Fine Art/Unkown artists at the Louvre?
I am a novelist. In my novel-in-progress, my protagonist is extraordinary talented but is not fully aware of how good she is until her painting makes its way to the Louvre(through her French art teacher who has connections.) The year is 1924.
Is that plausible?
I understand that in its vast space, the Louvre displays many works of unknown artists when such paintings represent something unique to the time, place, or style. Am I correct? Was it true in 1924 during the avant-garde era?
Have you already read this? It's quite a bit of text, but a good read.
Long before the Lost Generation of literary émigrés and today's "Da Vinci Code"–inspired tourism, Paris captivated the American imagination. At the center of this early love affair was the Louvre, an unofficial academy for American artists almost as soon as it opened in 1793.
With 30 major works spanning the late 18th century to the 1940s, the new exhibit "American Artists and the Louvre" shows how considerable a role the museum played for American painters. The exhibition includes artists whose work was influenced by art at the Louvre, along with American paintings that have an intimate link to the museum, having been exhibited in its salons or included in its collection.
The first exhibition of American art in the Louvre's long history, it also sheds light on how the cultural fascination has been mutual — save for the occasional bout of browbeating.
Without a national museum of their own, 19th-century American artists flocked to the Louvre to study and sketch old master paintings and antique sculptures. Artists from Benjamin West to Thomas Hart Benton made the pilgrimage. Thomas Eakins found a daring classicism in the hundreds of painted male nudes and Roman statues; Edward Hopper found stillness and tension in the paintings of Antoine Watteau.
Europe's first public art museum, the Muséum Central des Arts — later the Musée du Louvre — was transformed from royal residence to groundbreaking institution in an act of Republican chest-thumping. Its remarkable collection was amassed from paintings and sculptures appropriated from palaces and churches, as well as from the foreign plunder of Napoleon's army. It became the quintessential art museum, innovative in its approach to restoration, and popularizing the now-standard arrangement of art in chronological order (rather than aesthetic comparison).
It also had a generous copying policy, ensuring that the relationship of American artists with the Louvre was nurtured before they set foot in Paris. Engravings, casts, and painted copies, made by the museum's print shop or by traveling artists, were spread across American academies by the thousands in the 19th century. They were prized as pedagogical tools by institutions with scant access to masterworks of Western art.
This forged one of the strongest bonds between the museum and American artists. The Louvre provided them with a much-desired link to art history, proposing that those who busied themselves copying its collection, as James McNeill Whistler did extensively, were part of the same Western cultural tradition — rather than lost in the pell-mell modernity of 19thcentury America.
A large-scale painting of miniaturized old masters by Samuel F. B. Morse, "Gallery of the Louvre" (1831–1833), makes this cultural anxiety clear. Old Master paintings were scarce in America, and most citizens were unlikely to travel abroad to see them. Morse's idealized arrangement of the Louvre's collection consolidates 39 different paintings, including works by Titian, Rembrandt, and Rubens, along with the "Mona Lisa."
As America's first art history professor decades before he invented the telegraph, Morse hoped this grand panorama would inspire an American audience and stress the role of a museum in moving them toward parity with European culture.
American artists were also drawn to the Louvre's career-enhancing salons. While the Metropolitan Museum, opened in 1870, was mostly indifferent to contemporary painting, the Louvre embraced it. And with the chance to see one's paintings hanging alongside the best French art came the promise of recognition, sales, and lucrative commissions.
The Parisian art market was the most active and competitive in 19thcentury Europe, drawing scores of American collectors. Many of the American artists in Paris, who formed the biggest expatriate population, were responding to the overwhelming American preference for French art — including paintings by expatriates in Paris. Many also found a convivial artistic community, the kind celebrated in Thomas Pritchard Rossiter's fictional group portrait, "A Studio Reception" (1841).
Gracefully strumming a guitar in Rossiter's painting is John Vanderlyn, an early and central figure in Paris's expatriate circle. Vanderlyn was the first American to exhibit in the Salon, and the first to receive a gold medal. Exhibited twice at the Louvre in the early 19th century, " Ariadne Asleep on the Island of Naxos" (1809–1814) owes its recumbent nude figure to the Titian masterpieces in its collection.
Such pandering to Parisian taste raised the ire of many back home.Vanderlyn's painting, a minor masterpiece of American neoclassicism, shocked its domestic public, much as Eakin's nude bathers would decades later. "French art inoculates all the world with its disease, but nowhere is its contagion so deeply felt as in the United States," one American art critic wrote. Such disdain, mixing contempt for European decadence with nationalism, was itself symptomatic of a deep fascination with French culture.
The fascination was mutual from early on. Benjamin West, a Quaker from Pennsylvania, had a decisive influence on French artists in the late 18th century. "The Death of General Wolfe" (1770) and "Death on the Pale Horse" (1796) were inspiring breaks with the tradition of history painting, treating current events with the heroic grandeur usually reserved for myths and ancient themes. The former painting became a popular engraving, and West, a favorite of King George III, perhaps the most famous American artist of the era.
More spectacular than West's success was that of George Catlin during his three-year stay in Paris. Catlin arrived in the spring of 1845 along with a dozen Ojibwa Indians and ten tons worth of baggage. This included American Indian artifacts and 540 paintings he'd made while traveling along the Missouri River. Set up in the Louvre, Catlin and his "Indian Gallery" became a hit. King Louis-Philippe commissioned 15 paintings from him, including "Indian Ball Game" (1846), which depicts the king on horseback watching a frenzied game of lacrosse.
Mary Cassatt was one of the few American painters to be recognized on both shores. In many ways the epitome of an expatriate artist, Cassatt was embraced by Impressionist painters and praised for her naturalist renderings of modern women. "The Family" (1893) couples the intimate groupings of Correggio and Botticelli, with familial scenes out of 17th-century Dutch painting — all of which Cassatt admired in the Louvre as a student.
Though it traverses the well-known territory of Cassatt, Whistler, and William Merritt Chase — an influential teacher whose still lifes owe their swirling brushstrokes to Chardin — "American Artists and the Louvre" also holds some surprises. One is that the Louvre's monumental Rubens room was the spark for Thomas Hart Benton's desire to become a muralist; the corpulent nudes seem worlds away from Benton's focus on common-man themes.
By Benton's time in the 1940s and 1950s, much had changed. American museums and art academies had long caught up with their European counterparts. New York had become the center of modern art. And while the Louvre's collection of American art had once been the largest in the world, by the 20th century it was dispersed across several museums. It's now dwindled to three paintings: two portraits by Gilbert Stuart and a landscape by Thomas Cole. (The works on view here come mostly from American museums and from the Terra Foundation for American Art.) Lost was part of the collection that inspired a young Harriet Beecher Stowe to call the Louvre "a museum full of miracles."
If your work is fiction and you want it to ring true with the standards of a museum such as the Louvre, I see no reason why you cannot use the past and current acceptance policies of the Louvre and create a situation that will seem plausible to the most respected in the Art World.
Let me know when it's published.