Generation in revolution


# PARIS The Cognacq-Jay Museum in Paris stands out from other Parisian institutions for its intimate and very refined environment. This former private mansion houses part of the collection of Ernest Cognacq, founder of the La Samaritaine stores and his wife Marie-Louise Jaÿ. The drawings dating from the 18th century bear witness to the practice and taste of a collector. And it is another collector, also founder of a museum, who is at the centre of the exhibition “Generation in Revolution” that the museum is presenting until 14 July 2019. François-Xavier Fabre (1766-1837) was the beloved pupil of the great painter Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825). When the French Revolution broke out, Fabre was in Rome and despite his master’s attachment to him, he decided to stay in Italy and made a career in Florence. It is at this moment that he will gather a very beautiful collection of paintings and drawings by contemporary artists and Italian masters. At the end of his life, in 1825, he returned to his native town of Montpellier and twice bequeathed his entire collection to create the museum bearing his name. About a hundred of these drawings form, with some unpublished ones from the Cognac-Jay Museum, the exhibition “Generation in Revolution”. Conducted in concert with the Musée Fabre, the exhibition aims to show the artistic choices of contemporary artists of the French Revolution, oscillating between two worlds, neoclassicism and pre-romanticism.

The French Revolution is a founding event of our Republic. Challenging ideas and ideals, its impact on the artistic scene is considerable. The man who dominates this scene is undoubtedly Jacques-Louis David. A committed citizen, active on the side of revolutionaries as he would later be on the side of Emperor Napoleon I, he would participate in the metamorphosis of pictorial forms, at the dawn of a new era and a new world. The drawings on display remind us of the role of drawing in the artist’s training at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture as well as the drawing schools within the Fine Arts Societies. The representation of the human body, the figure and the expression of passions was at the heart of the pedagogy. The “academies” exhibited by Fabre, Antoine Girodet and Jospeh-Benoit Suvée as well as the “Tête d’Andromaque” by Fabre, recall these important practices. A major place of reflection and artistic education, the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, founded in 1648, was closed in 1793. Each year was awarded the Prix de Rome and the possibility for an artist to reside at the Académie de France in Rome at the Palais Mancini to train in contact with famous Italian painters and antique models. The subjects of ancient Roman history find a favourable echo in the ideal patriotic renewal that is taking place. The neoclassical style developed by David, the austerity of the line, the shapes modelled on the ancient reference, visible in the Study for Leonidas to Thermopylae, are far from the whimsical and decorative lines of the Rococo style. Before and after the Revolution, history painting remained at the top of the gender hierarchy. The attack on Jacques Bertaux’s Tuileries reveals a key moment in this revolutionary period. The choice of the ancient subject also reflects the artist’s positioning in the face of the revolutionary movement, as illustrated by Guillaume Lethière in “Marius à Minturnes”.

Following its closure in 1793-closed at the request of Jacques-Louis David-, orders and major royal worksites, the main sources of remuneration for painters, were abolished. Artists must therefore find new customers. But the 18th century also saw the emergence of a taste for aristocratic and bourgeois portraits, driven by the philosophy of the Enlightenment. At the same time as the ancient subjects became a reflection of current history, this new taste for the praise of the individual and the scenes of daily life, not dependent on the bursts of the Republic, was established. The reference to Rembrandt’s engraving work is perceptible in Pierre-Paul Prud’Hon’s Self-Portrait as well as the taste for 17th century Dutch painting through the landscape drawings. Let us remember that every great artist – and great man – must complete the Grand Tour. Italy attracts with its ancient and modern masterpieces, its vast landscapes, its southern light and its ancient ruins that invite us to meditate on the passing of time and the fragility of civilizations. This fascination is also growing in France with the archaeological discoveries in the south of the country. In this way, a taste for the ideal landscape develops, variations between reality and whim, in search of a dream Arcadia. Among the beautiful leaves on display are the wooded studies of Montpellier’s Nicolas-Didier Boguet, the Sicilian landscapes of Louis-Jean Desprez, Fabre’s drawings which attest to his interest in representing the landscape throughout his career and show his talent by adapting the technique to its subject, or Antoine Laurent Castellan, the author of the famous drawn guides whose interest in the atmosphere and presence of the places already announces the Barbizon school.
The exhibition “Generation in Revolution” thus allows us to penetrate and understand the techniques and various typologies of drawing (sketch, memory sketch, landscapes) in this tumultuous period that embodies the before and after Revolution. Through François-Xavier Fabre’s collection, the exhibition allows us to ask the question of drawing, its importance and its hierarchy in practices: learning anatomy from living models or ancient models, perspective, but also the richness of the themes treated by artists such as historical scenes, ancient history, portraits, landscape and genre scenes. The interest also lies in how each artist takes up a similar subject to treat it in a different way. Finally, it is also an opportunity to highlight lesser-known artists whose successful work amazes the audience and makes them aware of the extent of artistic creation during this pivotal period.

Until July 14, 2019
Génération en Révolution – Dessins français du musée Fabre, 1770-1815
Musée Cognacq-Jay
8 rue Elzevir
75003 Paris

Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm
Closed on Mondays and some public holidays
To preserve the quality of the drawings, a new hanging will be visible on May 12, 2019.
The exhibition catalogue is available from Éditions Paris Musées.

Marlène Pegliasco

Graduate of a Master in Art History and living in Toulon, I created the blog Art In Var ( to share with my readers, the rich artistic news of this beautiful department. This passion...

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