Click on photos to enlarge.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

François-Léon Benouville

The Mockery of Christ, 1845, Francois-Leon Benouville. This
painting one the artist a three-year-long trip to Rome.
There's surprisingly little religious art created today, especially in the way of painting. Most of what is created tends to be aimed at a juvenile or preschool market. It's about all that's left of what once was one of the most prestigious types of painting an artist could produce. Today that type of painting is now limited to scriptural illustrations done almost solely for publication in various Sunday School and Vacation Bible School program packages. That's unfortunate, but also to be expected. Just as motion pictures and animated video has largely replaced most other forms of narrative art enjoyed by children (as well as adults), then same is true of such storytelling of biblical scenes. Today I came upon a French painter from the 19th-Century, little known to the art world, but one who contributed to the religious genre at a level simply not to be found today. His name was Francois-Leon Benouville.
It's hard to decided which of the two brothers was the better artist, though Francois-Leon certainly chose a much more demanding field in which to work.
Francois-Leon Benouville was born in Paris in 1821. His older brother, Jean-Achille Benouville, born in 1815, was also a painter, though landscapes were his specialty. And, given the number landscape painters living and working in the French capital during the mid-century period, that doesn't make him very special at all. Neither were his landscapes. In fact, the competition from other artists led him to spend most of his career painting Italian landscapes. (For reasons I've never been able to understand, paintings of Italian landscapes were considered by the French at the time to be superior to those of French landscapes.)
Samuel Anoints David, 1842, Francois-Leon Bénouville
At any rate, Léon Benouville first studied with his elder brother in the studio of François-Edouard Picot before transferring to the École des Beaux-Arts in 1837. His Samuel Anoints David (above), dating from 1842 is typical of the younger Benouville's early work--rather static and sculptural. In 1843, Benouville won a second place medal in the annual Prix de Rome (prize of Rome) competition for his painting Oedipus Exiled from Thebes (now lost). His preparatory drawings, however, remain, indicating an almost excessive attention to detail, a hallmark of Benouville’s work. Indeed, he was known to strive for perfection and, as noted by the critic, Philippe Burty in 1859, he created countless preparatory studies of fragments and details for all his compositions.
Cincinnatus Receives a Deputation from the Senate,
1844, Francois-Léon Bénouville.
Benouville was best known for his portraits, mythological, and religious compositions in the Neoclassical and Orientalist styles. He worked in oils, ink and chalk. His Cincinnatus Receives a Deputation from the Senate (above), from 1844, is typical of his history paintings from this period. The following year, Benouville managed to win the Prix de Rome competition for his painting, The Mockery of Christ (top). Coincidentally, his brother apparently shared with him this honor for his painting, Ulysses and Nausicaa. Francois' works produced in Rome are influenced by early Christianity and often show depictions of Roman antiquity.
Christian Martyrs Enter the Amphitheatre,
ca. 1855, Francois-Leon Benouville.
After studying in Rome for a year, Francois-Leon went back to Paris. His brother remained in Rome for two more years before moving on to fresh landscapes elsewhere in Italy. Leon Benouville's Christian Martyrs Enter the Amphitheatre (above), dates from some ten years later and has a far more dynamic, exciting quality than his earlier work. Francois-Leon Benouville's works are much more limited in number than those of his brother in that Francois-Leon died in Paris in 1859 at the age of thirty-eight. His older brother, Jean Achille lived to be seventy-six.
Saint Francis of Assisi transports the Dying to Saint
Mary of the Angels, 1856, Francois-Leon Benouville.


No comments:

Post a Comment