis Cretey (before 1638-after 1696)
The Temptation of Saint Anthony
Oil on canvas - 133 x 92 cm
Paris, The Motais de Narbonne collection
Photo : Musée du Louvre

Several French paintings are already familiar as they were presented in recent retrospectives [2], but most of them have been discovered since and are unpublished. Thus, the beautiful Saint Charles Borromeo Helping the Plague Victims by Sebastien Bourdon (ill. 2) was listed as being lost by Jacques Thuillier in the Montpellier exhibition in 2000 ; the composition of The Holy Family Resting during the Flight into Egypt by Nicolas Chaperon was known from two other versions but reappeared only in 2003 ; the Laurent de la Hyre, The Assumption of the Virgin, also a new-found version of a scene which was already known from two paintings of similar size ; and a charming little study of The Annunciation by Subleyras (ill. 3) which had come up at auction as being from the 19th century French school, Girodet circle (sic). As for the superb Pierre-Louis Cretey, The Temptation of Saint Anthony (ill. 4), this work will probably be exhibited this autumn in Lyon in the long-awaited retrospective highlighting the artist. In full 17th century, this painter uses a style which is often too quickly mistaken for that of the 18th and from Venice, or even Germany or Austria. Significantly, this painting was auctioned in Strasbourg with an attribution to Giovanni Battista Pittoni.

5. Joseph-Marie Vien (1716-1809)
Saint Jerome Praying
Oil on canvas - 160 x 129 cm
Paris, The Motais de Narbonne collection
Photo : Musée du Louvre

6. Donato Creti (1671-1749)
Virgin of the Apocalypse between Saint Vincent Ferrier and Saint Anthony of Padua
Oil on canvas - 74.3 x 68 cm
Paris, The Motais de Narbonne collection
Photo : Musée du Louvre

Besides the Subleyras, the 18th century French school is dominated by two paintings : The Sacrifice of Iphigeneia by Gabriel Francois Doyen, his first listed work, and particularly Saint Jerome Praying (ill. 5) by Joseph-Marie Vien, an imposing religious figure thus marking a change from the usual affected pieces associated with this artist.
We could in fact list practically all of the paintings in the collection. There are fewer Italians than French but their quality is just as excellent. We will mention only two : the translucent Virgin of the Apocalypse between Saint Vincent Ferrier and Saint Anthony of Padua (ill. 6) by Donato Creti, often appreciated by private collectors in France as the Kaufmann-Schlageter collection contained two, and the very Correggio-like Resting during the Flight into Egypt by Gregorio De Ferrari.

7. Domenico Maria Viani (1668-1771)
The Return of the Prodigal Son
Oil on copper - 45.3 x 59 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo : Musée du Louvre

8. Claude Déruet (1588-1660)
The Battle between the Amazons and the Greeks
Oil on canvas - 89 x 115 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo : Musée du Louvre

As dictated by custom when a private collection is displayed, several works have been donated to the museum. Two paintings will remain after the exhibition, selected by the curators from the works shown to the public. A delicate choice as they had to be careful not to ruin the character of the collection as a whole or deprive it of its most beautiful pieces. Another criteria consisted in determining which works would best round out the museum collections. Finally, two artists who until now had still been missing at the Louvre retained the curators’ attention : Domenico Maria Viani (ill. 7), a late 17th century Bolognese, and Claude Deruet with the canvas mentioned here (ill. 8), a painter of limited means but important in French art history.
In concluding, we would like to point out the catalogue. Stephane Loire, the curator for the exhibition, who is also the author of an essay on collecting in the 21st century, entrusted the entries to various specialists of the artists included, as is usually the case in this type of show, and signed several others. The preface by Pierre Rosenberg carries the amusing title of Le Parement de Narbonne and an interview with the collectors completes this traditional but finely edited work, in which there are some poor illustrations, our only regret.

Under the guidance of Stephane Loire, La collection Motais de Narbonne, tableaux francais et italiens des XVIIe et XVIIIe siecles, Musee du Louvre editions and Somogy, 2010, 136 pages, 25 euros. ISBN : 9782757203637.

Visitor information : Paris, Musee du Louvre, Sully Wing, rooms 20 to 23. Tel : 01 30 20 53 17. Open every day except Tuesday from 9 to 18, evenings on Wednesday and Friday until 22. Rates : accessible with museum entrance : 9.50 euros, only 6 euros after 18 on Wednesday and Friday.

Didier Rykner, vendredi 30 avril 2010


[1] One fourth of the collection is not presented and we find unfortunate that these works were not included in the catalogue.

[2] The Battle between the Amazons and the Greeks by Claude Deruet (or Deruet), Mary Magdalene in Penance by Jacques Blanchard, The Virgin with Child by Lubin Baugin, Christ Waited on by Angles by Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne, Apollo by Charles Mellin, The Death of Arria by Antoine Rivalz, Venus and Cupid in Vulcan’s Forge by Jacques Stella.

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