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Oil painting - The Resting Horseman
  • The Resting Horseman
    Le Nain, Louis, born 1593 - died 1648
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The Resting Horseman

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Paris (painted)

  • Date:

    1640s (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Le Nain, Louis, born 1593 - died 1648 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    oil on canvas

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Constantine Alexander Ionides

  • Museum number:

    CAI.17

  • Gallery location:

    Paintings, Room 82, The Edwin and Susan Davies Galleries, case West Wall

Louis Le Nain (ca. 1600-24 May 1648) was born in Laon and was taught there by a foreign artist, possibly Claude Vignon. He moved to Paris before 1629 with his brother Antoine (ca. 1600-26 May 1648) and Mathieu (ca. 1607- 26 April 1677) with whom he had always worked, settling in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. As they worked together, the attribution of their paintings is still problematic. They ran an important studio in Paris and enjoyed a great success as portrait and genres painters.

This painting was recently firmly attributed to Louis Le Nain. It shows a family of peasants with a flat landscape and a low blue sky in the background in a particularly large format. Particularly notable is the monumentality of the figures and their sombre dignity that was unusual for the period, which appears to be a distinctive feature of the Le Nain, responsible for the introduction of genre painting in France during the second quarter of the 17th century.

Physical description

In a flat landscape with a low sky, a standing woman with a pot balanced on her head at left, a man seated with a dog and a horse on the right and in the centre two boys, one with hat, playing a pipe, with sheep behind.

Place of Origin

Paris (painted)

Date

1640s (painted)

Artist/maker

Le Nain, Louis, born 1593 - died 1648 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

oil on canvas

Dimensions

Height: 54.6 cm estimate, Width: 67.3 cm estimate, Height: 83 cm frame, Width: 95 cm frame, Weight: 19.5 kg with frame

Object history note

Possibly M. de V[ieux] V[iller], his sale Paris, 18 Feb. 1788, lot 88 (not 28); possibly Francillon, his sale, Paris, 12-16 May 1829; purchased by Constantine Alexander Ionides at Christie's, 27 May 1882 lot 92, for £162.15s. (155 guineas); listed at that valuation in his inventory (private collection); bequeathed by Constantine Alexander Ionides, 1900

Historical context note

Formerly attributed to a follower of the Le Nain (Kauffmann, 1973), the authenticity of this painting has been fully asserted on the occasion of technical examinations in 1993. Infra-red photographs have indeed revealed the figure of a small child on a chair under the paint layer, beneath the figure of the boy on the left. This child looks exactly the same as in Visit to the Grandmother, The Hermitage, St Petersburg, dated ca. 1645-1648. P. Rosenberg in his monograph (1993) groups these two paintings with a third one in the Louvre, Peasant Family in an Interior, under the name of Louis Le Nain, making thus the distinction with the other two Le Nain brothers, Antoine and Mathieu.

The V&A painting shares the same subject matter with the Louvre and the Hermitage works and shows a family of peasants, the father and the mother framing the two young boys in the centre, in a landscape. Their humble condition is defined by their outfits as well as the animals (sheep, horse and a dog) standing beside the paterfamilias. The thematic is typical of the output of the Le Nain, who specialised in genre paintings on a large scale in the 17th century.

Unlike their Netherlandish and Italian predecessors and contemporaries who specialised in small scale genre pictures representing village fairs and tavern scenes, the Le Nain chose to produce austere compositions in a much larger format that was previously favoured for history paintings. By doing so, they ennobled such subject matter and combined a realistic approach in the depiction of everyday details with a fine understanding of the different characters. Particularly notable are the monumentality of the figures and their calm and serene postures. The cool tonality of the painting enhances the monumental aspect through optical effects.

The representation of the individuals also allows reaching some universality through examples of different ages of man: the children, the young woman and the older man should be seen as symbols of the unity of different generations.

These paintings however remained far removed from any pastoral tradition in painting or literature and their meaning and purpose remain uncertain. They may be connected with the particular preoccupation of the pious Catholic movement in Paris and of the clergy of St Sulpice, the parish in which the three brothers lived, and where all were buried.

This painting is therefore a fine example of Le Nain’s output of the 1640s but also of the introduction of genre painting in France, of which they were mainly responsible.

Two copies of the present composition exist. One was part of the Picasso donation to the Louvre in 1973 while the other from the collection of the Colonel Clerc in 1925 was in 1952 in a private collection in Limoges.

