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Thursday, November 9, 2017

Antoine Coypel

Democritus, 1692, Antoine Coypel.
Democritus was a Greek philosopher of the 4th-century BC, who further developed the atomic theory originated by his teacher, Leucippus, that explained natural phenomena in terms of the arrangement and rearrangement of atoms moving in a void.
In studying the many artists who have lived and worked around the world during the past thousand years or so, it has always amazed me that quite a number of them have risen to the top of their profession during their lifetime only to be all but forgotten by everyone except art history professors, a few wealthy collectors, and museum curators. Those three groups I'm sure make up less than one tenth of one percent of the total population. There are as many reasons for this as there are forgotten artists, but one they all seem to have in common is that they painted in a style popular at the time, but which has since lost favor. It makes me wonder if some of today's most famous artist are not destined for the same historic loneliness, their work stored away in museum vaults, their names and their paintings seldom to be seen again.
I have purposely not included portraits of the other Coypel painters to avoid confusion, though the child sitting next his father at the easel is his son, Charles Antoine.
The French painter, Antoine Coypel largely fell into this category. Antoine was a second generation artist, the son of the painter, Noel Coypel, who incidentally was born on Christmas Day in 1628 and who died on Christmas Eve in 1707. His son, Antoine, was born in 1661. (His younger brother, Noel-Nicholas, born in 1690, likewise was a painter.) Antoine's son, Charles Antoine Coypel, born in 1694, was also an exceptional painter. Each were born in Paris and taught by their fathers. All had their careers bolstered as they managed to gain favor with the French royal family during their lifetimes. If you're studying this clan, be careful not to get the three generations confused.
Louis XIV Resting After the Peace of Nijmegen,
1681, Antoine Coypel.
The Sacrifice of Isaac,
Antoine Coypel
Antoine Coypel was an artistic prodigy. At the age of eleven he went to Rome with his father, who had been appointed director of the French Academy there. After three years in Rome, Antoine spent one year in northern Italy studying Correggio, the Bolognese, and Venetian schools. In 1676 he returned to Paris, where in 1681, at the age of twenty, he was received as a member of the French Royal Academy with his work Louis XIV Resting After the Peace of Nymegen (above), which shows a Bolognese in-fluence and anticipates the mood of the Rococo style. Coypel’s style evolved in an eclectic fashion. His admiration of Ru-bens emerged in his Democritus (top,) painted in 1692. Soon thereafter, the in-fluence of Poussin was felt. This combin-ation of influence is seen in Coypel’s most noted works—a series of large bib-lical compositions (left). Antoine Coypel became director of the French Academy in 1714 and was appointed first painter to the king in the following year.
Assembly of the Gods, 1705, Antoine Coypel, Palais Royal, Paris.
Cupid Shows Venus Asleep,
Antoine Coypel
In 1700, the Grand Dauphin, Louis XIV’s brother, commis-sioned the artist to paint a series of panels illustrating the story of Cupid and Psyche. These works show some of the lightness of the Rococo style, but with a heavy mea-sure of Baroque. In 1702 the Duke of Orléans commission-ed Coypel to decorate the ceiling of the big gallery of the Palais Royal (above) with il-lustrations from the story of Aeneas, culminating in one of the most outstanding example of the Baroque style to be found in French art. Coypel’s ceiling for the chapel of Ver-sailles in 1708 is even bolder, as the artist followed a Roman Baroque model.

Studies for the Figure of the Virgin, 1700, Antoine Coypel
Antoine Coypel is also noted for several engravings such as Judith, The Virgin and Child, Pan Overcome by Putti (below), and numerous preparatory drawings as seen in his Studies for the Figure of the Virgin (above) dating from 1700. In the last decades of his career, however, he was weakened by illness and painted relatively little. Antoine Coypel died in 1722 at the age of sixty-one. Nevertheless, he was, along with Charles de La Fosse, Jean Jouvenet, and Louis de Boullogne, among the artists whose work best exemplifies the transition in French painting from the cold and austere manner of the reign of Louis XIV to the lighter, more lyrical style of the 18th century. Unfortunately for the entire Coypel family, the Baroque style, not to mention the Rococo, have become antique art curiosities. The same could be said for Antoine Coypel and most of the others who embraced these once popular styles.

Pan Overcome by Putti,
1692, Antoine Coypel

Nymph and Satyr, Antoine Coypel


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