Two Moillon, Isaac and Louise, for the LACMA

1. Isaac Moillon (1614-1673)
Sophonisba Drinking the Poison, c.1655
Oil on Canvas - 142.25 x 144.15 cm
Los Angeles, County Museum of Art
Photo : LACMA

7/02/12 – Acquisitions – Los Angeles, County Museum of Art – As announced in our last article on the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (see news item of 7/12/11), we are going to try and make up for the delay in covering recent acquisitions, at least for the period since 2008, at this museum which adds to its collections each year on a regular basis.

For 17th century French works, two paintings by Isaac and Louise Moillon, brother and sister, were acquired respectively in 2009 and 2010, from the Eric Coatalem Gallery in Paris.
The Isaac Moillon canvas represents Sophonisba Drinking the Poison (ill. 1), an episode depicting a strong woman particularly popular among 17th century French artists, as well as playwrights. While Corneille wrote a play on Sophonisba in 1663, it is possible that Moillon, born in 1614, was influenced instead by Jean Mairet’s drama of the same name, staged for the first time in 1634, narrating the story of this Carthagenian princess who preferred to commit suicide rather than dishonor herself by falling captive to the Romans.

This painting with a curved or scalloped form at the top may have possibly been part of a larger décor, lost today. The catalogue for the Isaac Moillon exhibition which we had mentioned here, on the French site, reproduces several works in a similar style but the closest one is, we think, Esther before Ahasuerus, a piece hanging over a fireplace from a room in the château of Saint Quintin sur Sioule. The aesthetic canon of the very long figures is very much like this one and Sophonisba and Esther can almost be superimposed. This would allow us to date the painting acquired by the LACMA at around 1655. At that time, the colors were lighter and the figures less heavy than those produced ten years earlier, notably those for the hospice in Beaune, as pointed out by Sylvain Laveissière in the catalogue quoted above [1].

2. Louise Moillon (1610-1696)
Basket of Peaches, with Quinces, and Plums, after 1641
Oil on Canvas - 66 x 84.5 cm
Los Angeles, County Museum of Art
Photo : Galerie Eric Coatalem

The other Moillon (ill. 2) is by Louise, Isaac’s sister who is better known, a painter of very unadorned still-lifes, close notably to those of Pierre Dupuis, her exact contemporary.
The painting acquired from the Coatalem gallery is typical of this genre with a particularly impressive ability to render the texture of the fruit, as is her sense of composition which has at times been qualified, erroneously in our opinion, as naïve. Here, the peaches piled up in the wicker basket seem to be on the verge of tumbling out but without moving, in an unstable equilibrium which adds a certain tension to the painting.

Version française

Didier Rykner, mercredi 8 février 2012


[1] In the entry on Esther and Ahasuerus. On Isaac Moillon, see online the article by Renaud Benoît-Catin published in In Situ n° 2.

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