Two paintings by Léon-Marie-Joseph Billardet acquired by Nantes

1. Léon-Marie-Joseph Billardet (1818-1862)
Abelard Instructing Heloise and
Abelard and Heloise Surprised by Fulbert, 1847
Oil on canvas - 266 x 144.5 cm (each painting)
Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Didier Rykner

4/3/11 – Acquisitions – Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts – During the last Biennale des Antiquaires (see news item of 25/9/10), we pointed out a pair of paintings representing respectively Abelard Instructing Heloise and Abelard and Heloise Surprised by Fulbert (ill. 1), by the artist Léon-Marie-Joseph Billardet, at the stand of the La Scala Gallery (which recently lost, regretfully, Marie-Christine Carlioz after a long illness, one of its two founders, along with Hélène Bucaille). These two canvases had appeared at auction but remained unsold, on 18 December 2009 at the Hôtel Drouot where we had already noticed them at the time.

Very little is known about Billardet. The Bellier-Auvray dictionary – a major reference source for many 19th century painters who have fallen into oblivion today but which often contains errors – states that he was a student of Ary Scheffer and Paul Delaroche, indeed reflected in the style of these two paintings, and was born in Gray (Haute-Saône) on 17 May 1818, also dying there on 24 November 1862 [1] at the age of 44. He exhibited three times at the Parisian Salon : in 1845, The Old Bellini Transmitting the Precepts of his Art to his Son (the painting resides in Besançon), in 1846 the Portrait of M. Reynald de Marnier and in 1855 Christian Resignation (ill. 2), a canvas belonging to a private collection [2]. The quality of the paintings acquired by Nantes, with typically Romantic themes and treatment, such as that of Saint Jerome held in the church of Saint-Hilaire de Pesme, make us curious to know more about the artist.

2. Léon-Joseph-Marie Billardet (1818-1862)
Christian Resignation, 1855
Oil on canvas - 201 x 166 cm
Private collection
Photo : Private collection

3. Room of the XIXth century at the Musée de Nantes
First floor
Photo : Didier Rykner

Although the number of acquisitions in old masters and 19th century art at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nantes is limited, the choices are always excellent and particularly interesting in terms of art history. Recently, it acquired a rare painting by Virginia da Vezzi (see news item of 29/4/09), the first to join the museum, and a bit earlier two extravagant compositions by Claude-Marie Dubufe (see news item of 22/10/08). The museum will soon close for two years in order to carry out the first stage of a refurbishment, mainly to build an annex which will house the contemporary art collections. In the meantime, we deeply regret the incredibly restricted hang of old masters and 19th century paintings, particularly in the large rooms on the first floor (ill. 3). It would be very easy to display many more works instead of relegating them to storage.
One last word, although we do agree that it is better to present the old masters and 19th century art against coloured backdrops, we feel that the tones found here and there on certain walls in the museum are much too flashy for our taste.

Didier Rykner, vendredi 4 mars 2011


[1] In fact, the Bellier-Auvray dictionary indicates April 1863, contradicted by the date inscribed on his tombstone, and listed by the inventory of the Région Franche-Comté.

[2] See Bruno Foucart and Didier Rykner, “L’Ange et l’Enfant, iconographie d’un theme romantique sous l’inspiration de Jean Reboul”, Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire de l’Art français, Année 2003, pp. 257-282.

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