The Four Paintings from the Grand Salon in Marly Reunited for the First Time in almost Two Centuries

9/9/12 - Restoration and exhibition - Musée-promenade in Marly le Roi - The presentation of the four canvases (ill. 1 to 4) painted in 1699 by Jean Jouvenet, Antoine Coypel, Louis de Boullogne and Charles de La Fosse for the Grand salon in the château at Marly (until 4 November in Marly le Roi, then at the château of Versailles from 13 November until 17 March 2013) is a major event. This is one of the most important ensembles which formerly decorated the royal residence, removed during the Revolution and partly damaged. After an extensive restoration campaign carried out by the Centre de recherche et de restauration des Musées de France for two paintings previously owned by the Louvre (La Tribune de l’Art had already pointed out the restoration of Winter by Jean Jouvenet), the entire series was reunited thanks to temporary loans granted by the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon and the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rouen which hold the other two.

1. Jean Jouvenet (1644-1717)
The Winter, after restoration, 1699
Oil on Canvas - 244 x 187
Louveciennes, Musée-promenade de Marly-le-Roi
Photo : RMN/G. Blot

2. Antoine Coypel (1661-1722)
The Spring, after restoration, 1699
Oil on Canvas - 242 x 185 cm
Louveciennes, Musée-promenade de Marly-le-Roi
Photo : Bruno Bentz

The history of this commission is well known and - linked to the short history of the château de Marly itself - is retraced in the introduction found in the catalogue written by Christine Kayser, curator of the Musée-Promenade of Marly-le-Roi/Louveciennes which is behind the resurrection of this decorative ensemble. After the exhibition, the two paintings from the Louvre will remain in the museum installed at the entrance to Marly. Created 30 years ago, this museum has brought the former royal park back to life after many years of abandonment and has carried out several projects re-enhancing the grounds [1].
The fate of the works is not mentioned in the exhibition and we find it unfortunate that there are no plans to keep them permanently together. True, changing deposits placed in provincial museums is a delicate matter but we can assume that the museums in Dijon and Rouen have rich collections which would not suffer from this absence since the main attraction of these works is the fact they form a unified ensemble directly linked to the château of Marly. An exchange with the Musée du Louvre might be a possibility worth exploring.
The restoration of the two works belonging to the Louvre was funded starting in 2001 by a project for the extension of the Musée-Promenade which was to include a special room to house them. Since then, the plan has been abandoned and these two paintings will be exhibited in the current premises. The exhibition which is now showing proves just how cramped the rooms are...Indeed, these canvases measure about 2.50 m. high thus making it necessary to place them practically on the floor. As for their visibility, it is dramatically altered : they were designed to hang in the Salon in Marly 12 m. from the floor (ill. 5) ! This fact is not mentioned in the book, nor in the exhibition when it actually conditioned the drawing and the composition of the figures.

3. Louis de Boullogne (1654-1733)
The Summer, 1699
Oil on Canvas - 235 x 180 cm
Rouen, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen

4. Charles de la Fosse (1636-1716)
L’Automne, 1699
Huile sur toile - 242 x 185 cm
Dijon, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon

5. Section of the Grand Salon at the Château in Marly
Watercolor Drawing c. 1710
Archives nationales, O 1472 pl. 5.
Photo : Benjamin Ringot

