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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Nicolas Vleughels

Christ in the House of Simon, Nicolas Vleughels
There's an old American saying that no doubt everyone has heard, even those living abroad: "It's not what you know but who you know that counts." Sources conjecture that this saying has been around at least a hundred years. When you're talking about that much longevity, whether entirely valid or not, there must be a grain of truth embedded within it. In more modern times we've come to call knowing the "right" people, usually involving the furtherance of one's career, as networking. As applied to art, the gist of such a phrase comes down to, given relatively equal talent, the artist who has cultivated a network of friends and acquaintances will usually be more successful than one who hasn't.
Venus and the Three Graces Tending Cupid,
1734, Nicolas Vleughels
The French painter Nicolas Vleughels (pronounced mLEN-ghez) was great at networking. In fact, he excelled at it to a degree far beyond his skills as a painter. At best, as a painter, he was un-noteworthy. Rather, his reputation stems from his role as head of the Académie de France in Rome from 1724 until his death in 1737. His long tenure in Rome, first in his youth, and then as director of the Académie de France, made him a pivotal figure in the interchange between France and Italy in the first third of the eighteenth century. Equally significant, Vleughels had ties with the North. Although he had been born and raised in Paris, his father, Philippe Vleughels, was a native of Antwerp and, as a result, both father and son maintained close ties with the Franco-Flemish community in Paris including, not least of all, Watteau. Vleughels’ multinational affiliations situated him in a strategic position of influence.
Vleughels' View of Rome. Here Vleughels depicts
the houses behind St. Peters--probably the
first (an only) artist to ever do so

Our knowledge of Vleughels’ early life and works has improve greatly in the past several decades due largely to the discovery and analysis of a series of thirty letters the artist wrote to Giovanni Antonio Grassetti of Modena (Italy). This cache of correspondence, was first published a century and a half ago, but it was overlooked by modern scholars. The relevance of these letters to Vleughels’ career was first noted by Philip Conisbee, yet they still have been neglected for the last thirty-five years. We know that Vleughels was born in 1668, and that he spent his formative years in Paris. His father was the Flemish painter, Philippe Vleughels, a native of Antwerp, who had emigrated to Paris  where he became a part of a large community of Flemish artists residing in the city. Nicolas Vleughels is said to have studied painting with Pierre Mignard.
When you're a fairly mediocre painter, knowing the
right people makes all the difference.
Correspondence between artists is often a very valuable asset in filling in the blanks of an artist's life or in providing a greater depth into their thinking. Those between Vleughels and Grassetti do both. The letters fall into two chronological groups. The first five letters are from April 1715 to October 1718. They were written to Grassetti from Paris after Vleughels’ first trip to Italy. The second group was written while Vleughels was in Italy between 1724 and 1732. They record the beginning of the artists’ second stay there. When interfaced with certain dated drawings by Vleughels as well as with the diary and correspondence of the Venetian pastelist Rosalba Carriera, a new and more fascinating view of Vleughels’ life and circle of friends emerges.
Apelles Painting Campaspe, 1716, Nicolas Vleughels
Vleughels regularly copied works of Rubens. Moreover, he manage to win only a second prize in the Royal Académie Salon in 1694. Therefore he had to fund his first trip to Rome and his studies there himself, a difficult task in that his pockets were not very full at the time. He was likely in Rome from about 1703 where he met the famous Dutch vedute painter Caspar van Wittel. In 1707 he travelled to Venice and became an admirer of the work of Veronese. Vleughels was such an adept copier that some of his works, inspired by Veronese, were later wrongly attributed to Veronese. It is not known how long he resided there. In any case, around 1715 he returned to Paris. Vleughels became a close friend of Jean-Antoine Watteau. He lived with Watteau from about 1716 and shared a home in 1719. Ultimately, Vleughels’ letters, as fascinating as they are, afford only restricted glimpses into the lives of these artists.. Nonetheless, they establish just how closely intertwined such figures were in the art world of 1700. They also serve as a forceful reminder of how undocumented their lives still remain.
Circumcision of Christ, 1726,
Nicholas Vleughels

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