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Francesca Antonacci

Roma, Via Margutta, 54 Tel. +39.06.45433036 -

Damiano Lapiccirella

Charles Le Brun (Paris 1619 - 1690)

Dawn and Night Pencil on paper, Dawn: mm.170 x 221; Night: mm. 188 x 234


Giuliano Briganti collection, Rome; Private collection.


Jennifer Montagu in Jacques Thuillier and Jennifer Montagu, Charles Le Brun, 1619-1690. Peintre et dessinateur (ex. cat.), Versailles 1963, cat. nos. 53 & 56, pp. 150-1. Pierre Rosenberg, ‘Deux dessins du jeune Le Brun’, Scritti di storia dell’arte in onore di Raffaello Causa, Naples 1988, pp. 157-60. Barbara Brejon de Lavergnée et al, Autour de Simon Vouet (ex. cat.), Paris 1996, cat. 29, p. 74-5 Bénédicte Gady, L’ascension de Charles Le Brun: Liens sociaux et production artistique, Paris 2010, pp. 69- 73, figs 50-54.


Charles Le Brun (1619-1690), Dawn, c. 1640, etching, Nancy, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lorraine, France Donation Jacques et Guy Thuillier , Cliché Ville de Nancy, P. Buren

Charles Le Brun (1619-1690), Night, c. 1640, etching, Nancy, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lorraine, France, Donation Jacques et Guy Thuillier , Cliché Ville de Nancy, P. Buren

Charles Le Brun drew these two fine preparatory sketches for a set of rare etchings depicting the so-called Quatres Parties du Jour – the four times of the day. They show Dawn (Aurora) and Night (Nox) and represent some of the earliest compositional drawings by the artist to survive. The sketches for Noon (Meridies) and Evening (Vesper) remain untraced. Both the compositions of Dawn and Night feature a satyr, a bacchante and a child. At dawn, the satyr is seated upright, turning his head to the beholder. Next to him Le Brun placed a large vase and had the head of a donkey emerge through the trees in the background. The bacchante, a priestess of Bacchus, is portrayed in three-quarter, with her head gently resting on her right hand. A chubby baby is sleeping on her lap, his face concealed by the satyr’s hairy knees. Behind the priestess proudly stands a cockerel announcing the beginning of the day. At night, both the bacchante and the satyr are asleep on the ground, the baby having curled up in the arms of the latter. The drawings are the early work of a very ambitious artist who would later establish himself as one of the supreme exponents of Louis XIV’s patronage. They were probably drawn sometime between 1635 and 1642, the period during


which Le Brun was training with François Perrier and later Simon Vouet. Indeed, both the subjects and the style display a distinct kinship with contemporary works by Vouet and his circle. The very careful handling of the black chalk reminds us that this is the work of young man, who may just have been in his late teens, and whose later works display much greater self-confidence. The subject matter of the four times of the day lent itself very well as a compositional exercise. It required a definition of the pictorial space on which Le Brun placed his three protagonists in four different constellations. It also demanded a thorough understanding of the proportions of the human body – male and female; and indeed the slightly clumsy arm of the satyr featuring in the depiction of Dawn is testimony to the fact that Le Brun was still in the process of learning his trade. The Cabinet des estampes at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris holds a sketch in red chalk relating to this satyr – first identified by Jennifer Montagu – in which the arm is in fact rendered more convincingly. Pierre Rosenberg has argued that this preparatory drawing shows how Le Brun very carefully studied each individual figure prior to arranging his composition. The bacchante asleep at night, shows how

the young artist rather successfully addressed issues of foreshortening. Finally, to convey the different times of the day and the three-dimensionality of the human bodies, Le Brun appears to have attached particular attention to light and shade. Throughout his life and whatever the medium Le Brun explored allegorical and mythological subjects. He developed a very broad visual vocabulary and often quoted or re-used designs. The drawings for Dawn and Night are part of his early exercises to develop this visual language. Le Brun designed numerous prints in the late 1630s and early 1640s. A full set of the four etchings representing the times of the day are preserved at the Musée des Beaux-Arts at Nancy (Dawn, TH-99-15-599; Noon, TH-99-15-728; Evening, TH-99-15-727; Night, TH-99-15-596). Le Brun was an artist of extraordinary versatility. His first patron was the Chancellor Pierre Séguier who financed his sojourn to Rome in 1642, where the artist was taken under the wings of Nicolas Poussin, who remained Le Brun’s role model throughout his life. Le Brun only spent four years in the Eternal City – other artists had stayed much longer. While he certainly gained a lot from the study of

both Ancient and Renaissance paintings and sculptures, he sought to return to Paris as quickly as possible to establish himself as a history painter. In 1648, Le Brun became one of the founding members of the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, of which he would later be appointed the director. Le Brun not only excelled in painting and pictorial theory, but he also designed many tapestry series and oversaw the decorations of numerous significant interiors. In the 1650s, Le Brun was employed by France’s finance minister Nicolas Fouquet to decorate the state rooms of Vaux-le-Vicomte and to oversee the production of high-warp tapestries woven at the nearby manufactory of Maincy. In the aftermath of Fouquet’s downfall, Le Brun was made director of the Gobelins manufactory producing the furnishings for the royal residences. He was further appointed First Painter to the King and received responsibility for the interior decoration of Louis XIV’s ever growing palace at Versailles.

Wolf Burchard

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