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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Charles-André van Loo

La Musique, ca. 1753, Charles-Andre van Loo                         
Charles-Andre van Loo, by Louis
Michel van Loo (his nephew).
One of the factors that art historians, critics, and writers rely upon to make their work easier is the fact that art can be pretty easily and pretty accurately categorized. And while that may also make understanding such art easier and more logical, it also involves what's come to be a nasty word in most social contexts--stereotyping. No one likes being stereotyped (especially artists), and the entire concept leaves a nasty taste even when it's justified, harmless, or necessary. Of course dead artists seldom complain so I'm not so reluctant in this regard. Yet even in dealing with artists from long ago, stereotyping tends to lead to the old saying, "if you've seen one (add category here) you've seen them all." I would like to claim that to be manifestly untrue, but after several years writing about the various art history periods, classifications, categories, and yes, stereotypes, used to simplify the subject, I must confess, I entertain such feelings at times. I guess it comes down to the depth of one's interest in art. Superficiality leads to stereotyping. I-depth study leads to peculiarities. Ever since the third grade, when I first encountered the study of world history, it has always been the peculiarities and trivialities that have fascinated me. Thus when I look for an artist to showcase here, if I find his or her work to be mostly ordinary for their period, even though they may have been excellent artists, I tend to move on in search of an artist who is in some way...for lack of a better word...peculiar.
Sultana (Madame de Pompadour), Charles-Andre van Loo.
 Orientalism was quite popular in France during the mid-17th-century.
Louis XV, 1728, Charles van Loo
Charles-Andre van Loo was kind of a mix of these two elements. His portraits of 18th-century French aristocracy and royalty or quite accomplished, on about the same level as Francois Boucher, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, and Jean-Honoré Fragonard, though he was, then and now, far less well known. Each of these artists painted Louis XV (right) and his mistress, Madame de Pompadour at least once. The version by van Loo features the lady in Turkish attire (above, now termed Orientalism). I could go in-depth here and start comparing van Loo to other portrait painters of his time, but my point is, his work was comparable. Having said that, van Loo was also peculiar. In seeing his portrait, and in looking at some of his other paintings, you get the feeling he also had a sense of humor as well as a delightful love of children. His 1753 painting La Musique (top) is peculiar but quite endearing. On top of that, van Loo seems to have had an acute sense of how to succeed at the business of art in his day.
La Pinter, 1753, Charles-Andre van Loo
Quite apart from lucrative fees for his standard, "bread and butter" portraits, van Loo discovered that, what we'd today term "cute" paintings of children acting like adults, were quite irresistible. He did four of them having to do with the arts--The Painter (above), The Architect (below), The Sculptor, and The Musician (top). Thus he employed one of the cardinal business axioms then and now--when you find a good thing, you milk it for all it's worth. Having found a popular vein, he then set about mass producing and marketing it through hand-colored etchings (it's unclear whether he produced them himself or farmed them out to an etcher). Copyright laws being what they were in the 18th-century, they may simply have been pirated.

L' Architect, 1753, Charles-Andre van Loo. In some cases, the etchings seem better than the original paintings upon which they were based.
Charles-Andre van Loo was born in Nice in 1705, the son of an unexceptional painter named Louis-Abraham van Loo. His grandfather was a Dutch Golden Age painter named Jacob van Loo, while his brother, Jean-Baptiste van Loo, was also a portrait painter, though, like the rest of the family nothing out of the ordinary. Except for his successful depiction of "professional" children, and the fact he seems to have had a fairly acute business acumen, Charles-Andre van Loo would be considered simply one cog in the family portrait machine. Both van Loo brothers were first trained by their father, then sent to Rome, later Turin, before moving up to Paris (probably the Academie des Beaux-Arts) to complete their training. And inasmuch as the art world in France, if not all of Europe, rotated around Paris, the two remained there for the rest of their careers, ending with their deaths in 1745 (Jean-Baptiste) and 1765 (Charles-Andre, at the age of sixty).

The Sculptor, 1753, Charles-Andre van Loo. The lad seems to know what he's doing.
Despite his mostly top-notch portraits and his "peculiar" paintings of children, art critics and historians now consider Charles van Loo as having been overrated. Whereas many artist gain in stature after their deaths, that does not seem to be the case with van Loo. Unlike Boucher and Fragonard who, were also very much Academic painters, the two Rococo artists seem to have gained a grudging respect if not admiration for their life's work. Charles van Loo is seen as simply "run-of-the-mill." I don't see him that way. Then again, maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm the peculiar one.

Music, Charles-Andre van Loo--hot tots jammin'


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