Georges de La Tour's haunting depiction of a repentant Mary Magdalen gazing into a mirror by candlelight; Jean Simeon Chardin's perfectly balanced image of a young boy making a house of cards; Jean Honore Fragonard's monumental suite of landscapes showing aristocrats at play in picturesque gardens--these are among the familiar and beloved masterpieces in the National Gallery of Art, which houses one of the most important collections of French old master paintings outside France. This lavishly illustrated book, written by leading scholars and the result of years of research and technical analysis, catalogues nearly one hundred paintings, from works by Francois Clouet in the sixteenth century to paintings by elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun in the eighteenth. French art before the revolution is characterized by an astonishing variety of styles and themes and by a consistently high quality of production, the result of an efficient training system developed by the traditional guilds and the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, founded in 1648 by King Louis XIV.
The National Gallery collection reflects this quality and diversity, featuring excellent examples by all the leading painters: ideal landscapes by Claude Lorrain and biblical subjects by Nicolas Poussin, two artists who spent most of their careers in Rome; deeply moving religious works by La Tour, Sebastien Bourdon, and Simon Vouet; portraits of the grandest format (Philippe de Champaigne's Omer Talon) and the most intimate (Nicolas de Largillierre's Elizabeth Throckmorton); and familiar scenes of daily life by the Le Nain brothers in the seventeenth century and Chardin in the eighteenth. The Gallery's collection is especially notable for its holdings of eighteenth-century painting, from Jean Antoine Watteau to Hubert Robert, and including marvelous suites of paintings by Francois Boucher and Fragonard. All these works are explored in detailed, readable entries that will appeal as much to the general art lover as to the specialist.
Philip Conisbee (1946-2008), volume editor and principal author, was senior curator of European paintings at the National Gallery of Art and a specialist in French art of the seventeenth through the nineteenth century.