The Spirit of the Enlightenment Seen by Carmontelle

Chantilly, Musée Condé, from 21 March to 17 September 2012

Lumières/anti-Lumières, Chantilly, Bibliothèque du Château, from 21 March to 18 June 2012

1. Louis Carrogis
called Carmontelle (1717-1806)
Monsieur de Buffon
Lead Pencil, Red Chalk,
Watercolor - 30.5 x 18.5 cm
Chantilly, Musée Condé
Photo : RMN/R.-G. Ojéda

"Those who did not live in the years around 1789 do not know the pleasure of life." [1]. Talleyrand’s famous statement to Guizot is perfectly illustrated by Carmontelle, the author of numerous small portraits of the so-called blessed society of the time ; these are currently being exhibited at the château in Chantilly which has organized a visit through "The Age of Enlightenment" to celebrate the three-hundredth anniversary of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s birth observed all over France.

We know of 6,000 portraits by Louis Carrogis, who also went by Carmontelle, of which over 480 reside at Chantilly ; twenty-one of them hang in the Galerie de Psyché and will be replaced in three months by another twenty-one for conservation reasons. Executed between 1760 and 1789, in lead pencil, gouache and watercolor, these likenesses all follow the same formula : often in profile, the model is shown standing or sitting, accompanied by a few attributes which help to identify it.
Carmontelle did not receive any formal artistic training so to speak ; a topographer during the Seven Years’ War, he then worked at the court of the Duke of Orleans organizing performances, composing short comedies called "proverbs" which he had the duke’s circle act out, and inventing at the same time "transparents" (the precursor of the magic lantern) but also tracing the layout of the park Monceau in Paris. A man of many talents as we can see, who enjoyed sketching his contemporaries. The exhibition (without catalogue) presents his drawings according to different themes - the sciences, the salons, music, theatre, education - and gives a brief biographical background for each of the personalities.

2. Louis Carrogis
called Carmontelle (1717-1806)
Madame d’Epinay and Madame de Meaux
Lead Pencil, Black Chalk,
Watercolor - 32.5 x 21 cm
Chantilly, Musée Condé
Photo : RMN/R.-G. Ojéda

Among the enlightened figures who contributed to the advancement of science, the author of the monumental Histoire naturelle in thirty-six volumes, the Comte de Buffon, is represented with a map of the world and exotic animals (ill. 1). We meet Mr. Bailly, the mayor of Paris, responsible for the massacre at the Champ de Mars, but who also loved to observe the planets and set down a history of astronomy resulting in his acceptance into the Academy.
Society women helped to spread the ideas of the Enlightenment as well : the salon of Julie de Lespinasse, a close friend of d’Alembert, was the "laboratory for the Encyclopedia", while Mrs. d’Epinay (ill. 2), Grimm’s mistress, welcomed all the free thinkers of the time ; she also wrote the Contre-Confessions in response to Rousseau’s with whom she had a falling-out, along with Les Conversations d’Emilie published in 1773. Mrs. de Lorme was nicknamed "the Geoffrin of the Marais" and Anne Doublet invited her guests to produce a bulletin of dubious information but another with true items. Music is also illustrated here, represented by Miss Chevalier on the operatic stage, and by Rameau as well, but above all by Mozart in a famous drawing which shows him at a very young age, playing with his father and sister (ill. 3). Some of the theater figures depicted here include Louis Racine, the son of Jean, and David Garrick, actor and playwright in the role of Rousseau’s Pygmalion.
Finally, we learn about education, a characteristic theme corresponding to the new ideas fostered by the French 18th century, notably in Rousseau’s Emile, whose author left his children to the Assistance public but who nevertheless explains the art of raising a person, from the time he is born to the day he marries. A series of very charming drawings show mothers personally taking over their children’s education ; these look like miniature adults (ill. 4).
All of these drawings in fact reveal the observant eye of a chronicler of his time more so than that of a great artist. Grimm said it clearly : Carmontelle "has the talent of capturing the air, bearing, wit of a figure in a singular manner. Every day I recognize people whom I’ve seen only in these compilations. These standing portraits are produced in two-hours’ time with surprising ease." [2].

3. Louis Carrogis
dit Carmontelle (1717-1806)
Mozart Child, his Father and his Sister
Lead Pencil, Red Chalk, Watercolor - 30 x 17.5 cm
Chantilly, Musée Condé
Photo : RMN/R.-G. Ojéda

4. Louis Carrogis
dit Carmontelle (1717-1806)
Madame the President de Lamoignon and her Children
Lead Pencil, Red Chalk, Watercolor - 32 x 19 cm
Chantilly, Musée Condé
Photo : RMN/R.-G. Ojéda

The exhibition continues amid the permanent collections where the visitor can again admire the portraits of the great figures of the period, with first Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette ; but also stopping in front of the newly restored portrait of Louis XV by Prévost who follows the manner of Rigaud’s Louis XIV. The paintings by Greuze evoke the pathos then in vogue with Tendre Désir and Young Girl with a Blue Ribbon.
Of note there is also a mineralogical piece of furniture by the Swedish cabinet maker, Haupt, which was given by the King of Sweden in 1774 to Prince Condé ; the contents are held at the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle.

In the library, another exhibition presents the supporters but also the opponents of the Enlightenment with a series of works and documents. Rousseau opens the visit in a letter sent to Grimm as well as a beautiful editon of La Nouvelle Héloïse. Among those in the "anti-Lumières" camp, we find thinkers and men of action such as Louis V Joseph de Bourbon-Condé (1736-1818) responsible for raising the famous "Condé Army" whose archives reside here in Chantilly. Edmund Burke, Louis de Bonald and Joseph de Maistre, nicknamed the "white Sade" are also evoked here.

The fact that there is not a temporary exhibition space limits the possibilities for the Musée Condé : the works are placed amid the collections, mainly in the Galerie de Psyché, in a cramped space following a somewhat vague itinerary. This problem will soon be resolved as Nicole Garnier has announced the reopening of the newly restored Jeu de Paume, which is to become an exhibition room.

Visitor information : Musée Condé, 7 rue du Connétable, 60500 Chantilly. Tel : 03 44 27 31 80. Open every day except Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (April to November), from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (after 1st November). Admission : 13€ (full rate), free for children accompanied by an adult.

Internet website for the Château de Chantilly

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, dimanche 8 avril 2012


[1] "Qui n’a pas vécu dans les années voisines de 1789 ne sait pas ce que c’est que le plaisir de vivre."

[2] Carmontelle "a le talent de saisir singulièrement l’air, le maintien, l’esprit de la figure. Il m’arrive chaque jour de reconnaître des gens que je n’ai vus qu’en ces recueils. Ces portraits tout en pied se font en deux heures de temps avec une facilité surprenante."

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