The La Caze Collection

1869 : Watteau, Chardin... entrent au Louvre. La Collection La Caze (1869 : Wattteau, Chardin... join the Louvre. The Lacaze collection) London, Wallace Collection from February 14 to May 18, 2008. Previously at Paris, Musée du Louvre, from April 26 to July 9, 2007 and Pau, France, Musée des Beaux-Arts from September 20 to December 10, 2007

1. Louis La Caze (1798-1869)
Self-portrait, c. 1843
Oil on canvas - 61 x 50 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo : RMN / Franck Raux

He was indeed a man for all seasons ! At once doctor, philanthropist, amateur painter (ill. 1), collector and one of the Louvre’s most generous donors, Doctor La Caze rightly deserves the tribute that the museum is currently paying him [1]. The exhibit is located in the chapel, a small space but remarkably arranged for the occasion in the style of a XIXthC. gallery so well suited for displaying the works against a backdrop of beautiful Pompeian red walls where they hang closely together. The fashion today requires isolating a painting on a stark white wall, at the price of relegating what are considered secondary works to the storerooms, a boring concept of what a museum should be.

Born in 1798, Louis La Caze was an exact contemporary of Eugène Delacroix and the Romantic generation. He bought almost no modern paintings, with the rare exception of the mysterious Old Italian woman recently attributed to Géricault, a convincing artist but who is still under debate (see articles on the website La Tribune de l’Art). Nevertheless, he was very involved in the artistic life of the time, being a member of the jury for the Salon and in close touch with art critics and collectors. A friend of Philippe Burty, he also knew Thoré-Burger who probably influenced his taste for Northern and Realist painters. Unlike the Balzac character, Cousin Pons to whom people tried to compare him, La Caze did not seclude himself selfishly at home with his discoveries. His door was always open and he enjoyed showing his paintings to art lovers, historians and painters, some of whom, for example François Bonvin, Fantin-Latour and even Edouard Manet, sometimes found inspiration there. The catalog shows his relation to other collectors, most importantly those who like him were pioneers in rediscovering the French XVIIIth C. : his close friend François Marcille, Casimir Perrin de Cypierre and Hippolyte Walferdin. There is also an essay on Richard Seymour-Conway, fourth marquis of Hertford, who put together in Paris the collection later inherited by Richard Wallace. As he often spent more than La Caze, they rarely competed for the same work.

4. José de Ribera (1591-1652)
The Clubfoot
Oil on canvas - 164 x 92 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo : RMN / Gérard Blot

Although there are minor works here and there in the sheer mass of the La Caze acquisitions, one can only admire his basically unerring flair. His main areas of interest are strictly defined : besides the French XVIIIth C. and the Northern XVIIth C. painters that form the nucleus of the collection, it is also comprised of a large selection of Italian Baroque paintings, a few Venetian XVIth C. works and some Spanish ones, particularly the famous by Ribera (ill. 4). One finds no Primitives, almost no works from the Renaissance and very little contemporary art as we have already pointed out, not for lack of interest, but because he feared not being sufficiently distanced in time to judge objectively.

3. Rome, beginning of the XVIIth C.
Saint Pierre Dictating to Saint Marc
Oil on canvas - 253 x 159 cm
Bordeaux, Musée des Beaux-Arts

Guillaume Faroult affirms, as had Jacques Foucart before him, that the collector deliberately chose to fill in the gaps in the Louvre’s holdings. By buying Watteau, Chardin and Fragonard, he brought in artists that were poorly represented, and ignored the Bolognese school already in abundant numbers in the royal collections. Luca Giordano, formerly absent in the Louvre [2], Valério Castello and Francesco Rustici constituted a much more original choice. Many attributions have been changed, and some paintings still remain unidentified, such as (ill. 3) or The Annunciation in Lyon, which entered under the name of Carreno de Miranda and is today attributed to an anonymous Venetian of the XVIIIth C. [3]

2. Francesco Guardi (1712-1793)
View of the Salute
Oil on canvas - 30 x 41 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo : Paris, Palais de l’Elysée

La Caze’s will made few demands. He merely hoped for a room bearing his name to hold the collection, leaving the Louvre free to dispatch what were deemed minor pieces to provincial museums. Some of these institutions were in fact the recipients of major works not considered fashionable at that moment. These are sorely missed today in the Parisian museum.

