Stockholm’s Nationalmuseum Adds a Nicolas Regnier Painting to its Collections

Nicolas Régnier (circa 1588-1667)
The Farce
Oil on canvas - 97 x 131 cm
Stockholm, Nationalmuseum
Photo : Nationalmuseum

23/11/11 Acquisition - Stockholm, Nationalmuseum - The Nicolas Regnier painting recently acquired by the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm represents a woman holding what looks like a lit tobacco wad under a young man’s nose ; she invites us to take in the scene while warning us to remain silent (ill.). This curious iconography, which the artist painted three times in all (the first example resides at the Musée de Rouen), has been studied in detail by Annick Lemoine in her catalogue raisonné [1] (see article). With no apparent literary source (though it might refer to a scene from the Commedia dell’Arte) this composition, never produced by any other artist, remains an enigma. Is the woman trying to startle the dozing man awake or, on the contrary, does she want to drug him further into a deeper sleep ? Would she be trying to arouse him to erotic dreams ? The cards seen on the table have led the Swedish museum to interpret this scene as that of a fortune teller, but this seems highly unlikely.

Annick Lemoine speaks eloquently of this work, at the time part of the Koelliker Collection in Milan : "one of the artist’s masterpieces from his Roman period". The work was produced in Rome, as was the Rouen version, and shows, more so than the second, Simon Vouet’s influence. The third painting representing this subject (Warsaw, Wilanow Palace Museum), with a more complex composition and additional figures, dates from the artist’s Venetian period as revealed by the more luminous choice of colors.
The press release issued by the Nationalmuseum announcing the purchase of the canvas - made possible by the Friends of the museum and a public fundraiser commemorating the museum’s centennial - is interesting in that it qualifies Régnier as a "Flemish" painter, an assertion which will no doubt elicit protests from French art historians but which is, in fact, not that erroneous since the artist, just like his half-brother Michele Desubleo, was born in Maubeuge, at the time not yet French, and trained under Abraham Janssens, before moving to Italy where he spent his entire career.

French version

Didier Rykner, mercredi 23 novembre 2011


[1] See Annick Lemoine, Nicolas Régnier, ca 1588-1667, Arthéna, 2007, pp. 49-55.

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