Musée du Louvre, Aile Denon 1er étage: Italian & French Painting 16th-19th Centuries

The last of the paintings! Several hours into my Louvre march, I’m still on the first floor, traversing 500 metres of the Denon Wing. I’d diverted at some point to see all the Decorative Arts collections, Napoléon’s apartments, Louis XIV and the Régence, none of which I’ll blog besides a couple of photos of the apartments.

I think after the Véronèse pieces, I ended up in the pair of salle which house “large-scale works”. And when they say ‘large’, this is in context of ‘average’ being the surface area of a small apartment. And when they say ‘large’, they mean Eugène Delacroix. Also Théodore Géricault and Jacques-Louis David. Famous shit, yo.

First, a Caravaggio, one of those La Diseuse de bonne aventure that became popular late-16th century and might correspond with the increased presence of Romani in western Europe. As I blabbed on in a previous Louvre post, you could make a substantial exhibition out of ‘bohemian’ works alone. This and a few others including the Turner are up the arse-end of the Denon Wing. I’m pretty sure also I missed the stairs down into Arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas, but seeing I missed in total more than a third of the whole museum, it’s inevitable I’ll one day be back. Nearby the Caravaggio (I think) was Giovanni Paolo Pannini’s Fête musicale donnée par le cardinale de La Rochefoucauld au théâtre Argentina de Rome en 1747 à l’occasion du mariage du Dauphin, fils de Louis XV, which is mesmerising because the close you get the more detail there is. And the idea that for a marriage you’d get on stage and throw a whole Baroque production. Thanks to these rich idiots we have ballet.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s La Cuisine des anges is a beautiful work in the Franciscan tradition, muted browns and greys, ecstatic visions, hovering monks … sometimes religious art like this affects me so deeply, not just Christian art, Islamic, Buddhist, Daoist, all somewhere have this portrayal of the sublime. In this also is the Flemish and Dutch Golden Age of still lives, vast tables of food, game, fish, it’s such a pleasure to see various movements emerge in each other, influence each other, ideas or motifs that are germinal in one place become central and profound somewhere else. Close in style to this also is Luis Tristan’s La Vision de saint François d’Assise.

All this is merely a side diversion—even Guiseppe Bazzani’s La Fille de Jephté which owes much to Rubens—to the immense halls of Delacroix. Splitting these two wings is a salle with the ceiling I photographed, and Léopold Robert’s L’Arrivée des Moissonneurs dans les marais Pontins. I think this work sets some of the tone for the pair of galleries, monumental yet thematically mundane; artificial and staged yet not impossible that a photographer might capture the same. As I’ve been writing these six posts, I’ve been researching the artists, their paintings, filling in gaps, sometimes wondering if a choice of word might be acceptable has led me off on half an hour of reading and searching. It’s surprising how little information there is outside of Wikipedia, and how much there is there on even seemingly minor artists. So my question looking at this painting was, “Are these harvesters Romani?” and the answer is I don’t know.

The big one in the first hall is Théodore Géricault’s Le Radeau de la Méduse. I looked at it and went, “Oh! That one! That one? Really?” like I couldn’t believe the painting I’ve seen in so many books was the one in front of me, as if it should permanently remain a reproduction. But nope, there it is in all its vast 7 metres by 5 metres enormity. I only photographed it because I wanted my version—many of the works in these two rooms were partly glared out, and they’re all on such a different scale of huge, like photographing landscape or architecture.

Eugène Delacroix’s preoccupation is an Arab and North African Orientalism. His smaller works are less afflicted by the bombast of these large ones, like Scène des massacres de Scio; familles grecques attendant la mort ou l’esclavage again like Robert’s sliding between monumental and quotidian, so overly posed yet with one moment of impossible movement. He’s got nothing on Goya when it comes to the horrors of war. There’s something sexual in the way destroyed bodies lie in their arriving death, I saw the same in his Mort de Sardanapale (one of the hardest to photograph), it’s gentle and delicate, and even looking closely uncertain whether it wants to be an orgy or massacre.

One other, so embedded in my memory, like I’ve seen it for millennia, and it’s as old as ancient Greece, Jacques-Louis David’s Les Sabines. These paintings it’s complicated for me to say anything of, being as they are such loci in European culture. For me it’s that I can approach them closely, look at the details, the brushwork, observe it in a way impossible in a print. And these works—as I keep saying— are vast. Les Sabines is average, merely a bit under four metres high by a bit more than five metres wide, and in that is a lifetime for an audience. Do I feel by seeing a painting it makes me more of an authority? Perhaps not as when I see the smaller, minor works. I’m pretty sure the art of this whole period of Europe, of colonialism, Empire, up to and through the 20th century fills me with dread which I never experience in mediæval art. It implicates us now in the future it proposed, and nothing in it offers a possibility for us getting out in one piece.

Ok, away from all that, one last painting: Jacques-Louis David’s La Marquise d’Orvilliers, née Jeanne-Robertine Rilliet. I looked at her in between visits to Les Sabines and I reckon she’d be well awesome for a night of boozing.

From here, out of the chaos of Italian and French painting and into the dead quiet, empty French & Northern European Sculpture of the 12th to 16th Centuries.