On view from March 10 through July 3, 2016, at the Marmottan Monet Museum
in Paris, «Art and the Child: Masterpieces of French Painting» presents nearly 75 artworks by the likes of Le Nain, Philippe de Champaigne, Chardin, Greuze, Corot, Daumier, Millet, Manet, Cézanne, Monet, Morisot, Renoir, Bastien-Lepage, Pelez, Bonnard, Vallotton, Maurice Denis, Matisse, Picasso, Chaissac, and Dubuffet, all drawn from private collections and prestigious museums around the world. The fruit of a collaboration between historians and art historians, this unprecedented exhibition retraces the history of the status of The Child from the XIV through the XX centuries, offering a new perspective on these renowned artworks by exploring them in a new way and through a new lens.
One of the Cluny Museums major works, The Presentation of the Temple, attributed to André Beauneveu and Jean de Liège, opens the show, and illustrates the preponderance of representations of the Child-God in art historical iconography through the end of the Middle Ages. This was followed by the appearance of the Child-King. An exceptional series of portraits of sovereign children have been loaned to the exhibition by the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, renowned museums in Hamburg, the Louvre, and the Château de Versailles.
In a portrait depicting Louis XIV and his brother, Philippe of France, with their regent mother, Anne of Austria, the children are represented in their childhood frock, a unisex garment at the time worn indiscriminately by boys and girls until the age of 5 but nonetheless bearing attributes of power. Indeed, even from his youngest depictions, portraits of Louis XIV are extremely official and formal: Louis the child disappearing beneath ermine robes fit for a king. Heir to the divine right of kings, he incarnates dynastic continuity.
Familial sustainability was at the heart of aristocratic concerns, as illustrated by Philippe de Champaignes masterpiece, The Habert de Montmor Family, presented here for the first time in a temporary exhibition and one of the treasures of the Sully-sur-Loire Château. It is installed in conversation with a suite of canvases by the Le Nain brothers, all of which show humble children, countrymen, and farmers whose activities provide the pretext for genre scenes that are more picturesque than realistic.
The Enlightenment heralds the dawn of a new era, and The Child takes his place at the center of political, moral, and social concerns. In the show, a spectacular life-sized cutaway painting of a pregnant woman and her fetus by Jacques FabienGautier illustrates the revolutionary advances in medicine that were taking place in the late 18th century, and demonstrates the increasing societal will to combat infant mortality. Under the influence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the practice of breastfeeding became increasingly popular, and aristocrats began to depict mothers suckling their children. The «triumph of family feeling» is symbolized by paintings such as these, in which fathers and mothers embrace their children.
At this time, The Child has become a painted subject all its own, and it will remain one from now on, finally regarded as an individual being and represented for precisely what it is. Chardin painted children playing with spinning tops; Girodet depicted them studying, while Greuze showed them as dreamers. In the XIX century, the representation of children reached its apex. Millet, the realist, dedicates himself to the care of the young, creating a series of paintings that become icons of rural France, such as The Beaked, Maternal Care and The Knitting Lesson.
Other artists pay homage to children from urban and disadvantaged backgrounds. Jeanron lionizes the child of the barricades, fictional insurgent-children like the character Gavroche, from Les Miserables, and Eva Gonzalès paints The Bugle Boy, a child enlisted in the army at a young age. While the naturalist Jules BastienLepage denounces child labor and child prostitution, and Pelez titles his little violet-seller Martyr, the Impressionists declare themselves the guardians of privileged, bourgeois childhoods, bearing witness to the emergence of a certain vision of the modern family.
Lastly, the exhibition examines the influence of childrens drawings on art at the dawn of the XX century. A selection of unpublished pencil works by Monet and Pissaro, as well as the childhood drawings of renowned artists like Maurice Denis and Jean Lurçat are presented to the public for the first time. Completed in a strictly familial context, these doodles inspire particular interest in the early 1900s: Infantile creation makes an impact on the avant-gardists, who are passionately seeking new visual vocabularies.
Picassos portrait of his son Paul Matisse, Paul Drawing, and The painter and the child a triumphant image of a child brandishing a paint-brush while sitting on the lap of an adult painter, who holds a palette attest to this interest. With the development of Art Brut, represented in the show by Dubuffet and Gaston Chaissac, the infantilizing of forms is pushed to the extreme, denouncing codified, classical art as «the suffocation of culture.»