Starting in 1870, the bequest was installed in the gallery now known as The Antique Bronze Room, not far from the chapel. Progressively, the works were incorporated into the collections and now hang throughout the museum [4].

Dr. La Caze had specified that some of the paintings be sent to museums outside of the capital. What is one to think about those works that now hang in government ministries ? Several were lent for the exhibit, among them a small landscape by Francesco Guardi which hangs in the Elysées French Presidential Palace (ill. 2) ! Of the provincial museums, the one in Pau is one of the richest due to the fact that the La Caze family was from the Béarn and also because of the lobbying of its curator then. It received no less than thirty-one paintings. Eight others were welcomed in the XXth C.

5. Ascribed to Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre (1713-1789)
Triumph of Amphitrite ou Venus above Water
Oil on canvas - 41 x 56 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Working as a team under the expert leadership of Guillaume Faroult, the close study of the La Caze collection has brought under reconsideration the attribution of certain paintings. We shall note only a few examples among those hanging in the exhibit. A mythological scene (ill. 5) until now anonymous is given to Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre [5], a beautiful Phaëton Driving the Apollo’s Chariot that La Caze thought was by François Boucher is assigned to François Lemoyne. Christophe Leribault reattributed to Jean-François de Troy two landscapes which La Caze considered were by Gainsborough [6], reducing the already small number of English paintings.

The fascinating catalog is composed of a book and a CD-Rom, which is becoming more and more the norm and which, although justified by the length of the work (over 1300 pages) will never replace the paper version. It contains many remarkable essays, fundamental for the history of taste and of collecting in the XIXth C., a detailed chronology of La Caze’s life, several inventories, and, most especially, the illustrated and analytic catalog of the entire collection, a truly authorative and definitive work that should eventually be available on the Louvre website.

The exhibition, as well as the catalog, reveal how innovative La Caze was in his choices and how he kept abreast of the changes in art history. The Goncourt brothers spoke harshly of him, a mixture of incomprehension due to his eclectic tastes and, perhaps, of envy for the exceptional French XVIIIth C. ensemble of works he put together. He will always be remembered as one of the Louvre’s greatest benefactors inspiring others to do the same. In the XXth C. Otton Kaufmann and François Schlageter, followed his example and donated many works by artists missing in the Louvre. Let us hope this tradition of generosity continues for a long time.

Didier Rykner (posted June 21, 2007)

Collective work, under the direction of Guillaume Faroult, La Collection La Caze. Chefs-d’œuvre des peintures des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles , Hazan / Musée du Louvre Editions, 288 p. (+ un CD Rom), 45 €. ISBN 978-2-7541-0178-3 (Hazan) et 978-2-35031-120-3 (Louvre) Buy the catalogue (French)

Didier Rykner, jeudi 21 juin 2007


[1] We saw the exhibition in Paris

[2] The collection is richer in Giordano works than La Caze imagined since the series of philosphers which he thought were by Ribera are actually by the Italian.

[3] These two paintings are not displayed in the exhibit.

[4] The La Caze paintings which have remained in the galleries have been marked with colored labels for the duration of the exhibit. A brochure is available at the welcome desk.

[5] This name is accepted by Nicolas Lesur who is preparing, along with Olivier Aaron, the catalog for the painter.

[6] Christophe Leribault, Jean-François de Troy 1659-1752, Paris, Arthéna, 2002, n°P.162 and P. 163, p. 302. Before 2002 they were still considered as being « in the Gainsborough genre ».

imprimer Print this article

Previous article in Exhibitions : Renoir Landscapes 1865-1883

Next article in Exhibitions : Jean-Jacques Henner