“THE BROTHERS Le NAIN"
SAN FRANCISCO, CA— Art lovers know that completing an oil painting requires thousands of brush strokes, but what the visitors at “THE BROTHERS Le NAIN, Painters of the Seventeenth-Century France” exhibition at the Legion of Honor fine Arts Museum in San Francisco, will never know is which brother’s brush was used to paint the strokes in each of the 65 pictures, two-thirds of the surviving output of their work, shown.
WHO WERE THE LE NAIN BROTHERS?
They were born and lived in Laon, a small agricultural hilltop region of Picardy in Northern France where they owned a small farm. Nobody knows their birth dates, and we know only that three of them: ANTOINE, LOUIS, and MATHIEU, were painters, and that neither one of the three ever married of had children. All the brothers lived in the same house, shared the same studio, and worked together in harmony.
Admiring their masterful pictures, the public today joins yesterday's public asking themselves: Was each picture painted by one of the brothers? Did the three brothers collaborate in painting a single work? Did each brother had an specialty, such as painting hands, or hair or eyes or animals, or backgrounds and added his “touch to another brother’s painting at a later date? Sadly, since they left no drawings or sketches of their pictures, we may never get the answers.
HOW DID THE LE NAINS LEARN TO PAINT?
Since at that time there were no painters in Laon, this is another question that has no indisputable answer. The catalogue indicates that in “Histoire de Laon” (l726) its writer CLAUDE LELEU, mentions that the Le NAINS received their training from a “foreign painter” who instructed them, from a year, in the rules of art before they moved to Paris where they attained “perfection.” Yet, based on the Le Nains altar pieces painted for the Petitis Augustins, one can see that they were already much to accomplished to have been students with only a year of training. The other conjecture is that the “foreign teacher” may have been Fleming painter PHILLIPE de CHAMPAGNE, but again no confirmation.
Yet, there are records indicating that in 1630, when their mother passed away the brothers moved to Paris and lived in Fauborug Saint-Germain-des-Pres, (an aristocratic district) where they remained until the death. Two of them in the same year, l648. (ANTOINE who was close to 50, and LOUIS who was around 48). MATHIEU, now alone, remained in the same house until he died in l677, about the age of seventy. Maybe, the brothers learned their art while living in Paris.
HOW THIS EXHIBITION IS PRESENTED.
Through the years, a careful analysis of Le Nains paintings, had made it clear that we are dealing with the paint strokes of three different painters. So, based on a systematic technical study of each painting and data based on style and technique, Co-Curator C.D. DICKERSON III, from the National Gallery of Arts in Washington, D.C. and Curator ESTHER BELL (FAMSF Curator in charge of European Paintings) proposed for this exhibition, a three part diagram of the 65 exhibited paintings in which they offer their best judgement as to the group each of the paintings belong in relation to each one of the three brothers. Their input could be read on the exhibition’s wall.
Their diagram divides the paintings shown in the exhibition into three groups:
(Since this group of paintings are not designed to a brother, they may include paintings painted by the three of them working together)
Le NAINS WORK
Perhaps, inspired by the Flemish artists that were arriving in Paris around l630, the brothers adapted the conventions of the genre, painting pictures with the religious meaning of charity and poverty, that was prevalent in Paris at that time. In many of their scenes we can see white tablecloths covering the tables, the bread and the wine, the symbols of communion in the Catholic Church. In this Genre, Le NAINS produced magnificent Altar Pieces based on Saints or bible stories that hung in the churches, such as the picture of The Nativity of the Virgin (shown) which hangs on a wall in Notre Dame, in Paris, France.
INDOOR AND OUTDOOR SCENES
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE Le NAIN EXHIBITION
The planning of the exhibition was done by COLIN B. BAILEY, former Director of the FAM museums in S.F. and PIERRE ROSEMBERG the doyen of the Le Nain Studies, and organized by C.D.DICKERSON III at the Kimbell Art Museum (Now the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.) and ESTHER BELL at the Fine Arts Museum of S.F.
The exhibition was organized by the FINE ARTS MUSEUMS of SAN FRANCISCO (FAMSF). the KIMBELL ART Museum and the MUSÉE du LOUVRE-LENS and presented by Sponsor DIANE B WILSEY, Curator’s Circle: The BERNARD OSHER FOUNDATION, Conservator’s Circle: Mr. LIONEL SAUVAGE. Benefactor’s Circle: PHOEBE COWLES and ROBERT GIRARD and supported by an indemnity from the FEDERAL COUNCIL OF THE ARTS AND THE HUMANITIES.
For their support the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco express their appreciation to Mr. LIONEL SAUVAGE, Mr. PHOEBE COWLES y Mr. ROBERT GIRARD
"THE BROTHERS Le NAIN Seventeenth-Century France" Exhibition will be at the LEGION OF HONOR Lincoln Park 100 34th Avenue until January 29, 2017. For information call 415-750-3600 or online to www.legionofhonor.org