At the Fabre Museum in Montpellier, a trip to a romantic Italy with the painter Louis Gauffier

A look back at discovering a forgotten but refined landscape painter and portrait painter from the late 18th century.

The trip to Italy in the late 18th century was the most popular destination in Europe. The artists who confront the ancient ruins and the masters of the Renaissance. The aristocrats settled there on vacation. The British call this initial journey the “Grand Tour”, which also attracts the French. We know Stendhal’s syndrome. In painting, the proponent of this idealized Italy, both romantic and scientific, is Louis Gauffier (1762-1801).

His signature is best known in the museums of Poitiers (his birthplace) and Montpellier, where Gauffier has figured in the collections since the creation of the museum by François-Xavier Fabre (1766-1837). The two painters with similar backgrounds, both Prix de Rome, became friends in Italy, where they lived, far from the problems of the revolution, then from Bonapartism, and lived comfortably by their art as portraits and landscape painters.

Died 39

In 2007, a retrospective by François-Xavier Fabre marked the reopening of the museum bearing his name. Fifteen years later, Louis Gauffier, in turn, enjoys a large exhibition. “She was eagerly awaited by art historians and American museums defending her work” explains Michel Hilaire, director of the Fabre Museum and curator of “Louis Gauffier’s Journey to Italy”. A reference exhibition for specialists, it is also a delicious invitation to travel in this arcade “Grand Tour” deleted by mass tourism.

that “Portrait of the Gauffier Family” welcoming visitors contain all the characteristics of the artist: the neoclassical structure of the composition, the taste of ancient monuments, nature, the outdoors, the sophistication of touch, expressed through the lines of Pauline Gauffiers and her child, the delicacy of the colors of clothing silk. In this painting, Pauline, also a painter, sketches the portrait of her husband. Both will disappear prematurely at intervals of a few months. In 1801 Louis Gauffier was only 39 years old.

“Sentimentalism” versus “virilism”

The exhibition unfolds its journey: works for the Prix de Rome, academic drawings, the first successes with mythological scenes and a tendency towards “sentimentalism” with the opposite view of David’s “virilism”, which prevailed over French taste at the time. .

It is with the landscape that Gauffier confirms his modernity. Studies of trees (eucalyptus, umbrella pine, plane tree), a “View of the Arno Valley” in a golden light, the transparent azure sky of one “Roman landscape”shows that this painter associated with atmospheric variations paves the way for Corot and outdoor paint.

The landscape remains significant in the portraits of travelers, exiles, diplomats and then Napoleon’s officers, which he portrayed in Florence, a cosmopolitan city under the protection of the Grand Duke. The tower of dominion appears under the foliage of a nonchalant and elegant “Young man with his dog” (exhibition poster). The same iconic tower, together with the cathedral’s dome, hits the masterpiece “Portrait of Thomas Penrose” which is also a portrait of a city under threatening clouds.

“Grand Tour” ends at “Vallombrosa monastery” : Four large paintings from this rural location are unusually brought together, coming from San Francisco and Philadelphia to complete a masterpiece from the Musée Fabre. Gauffier the Forgotten’s reputation is international.

Until September 4th

“Louis Gauffier’s trip to Italy” is on display at the Musée Fabre until 4 September. In addition to the artist’s works held in Montpellier (30 canvases and drawings), the exhibition benefits from several loans from French museums (Louvre, Fontainebleau, Poitiers, Brest) and international institutions (offices in Florence, museums in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Melbourne , Edinburgh). The exhibition poster, “Portrait of a young man with his dog”, is a painting that has never been exhibited, from a private collection. Works by Fabre, Drouais, Brenet, Sablet, Regnault and other contemporaries by Gauffier are also presented. We also see a rare canvas by Pauline Gauffier, Louis’ wife.

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