My Paris Stories

Nature and Ideal

It sounds strange, but landscape painting is something quite new. It really started in Rome in the first half of the seventh century. So we are talking about the years between 1600 and 1650.  Before then, nature was not an independent genre in European painting. Of course there have been representations of nature before.

"Nature et Idéal" focusses on this pivotal pint in art history at the beginning of the 17th century when landscape became a genre in its  own right. Back then, a group of artists started to establish a proper code for landscape painting trying to represent an ideal of nature.

Priority to landscape

The exhibition  at the Grand Palais is displaying 80 paintings and about twenty drawings of this period seeking to show some of the most accomplished works. You might not necessarily have heard about Annibale Carracci, Italian baroque painter, less known than his disciple Caravaggio, but it was him who has contributed in an important way to the new genre. He was one of the first Italian painters to give landscape priority over figures.

Unfortunately, his masterpiece, The Flight into Egypt, that was supposed to be shown in Paris, couldn’t be borrowed because of inheritance conflicts. Though his River Landscape is quite successfully compensating this: nature is there in all her splendour, green, proliferating, but there is no wind, no rain, no changing of season. It show’s the eternity, somehow.

Myths alternating with history

Besides Carracci you’ll discover paintings of Adam Elsheimer, Pieter Paul Rubens, Paul Bril, Claude Lorrain, Nicolas Poussin, and Gaspard Dughet. Some of their most accomplished works are shown in the exhibition. All their paintings illustrating their share in the development of various types of representation of nature, from ideal views of the Roman countryside to seascapes, through architectural caprices and nostalgic antique scenes in which myths alternate with history.

But don’t imagine you’ll be able to decipher theses paintings without basic knowledge of the bible. Biblical motives are omnipresent in the paintings and there are constructed in a way that your gaze will always end there where God is supposed to be.

The presence of the human eye

Despite the extraordinary rendering of light and atmospheric effects, the nature is not one that touches the human soul. Looking at these paintings, you might have the impression being in front of a landscape that human presence is not necessary.

I for myself have to admit, that I much more preferred the sketches: it’s here, in theses more spontaneous documentations of a special moment in nature, that you can feel the presence of the human eye.

Nature et idéal: landscape at Rome 1600-1650 - 9 March - 6 June 2011
Grand Palais
3, Avenue du Général Eisenhower
75008 Paris
Tel: +33(0)1 44 13 17 17
Open everyday except Tuesdays from 10am-8pm
Wednesday until 10pm
Métro: Franklin Rossevelt   or Champs-Elysées-Clemenceau