'Genre painting' describes scenes of everyday life set in domestic interiors or in the countryside, especially those produced by 17th-century Dutch painters such as Gerard ter Borch, Jan Steen, and Pieter de Hooch. These subjects were not particularly popular with Italian and French artists before the 18th century. Even then, Italian genre painting is mainly restricted to works produced by Northern artists active in Bologna and the Veneto such as Giuseppe Maria Crespi (1665-1747), Giovanni Battista Piazzetta (1682-1754), Pietro Longhi (ca. 1701-1785) and Giacomo Ceruti (1698-1767). In this pre-Enlightment society, issues of social class, the legitimacy of power and the needs of common people were beginning to be discussed in Holland, England and France and the debates were slowly filtering down to Italy. Bolognese intellectual life was particularly active and Crespi, who was corresponding one of the most notable academics, Antonio Muratori (1672-1750), appears to have created a visual response to these debates. The works of the Bamboccianti, mostly Netherlandish painters specialising in low-life paintings, painted in Rome in the mid 17th century, may also have provided a source for Italian genre painters while the commedia dell’arte profoundly inspired Crespi and the development of this new Italian version of genre painting. From Bologna the genre spread to Venice thanks to Venetians artists such as Piazzetta and Longhi. They drew the attention of foreign collectors, most notably Joseph Smith the British Consul in Venice, who amassed an impressive collection of such artworks and of Venetian art in general and contributed to the growing taste for these in England. In France, the genre was mainly introduced in the second quarter of the 17th century by the Le Nain brothers, especially Antoine and Louis, whose works still pose problems of individual identification.

Descriptive line

Oil painting, 'La Halte du Cavalier', Louis Le Nain, Paris, 1640s.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

C.M. Kauffmann,Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, pp. 169-70, cat. no. 208.
100 Great Paintings in The Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 1985, p. 50
Champfleury (pseudonym for Jules Fleury), Les Frères Le Nain, Paris: 1862, pp. 159, 173.
C. Monkhouse, 'The Constantine Ionides Collection' in Magazine of Art, vii, 1884, repr. p. 213.
A. Valabregue, Les Frères Le Nain, 1904, p. 170.
F. Rutter in L'Art et Les Artistes, v, 1907, repr. p. 9.
Sir. R. Witt, Illustrated catalogue of pictures by the brothers Le Nain, B. F. A. C., 1910, p. 13.
P. Jamot in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, v, 1922, p. 232; vii, 1923, p. 159 f. (republished in book form; Les Le Nain, 1929, pp. 43 f., 48 f., repr. p. 64).
B.S. Long, Catalogue of the Constantine Alexander Ionides collection. Vol. 1, Paintings in oil, tempera and water-colour, together with certain of the drawings, London, 1925, p. 36, pl. 21.
C. H. Collins Baker in Apollo, viii, 1928, repr. p. 69.
R. H. Wilenski, French painting, London, 1931, repr. p. 49.
W. Weisbach, Französische Malerei des XVII Jahrhunderts, 1932, p. 106 f., pl. 10.
P. Fierens, Les Le Nain, 1933, p. 28 ff., pls, xxviii-xxx.
G. Isarlo in Revue de l' Art, lxvi, 1934, p. 179, repr.
V. Lazareff, The Brothers Le Nain, Leningrad-Moscow, pl. 24.
G. Isarlov in La Renaissance, xxi, 1938, pp. 8,42, no. 73.
V. Bloch in The Burlington Magagazine, lxxv, 1939, p. 53, pl. 18.
P. Erlanger, Les peintres de la réalité, 1946, p. 97, repr. p. 102.
The Brothers Le Nain, exh. cat., Toledo: 1947, repr.
V. Bloch in The Burlington Magazine, xc, 1948, p. 353.
J. Leymairie, Le Nain, 1950, pl. 43.
A. Burnstock, N. MacGregor, L. Scalisi and C. Sitwell, 'Three Le Nain paintings re-examined' in The Burlington Magazine, Oct. 1993, pp. 678-687, fig. 19.
P. Rosenberg, Tout l'œuvre peint des Le Nain Paris: 1993, cat. 41, pl. XXV.
Evans, M., The painted World. From Illumination to Abstraction, London, 2005, p. 59 and 63 illus.
E.M. Zafran, Masters of French Painting, 1290-1920: At the Wadsworth Atheneum, 2012, p.46

Production Note

Formerly attributed to a follower of Le Nain

Materials

Oil paint; Canvas

Techniques

Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Peasants; Genre scene; Boys; Horse; Sheep; Dog; Landscape; Reedpipes; Women; Shepherds

Categories

Paintings

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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