Le Brun, Charles (1619–1690)

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LE BRUN, CHARLES (16191690)

LE BRUN, CHARLES (16191690), French court painter and academician. After working briefly with François Perrier, Le Brun became a pupil of Simon Vouet (15901649). His earliest known works, such as the dynamic Hercules and the Horses of Diomedes of 1641 (Nottingham Castle, Nottinghamshire) reveal their influence and display a talent precocious enough to win the rare praise of Nicolas Poussin, whom Le Brun joined in 1642 on the elder artist's return to Rome. Le Brun's stay in Italy was supported for three years by the powerful Pierre Séguier, duke of Villemor and chancellor of France.

On his return to Paris, Le Brun became one of Louis XIV's painters and was one of the founders of the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture in 1648. Not surprisingly, his patron, Séguier, was designated as the protector of the fledgling organization. Le Brun executed canvases and decorative commissions for large Parisian townhouses and religious organizations throughout the 1650s. The deaths of Perrier, Vouet, and Eustache Le Sueur by the middle of the decadecombined with the success of Le Brun's ceiling in the Galerie d'Hercule of the Hôtel Lambertmade him the unrivaled French painter of his day. A royal order of 1656 forbidding the reproduction of his works without permission provides a measure of his growing reputation.

In 1658, Le Brun began the decorations at the château of Vaux-le-Vicomte for Nicolas Fouquet, the minister of finance. His responsibilities grew to include the direction of the embellishment of the country palace. Three years later, when Louis XIV imprisoned Fouquet for embezzlement of state funds (soon after viewing the results of Le Brun's lavish efforts), the artist and most of his collaborators were quickly employed by the king in the royal household, especially at Versailles (beginning in 1669), where Le Brun would produce his most celebrated works in the Hall of Mirrors, the Ambassador's Staircase, and the Royal Chapel. Le Brun's part in the transformation of this former hunting lodge into the premier palace of Europe included supervising and supplying designs to an enormous team of painters, sculptors, gardeners, architects, and decorative artists, as well as executing vast stretches of painted surfaces glorifying his royal patron (modello for The Second Conquest of Franche-Comté, early 1680s, Musée National de Versailles). His commissions soon expanded to the Louvre and other royal residences.

Le Brun's brilliant success as both artist and administrator may be a reflection of his absorption of the effective studio organization he witnessed at first hand during his years as a student in Vouet's busy atelier. His perfect blend of talents led to his ennoblement in 1662, his appointment as director of the Gobelins manufactory in 1663 (the division of the royal household that supplied most of the luxurious furniture and decorative arts for the royal residences), and his posts as first painter to the king, curator of the royal collections, and chancellor for life of the Académie in 1664.

Le Brun's role at the Académie was critical for the development of French painting and sculpture during the next two centuries. For him, drawing was the basis of the visual arts and therefore the most fundamental skill necessary for a young artist, especially one who aspired to be a painter of the historical, mythological, and religious works that Le Brun codified as the most noble type (or genre) of painting. His belief in the primary importance of drawing followed a long-established Italian tradition undoubtedly inherited from Vouet. It is also revealed in the many thousands of his own very accomplished extant sheets (Triton, c. 1680, Musée du Louvre). To ensure that the Académie's students attained the desired level of proficiency as draftsmen, Le Brun established and systematized a routine of study involving several years of well-defined, graduated stages of figure drawingone that began with copies of prints or plaster casts and ended with drawings after the live modelthat became the standard for academies across Europe. He also oversaw the founding of the French Academy in Rome in 1666 so that the best French students could travel for extended study in what was then the center of the European art world. And finally, beginning in 1667, he initiated his series of lectures, or conférences, at the Académie in Parisincluding the pivotal lecture on expression (1668) that was illustrated with his own drawings (Terror, c. 1668, Musée du Louvre)that quickly became obligatory reading for young French artists. During his tenure, the Académie also became the center of heated debates over issues such as perspective and, most importantly, the merits of color versus design, or Rubens versus Poussin. Without forgetting the merits of Rubens, Le Brun's opinion was made clear: the greatest historical example was Raphael, whose genius was taken to even greater heights by Poussin. As he certainly realized, his view proclaimed the primacy of the French school.

Le Brun ended his career with a remarkably detailed inventory of the paintings in the royal collection in 1683. He also produced a number of successful cabinet pictures. Between his numerous posts in the royal household, his multitude of prestigious commissions, and his pivotal role at the Académie, he trained an entire generation of students and collaborators that included Louis and Bon de Boullogne, Louis Chéron, Antoine Coypel, Charles de Lafosse, René Houasse, Jean Jouvenet, and both Michel II and Jean-Baptiste Corneille, influencing them with the richly colored, heavy (but energetic), declarative, and classicizing baroque blend of Poussin and Rubens that had earned him such success.

See also Academies of Art ; Art: Artistic Patronage ; Louis XIV (France) ; Poussin, Nicolas ; Versailles ; Vouet, Simon .


