Some books defy critical review. It would be easier to simply not even attempt it and brush them off politely but this has not been our choice of solution. The lack of a monographic study on Louise Moillon (we continue to prefer this traditional spelling) might induce readers to buy this work without asking themselves any questions first. They will perhaps purchase it, but will now be fully informed.
Starting with the first chapter, there are countless factual art history errors. How can one say that after 1600 the trip to Italy by French painters “no longer appears […] to be a need[…]” when in fact almost all of the artists from the early 17th century went to Rome ? How can one state, a few lines down : “Before the 1600’s, works often remained anonymous. The notion of author did not exist[…]” ? Or also (still on the same page) : “At the beginning of the 17th century the concept of patronage first practiced by the great men in the kingdom allows painters to be known and acquire a certain recognition”. We will end a cruel enumeration of each one of these errors here. In any case, given the book’s sparse text, the list would be a short one. There are abundant illustrations, constituting practically the catalogue’s only interest, along with an appendix retranscribing archival documents.
The section devoted to Louise Moillon’s family background is more convincing. But there is no mention at any time of the catalogue for the exhibition on Isaac Moillon in 2005 (let us remember he was Louise’s brother) where most of this information was already presented. The references numbers from the Archives Nationales, notably those from the inventory after death of Nicolas, Louise Moillon’s father, are indicated in the notes as if they had been found by the author when in fact they were already pointed out in this work published four years ago. Furthermore, the lack of a reference to this in the paragraphs on Isaac Moillon is incomprehensible. Only one article, by Silvain Laveissière, is mentioned. And yet, Dominique Alsina knew about the exhibition : the catalogue, also listed in the bibliography at the end of the book, is quoted at last a bit further to justify some information presented about Louise, in the very few lines on her in a chapter with the title : “Le cadre familial de Louyse Moillon et ses jeunes années” [“Louyse Moillon’s family background and her early years”].
We will skip the part devoted to “Analysis of the work” where we find out that : “The basis for the chronological classification of the artist’s works were the dated works and the stylistic and pictoral criteria of each work” or also : “As concerns colours, white and black are separate colours […]” as everything is in the same vein. However, we would like to refute the following assertion : “The Protestant painters’ palette is not the same as that of the Catholics”, the first being, it would seem, less bold than that of the Catholics, although this is never verified. Let us recall that Sébastien Bourdon, for example, was Protestant.
We will not dwell either on the chapter “Scientific analysis” which reveals a complete analysis of the pigments used by the artist (this should be presented apart in an appendix). We will not go any further either into the catalogue raisonné (with bilingual entries, in English and French) which is only “raisonné” in name. Indeed, only a few of the paintings have observations, unorthodox ones at that ! To give just one example, cat. 2 : “The representation as well as the treatment are similar to the works dated 1629. Consequently, dating this work from 1629 seems very appropriate to us.” Alas, the treatment of the 1629 works are not analyzed anywhere, nor their differences with those dated 1630, or 1631… The reasons for rejected works are just as mysterious, with explanations summarized thus : this painting is not by Louise Moillon as its style and treatment do not correspond to those of the artist ! Making attributions on still-lifes is a particularly arduous task. We will not venture to do so here. On the other hand, the author’s suggestion (p. 64) that the figures in The Meal, painted for the château of Wideville (cat. 42), could be attributed to Simon Vouet throws doubts on all of the identifications. This is the only painting with a long entry (where this attribution is in fact not mentioned again).
It seems clear then that the publication of this book is puzzling. True, lovers of 17th century painting wishing to have an exhaustive collection of works on it will have to buy it. But they will probably be the only ones to do so. The scientific, documented and “raisonné” study on Louise Moillon has yet to be written.
Dominique Alsina, Louyse Moillon. La nature morte au Grand Siècle. Catalogue raisonné, Editions Faton, 2009, 344 p., 148 €. ISBN : 978-2-87844-113-0.