The François-André Vincent Exhibition at the Musée Fabre

1. François-André Vincent (1746-1816)
The Battle between the Romans and
the Sabines
Interrupted by the
Sabine Women
, 1781
Oil on canvas - 325 x 423 cm
Angers, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : MBA d’Angers

4/3/14 - Exhibition - Montpellier, Musée Fabre - "He grasps the character of the subjects ; the figures are well drawn, the draperies well laid, beautiful folds show finesse and sentiment." But Diderot’s pen then starts to drip acid, writing the following lines, stating that Vincent’s painting - The Sabines, exhibited at the Salon of 1781 (ill. 1) - also lacks in color, "flutters around", has a "dry" manner, "no effect" in this painting, "but sentiment everywhere".
After Tours (see article), Vincent is stopping at Montpellier where the exhibition follows, in fact, "Le Goût de Diderot", brilliantly closing a season highlighting the Age of the Enlightenment. The artist has many ties to Montpellier : not only was he a student of Joseph Marie Vien (a native of this city), but he was admired by François Xavier Fabre who added a certain number of his works to the museum : two paintings from the Salon of 1777 - Belisarius, Alcibiades and Socrates - part of the 1837 bequest and the Saint Jerome, acquired in 1780 by the secretary of the Société des Beaux-Arts in Montpellier, Abraham Fontanel, before being purchased by Fabre. The Death of Cato, a beautiful composition of a male academic nude, was part of the Alfred Bruyas bequest (1876) who thought it was a Delacroix. As is often the case, the temporary exhibition at the Musée Fabre ties in with its permanent collection and Vincent, whose painting fluctuated between Neo-Classicism and Pre-Romanticism, embodies the collection’s two strong points, reflected by the tastes of two figures, Fabre [1] and Bruyas [2], one an admirer of David, the other of Delacroix.

2. View of the exhibition
In the middle : Supposed portrait of the singer
Rosalie Duplant at the pianoforte
, 1793
Photo : BBSG

The itinerary in Montpellier, as in Tours, is generally chronological : it starts with Vincent’s training in Italy, continues with his success in Paris and his rivalry with David, then goes on to the Revolution, concluding with the Consulat and the Empire. Although both museums brought together basically the same works, the drawings are different, due to conservation issues, while the paintings, not always identical, are presented in another way. Tours focused on the artist’s training and the influence of the old masters by displaying Susanna and the Elders after Jan Van Noordt along with The Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew after Mattia Preti. Montpellier, on the other hand, puts the emphasis on the great portraitist : the supposed likeness of the singer Rosalie Duplant from Lisbon (Fondation Gulbenkian) (ill. 2), and another portrait which resurfaced shortly before the exhibition opened : Portrait of a Man Holding a Basket of Flowers (1770) which Jean-Pierre Cuzin points out in his work but whose whereabouts were unknown. There is yet another welcome surprise here : Michel Hilaire was successful in obtaining the loan of an overall study of The Agriculture Lesson (1797), all the more important as the painting, residing in Bordeaux, was damaged by a fire and cut up.

3. Vue de l’exposition
François-André Vincent (1746 - 1816)
The Abduction of Orithya, c. 1770-1771
Oil on canvas - 56 x 45.7 cm
Photo : BBSG

Unlike the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Tours, located in the former archbishop’s palace which is listed as a historical monument, and must adapt itself to the building, notably the small rooms decorated with wood paneling and tapestries, the Musée Fabre has a large exhibition space which can be changed as needed. Each section is thus clearly defined by different colors on the walls, red for the Italian years, green for the Consulat and Empire. The very open layout offers openings in the walls which provide more perspective (ill. 3), allowing glimpses of works in adjacent areas.
Thus Montpellier deploys the history paintings - antique and modern - in a large gallery, reflectling Vincent’s ambition after his return from Italy, with the works which marked his success at the Salons of 1777, 1779 and 1781 (ill. 4 and 5). This gallery also shows the diversity of his style and his compositions, as well as the artist’s ability to adapt his brush to his subject. The presentation of Belisarius, Alcibiades and Socrates alongside Les Sabines allows visitors to grasp certain similarities with the violet and red draperies of 1781, the feathered helmets of 1777... Facing them, Saint Jerome is listening to the trumpet of the Last Judgement, while at the back of the room President Molé confronts the agitators [3].
Many monumental canvases are evoked thanks to studies or reduced versions. Obviously, transporting such works is far from easy : in an introduction, a video illustrates the fact by showing preparations backstage, more precisely moving the canvas from Angers which needed to be rolled up, unrolled, stretched again under the attentive eye of the restorers. In both exhibitions, the gaping absence is Zeuxis and the Young Women of Crotone, alluded to at the Musée Fabre with three preparatory drawings and a screen showing the painting at the Louvre which is analysed and explained. Arria and Poetus, an emblamatic David work, was represented in Tours with a version from a private collection and replaced in Montpellier with the recently acquired painting belonging to the Saint Louis Museum of Art (see news item of 15/2/09).