Beauvais, Lydia. Charles Le Brun, 16191690: Inventaire général des dessins. 2 vols. Paris, 2000.

Gareau, Michel. Charles Le Brun, premier peintre du roi Louis XIV. Paris, 1992.

Jouin, Henri. Charles Le Brun et les arts sous Louis XIV. Paris, 1889.

Montagu, Jennifer. The Expression of the Passions: The Origin and Influence of Charles Le Brun's Conférence sur l'expression générale et particulière. New Haven and London, 1994.

Thuillier, Jacques. Charles le Brun, 16191690: Peintre et dessinateur. Exh. cat. Paris, 1963.

Alvin L. Clark, Jr.

Charles Le Brun

views updated May 23 2018

Charles Le Brun

The French painter, decorator, and draftsman Charles Le Brun (1619-1690) served as administrator of painting and the decorative arts under King Louis XIV.

Between 1661 and 1683 Charles Le Brun was virtually dictator of all the arts in France except architecture, and he imposed a unified standard of academic performance upon all the artists who wished to enjoy official recognition. This standard served the monarchy incomparably well in its need for expressive propaganda. The Louis XIV style, formulated by Le Brun, was of a technically high order, though somewhat grandiose and ponderously uniform by today's standards. Through it, Paris replaced Rome as the artistic capital of Europe, and the maxim of Jean Baptiste Colbert, the first minister, that "it is by the dimensions of monuments that one measures kings" was fulfilled.

Born in Paris, Le Brun was the son of a sculptor. After his apprenticeship to the decorator François Périer, Le Brun enjoyed successively the protection of Chancellor Séguier, cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin, and the regent, Anne of Austria. In Rome (1642-1646) Le Brun studied under Nicolas Poussin and digested the Roman baroque style of Pietro da Cortona.

Le Brun was one of the 12 founders of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in 1648, and his ascendant authority in that official organization made him eligible in 1661 to become director of art works at the Château of Vaux-le-Vicomte, being constructed by the minister of finance, Nicolas Fouquet. Louis XIV, who deeply resented the opulent grandeur of this country house, dismissed Fouquet and appropriated his artistic team for use in the embellishment of the palace of Versailles. Scarcely an item of decoration for any royal dwelling was executed between 1661 and 1683 which was not conceived by Le Brun and carried out under his direction by a host of artists and craftsmen, and no painting was regarded as official without his sanction.

In 1662 Le Brun was ennobled. In 1663 he was made chancellor for life of the academy, keeper of the Royal Collections, and director of the Gobelins manufactory. In 1666 he organized the French Royal Academy in Rome. On the death of Colbert in 1683 Le Brun assumed the director-ship of the academy, but the new first minister, Louvois, gradually caused Le Brun to be superseded by Pierre Mignard, though he tactfully retained Le Brun, until his death, as first painter to the King. Le Brun spent his last years brooding over this seeming injustice and painting religious works which reflect the excessive piety of the aged Louis XIV under the influence of Madame de Maintenon (the Life of Christ series).

In spite of Le Brun's pronouncements favoring the eclectic academicism of the Bolognese baroque painters and his rigid support of the "ancients" (classical art, Raphael, and Poussin) over the "moderns" (the colorists, Titian, and Peter Paul Rubens), his real artistic preference was naturalism. His equestrian portrait of Chancellor Séguier (1661) reveals the harmonious French blending of northern physiognomical realism and heroic stateliness.

Further Reading

There is no monograph in English on Le Brun. Anthony Blunt, Art and Architecture in France, 1500-1700 (1953; 2d ed. 1970), treats the artist-administrator, specifically and comprehensively, within the context of his era. Le Brun is also treated extensively in Fiske Kimball, The Creation of the Rococo (1943); Arnold Hauser, The Social History of Art (2 vols., 1951; new ed., 4 vols., 1958); and Germain Bazin, Baroque and Rococo (trans. 1964). □

Le Brun, Charles (1619-1690)

views updated May 23 2018

Le Brun, Charles (1619-1690)

A celebrated French painter born in Paris, February 24, 1619. When only 15 years old, he received commissions from Cardinal Richelieu, and his paintings were also praised by Poussin. Le Brun was a founder of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture (1648) and the Academy of France at Rome (1666). He also was director of the Gobelins, a famous school for the manufacture of tapestries and royal furniture. Le Brun's treatise on physiognomy, Traité sur la physionomie humaine comparée avec celle des aminaux, was written at a time when the subject was considered to be an occult science. In this book Le Brun executed remarkable drawings comparing human and animal faces, a theme later developed with reference to the emotions by Charles Darwin in his book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872 etc.). Le Brun died February 22, 1690.

Le Brun, Charles

views updated May 11 2018

Le Brun, Charles (1619–90) French artist. He painted religious, mythological, and historical subjects. As chief painter to Louis XIV, he created the Galerie d'Apollon at the Louvre (1661) and designed much of the interior of Versailles, including the extraordinary Hall of Mirrors (1679–84). He became director of the Académie Française and the Gobelins tapestry factory in 1663.

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