François-André Vincent (1746-1816), an artist between Fragonard et David

Le Programme d'exposition

  • The Tours Museum of Fine Arts

    19 octobre 2013 - 19 janvier 2014
  • The Fabre Museum of Montpellier

    8 fvrier 2014 - 11 mai 2014

The life and work of Francois-Andre Vincent had not been thoroughly studied until now even though he was one of the most talented artists of the neoclassical period, the great rival of Jacques-Louis David before the Revolution. In 2013, the publication Athena was dedicated to Vincent through the work of Jean-Pierre Cuzin, former chief curator of the Louvre’s art [paintings] department. The article fills in this important gap in the history of art. This release was accompanied by a retrospective exhibit organized by the two FRAME museums, the museum of Beaux-Arts in Tours and the Fabre de Montpellier museum: Francois-Andre Vincent, an artist between Fragonard and David. The first showing was held in Tours from October 19 to January 19, 2014; the second at Montpeller from February 8 to May 11, 2014.

François-André Vincent, Arria et Poetus, oil on canvas, 1784, Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by Mr. and Mrs. John Peters MacCarthy, Director's Discretionary Fund, funds given by Christian B. Peper, and gift of Mr. Horace Morison by exchange

The scientific commission was provided by Jean-Pierre Cuzin and by Isabelle Michalon, art historian. The general commission was provided in Tours by Sophie Join-Lambert, director of the Museum of Beaux-Arts and chief curator, and Veronique Moreau, chief curator. It was provided at Montpeller by Michel Hilaire, director and general curator of the Fabre museum, and Olivier Zeder, chief curator. The importance the funds  provided by the organizers from the two museums and the presence of several major works by Vincent at Montpellier is justification that the two institutions wished to celebrate the artist and give him the place he merits in the history of art.

Each presenting about 110 pieces, these two exhibits are distinguished essentially by completely different works up to 50 pages  each. A great designer, Vincent executed various techniques and a variety of subjects in his portraits viz. historical and allegorical subjects, as well as caricatures. This huge and impressive collection perhaps makes him the best designer of his time. These designs are maintained in the most famous graphic arts companies such as the Louvre, the Albertina, the Metropolitan Museum of New York, as well as the museum of Besancon, the Atger museum, and the Fabre museum of Montpellier. Some paintings are shown only at Montpellier: a Portrait of a Man in the Fragonard style is an early work done just before his departure to Italy; in a private collection, the portrait presumed to be the singer Mme. Duplant from the revolutionary period is a masterpiece from the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, and finally the overall sketch of the Agriculture Lesson, a canvas from a private collection which shows the composition of the final painting before its partial destruction in the Bordeaux museum fire in the 19th century.

François-André Vincent, Bélisaire, réduit à la mendicité, secouru par un officier des troupes de l'empereur Justinien, 1776, huile sur toile, Montpellier, musée Fabre, © Musée Fabre Montpellier Agglomération / Cliché F. Jaulmes

The Montpellier exhibition was organized in chronological order, the major historic upheavals that France went through during this period marked an evolution of Vincent's art. Each section had a collection of drawings. The first section showed the artist's Parisian debut while training in Vien and his success in the Grand Prix de Rome, then the works from his stay at the Académie de France in Rome, in particular the portrait of his patron Bergeret (Besançon) and the vivid and endearing portraits of his fellow colleagues. The second section illustrated Vincent's most auspicious period, from his return to Paris in 1777 up to the beginning of the Révolution. He became an academic, exhibiting at all the Salons, encountering success as well as criticism, in particular with subjects drawn from the current French history, like President Molé and the Factious so innovative with its narrative efficiency (Assemblée nationale). Thus began the duel with the radical Neoclassicism of David; Vincent found a middle ground in his search for a gravity tempered with a desire to seduce through color and matter [material] (Arria and Poetus, Saint Louis Art Museum, see illustration). During the revolutionary period, like many other painters, Vincent focused primarily on portraiture at which he excelled (portrait presumed to be Madame Duplant, Lisbon Gallery). Nevertheless he painted several great canvases with ambitious subjects related to new philosophies : The Agriculture Lesson (Musée des Beaux-arts of Bordeaux) and William Tell and Gessler (sketch, Guéret Museum). At the end of his life under the Consulate and the Napoleonic Empire, Vincent was occupied with several portraits and commissions from people close to Napoleon which attests to notoriety by the official circles that rarely failed him: The Battle of the Pyramids, Louvre; Allegory of the Liberation of the Algerian Slaves, Cassel Museum).

The French museums including the Louvre and several FRAME museums have contributed to the success of this exhibit largely through their loans, in addition to foreign museums, in particular from Germany (Cassel and Karlsruhe), from Austria (Vienna), from Portugal (Lisbon). The United States responded to our solicitation through the Horvitz Collection in Boston (Renaud and Armide) and thanks to two FRAME museums: the LACMA in Los Angeles (Democritus among the Abderitans) and the St. Louis Art Museum (Arria and Poetus).

Olivier Zeder

Chief curator of the Heritage Museum, in charge of painting and ancient sculpture collections in the Fabre Museum of Montpellier Conglomerate.