4. View of the exhibiition
Second section, gallery of history paintings
On the left : Saint Jerome
Photo : Musée Fabre

5. View of the exhibition
Second section, gallery of history paintings
On the right Belisarius
Photo : Musée Fabre

As concerns the drawings, the Musée Fabre highlights the Montpellier sheets from the Atger collection, as well as a number of works from the Horvitz collection in Boston. The show here has the advantage of inserting the drawings within the itinerary, unlike Tours which left them at the end. Thus, graphic arts rooms alternate with the painting galleries, enabling museum goers to see the preparatory drawings not far from the final canvas, revealing the work of the artist (ill. 6). Not all the sheets are studies, some are works in themselves, either finished drawings or caricatures.

6. View of the exhibition
Drawings of Arria et Poetus,
at the back on the right : painting of Arria et Poetus
Photo : BBSG

In any case, visitors will discover Vincent’s talent as a draughtsman, for example in the portrait of Jeanne Vignier, Bergeret’s mistress, damaged but still remarkable ; the famous Head of a Man with a Fur Bonnet often presented as a Fragonard (Cambridge), not to mention his caricatures. Two drawings from Boston also recall Fragonard, the View from the Garden at the Villa Negroni and the View from a Roman Park which represents a place identified in fact for this exhibition : the entrance to the Via Appia antica. Another ensemble of graphic works by Vincent will also be presented, during the Salon du dessin, at the Musée Cognac Jay [4].

In concluding, we would like to point out that in the next few weeks the Musée Fabre will offer a new hang of its permanent collections, notably the Neo-Classical period. Recent acquisitions will be on view for the first time, including three works by Fabre (the portraits of the Bertins and Saint Anthony of Padova Instructing Two Novices, two by Raoux (Return from Hunting and La Danse), the Vaccaro... This new presentation will be accompanied by a catalogue retracing twenty years of acquisitions.

Curators : Jean-Pierre Cuzin, Isabelle Mayer-Michalon, Michel Hilaire, Véronique Moreau, Olivier Zeder, Sophie Join-Lambert.

Visitor information : François-André Vincent (1746-1816), from 8 February to 11 May 2014. Montpellier, Musée Fabre, 39 Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle, 34000 Montpellier. Tel : 04 67 14 83 00. Open every day except Monday from 10 am to 6 pm.

An invitation for subscribers to The Art Tribune : (paying) subscribers toThe Art Tribune are invited (maximum of two tickets per subscriber) to a lecture by Jean-Pierre Cuzin (Vincent, ou la redécouverte d’un artiste entre Fragonard et David) at the Théâtre des Mathurins on Monday 17 March at 12:30. To reserve a seat, please call 01 42 65 62 51 stating the subscriber’s name and the number of tickets requested.

See the website.

To subscribe to The Art Tribune, see here.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, mardi 4 mars 2014


[1] François-Xavier Fabre made a donation in 1824 then a bequest in 1837.

[2] Alfred Bruyas made two bequests in 1868 and 1876.

[3] On loan here from the Assemblée Nationale in Paris, it has been replaced with a poster of the same size, as the parliamentarians do not want to leave an empty space. We suggest that they keep the poster and return the painting to the Musée du Louvre, its rightful owner.

[4] "Le Trait en liberté, dessins de François-André Vincent", Paris, Musée Cognac Jay, from 29 March to 29 June 2014.

imprimer Print this article

Previous article in News Items : Pont des Arts : the Danger of the Padlocks

Next article in News Items : Free Internet Access for Much of the Corpus Rubenianum