The catalogue continues the theme of the exhibition with a thorough study of the four Seasons which, as underscored in the title, focuses on the iconography. Christine Kayser, in "La symbolique des saisons au château de Marly", points out the recurrence of this theme in the statues and architecture, notably on the painted pediments of the château’s façades [2]. She also explains that "the solar theme is not very present inside the château" (p. 15), a statement which is not quite exact, for the décor of the upper floor, illustrated with the cycle of the months on the tapestries of the Royal house, and with the series over the doors by Damoiselet which represented notably the cycle of the seasons. We also beg to differ with her assertion that "the sculpture program elaborated by Mansart as of 1699 appears essentially decorative" (p. 25). The iconography of the Seasons selected for the Salon reuniting the royal court for festivities and shows, as well as the statues commissioned at the same time for the gardens (the horses corresponding to the terrace of the watering place, the bronzes on the upper gardens), are all part of a program based on time and history. This choice was no doubt made by Louis XIV, a fact which should have been mentioned along with the documentary sources where it is found [3]. Furthermore, Nicolas Milovanovic, in "L’iconographie des Quatre Saisons de Marly", while enlightening us historically on the personification of the seasons in the 17th century, should have looked at the commission given to the painters indicating the themes chosen by the king. The hairsplitting discussion consisting in an attempt to identify Winter as Aeolus or Borea would then be easily resolved by the indication given to Jouvenet to paint "winter represented by an old man" which he did without trying to associate it with a specific figure [4].
The four paintings are then studied by the specialists for each of the artists : Christine Gouzi, Jean Jouvenet ; Nicole Garnier for Antoine Coypel ; Hélène Guicharnaud for Louis de Boullogne and Clémentine Gustin-Gomez for Charles de La Fosse. These studies show how the Marly commission can be placed in the context of each one’s career and oeuvre, analyzing whenever possible the preparatory drawings or related works. However, there is no overall analysis allowing us to understand the choice of these painters, their academic background and particularly to help us bring into perspective as well their collaboration in other décors, especially the chapel at Versailles. Finally, we would like to point out a very interesting presentation by Marie-Catherine Sahut, "Les Saisons Crozat d’Antoine Watteau" concerning an unexpected continuation of the Marly commission.

The long and difficult restoration of the paintings kept in storage at the Louvre for over two centuries, "a technical challenge", is described in a book by Véronique Sorano-Stedman [5]. There is no doubt that they were heavily soiled and worn by the humidity during their installation at Marly (from 1699 to 1794) but they suffered even more after they were taken down, rolled up inside out and altered : extensive reconstitutions had to be carried out to make up for the many missing or damaged spots. Here, the choices which were made and the methods applied in the interventions are clearly presented and justified : the materials were repaired in their entirety and the reconstitution of the painted décor which was missing was done without excessive interpretation, easily judged in fact by looking at the negatives taken at different stages of the restoration. Observations are also provided concerning the technical characteristics of the paintings and, at times, the presence of "pentimenti".
Strangely enough, the size of the canvases is not mentioned anywhere in the book : the unpredictable consequence of foregoing traditional exhibition catalogue entries for a series of quality articles. Nonetheless, the restoration showed a change in the original dimensions which should be explained fully to know the extent - something which could be easily shown with a simple diagram.

The book’s focus on iconography does not take away from abundant illustrations of the paintings, each shown in a full-page reproduction twice... At least, the four paintings receive equal treatment, not the case on the cover where four close-ups illustrate only two works - these are in fact the ones now joining the collections at the Musée-Promenade permanently !

Under the guidance of Christine Kayser and Géraldine Chopin, Les saisons du Roi-Soleil. Les tableaux du Grand-Salon de Marly, 2012, Musée-Promenade, 91 p., 20€. ISBN : 978-2-9014-0143-8.

Version française

Bruno Bentz, lundi 17 septembre 2012


[1] Since June 2009, the park has been placed under management of the Etablissement public du musée et du domaine de Versailles.

[2] An in-depth study of the décor of the pediments is still needed but the identification of the drawing (attributed to Charles Lebrun) owned by the Musée-Promenade on the north façade of the pavilion - thus representing "Night" - is pertinent, despite the handwritten inscription on the drawing indicating "sunset", which is therefore false.

[3] Annick FINET, "Les peintures du grand salon de Marly", Marly, art et patrimoine, n° 2, 2008, p. 19 (note 7).

[4] Idem, p. 19 and fig. 3 p. 20. These documents from the Archives nationales were finally added to the exhibition during the summer.

[5] "La restauration de L’Hiver de Jean Jouvenet et du Printemps d’Antoine Coypel", p. 77.

imprimer Print this article

Previous article in News Items : Fundraising Drive for the Restoration of the Turkish Boudoir at Fontainebleau

Next article in News Items : A Canvas by Thérèse Moreau de Tours Acquired by the Musée de Bretagne