Charles Le Brun

Charles Le Brun was a French painter and art theorist. Declared by Louis XIV "the greatest French artist of all time", he was a dominant figure in 17th-century French art. Born in Paris, he attracted the notice of Chancellor Séguier, who placed him at the age of eleven in the studio of Simon Vouet. At fifteen he received commissions from Cardinal Richelieu, in the execution of which he displayed an ability which obtained the generous commendations of Nicolas Poussin, in whose company Le Brun started for Rome in 1642.

In Rome he remained four years. There he worked under Poussin, adapting the latter's theories of art. On his return to Paris in 1646, Le Brun found numerous patrons, of whom Superintendent Fouquet was the most important. Employed at Vaux-le-Vicomte, Le Brun ingratiated himself with Mazarin, then secretly pitting Colbert against Fouquet. Colbert also promptly recognized Le Brun's powers of organization, and attached him to his interests. Together they took control of the Academy of Painting and Sculpture (Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, 1648), and the Academy of France at Rome (1666), and gave a new development to the industrial arts.

Another project Le Brun worked on was Hôtel Lambert from1650. The ceiling in the gallery of Hercules was painted by him. The decoration continued intermittently over twelve years or so, as it was interrupted by the renovation of Vaux le Vicomte. In 1660 they established the Gobelins, which at first was a great school for the manufacture, not of tapestries only, but of every class of furniture required in the royal palaces. Commanding the industrial arts through the Gobelins—of which he was director—and the whole artistic world through the Academy, Le Brun imprinted his own character on all that was produced in France during his lifetime. He was the originator of Louis XIV Style and gave a direction to the national tendencies which endured centuries after his death.

The nature of his emphatic and pompous talent was in harmony with the taste of the king, who, full of admiration of the paintings by Le Brun was created Premier Peintre du Roi (First Painter to His Majesty). The King had declared him "the greatest French artist of all time". From this date all that was done in the royal palaces was directed by Le Brun. In 1663, he became director of the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, where he laid the basis of academicism and became the all-powerful, peerless master of 17th-century French art.

The works of the gallery of Apollo in the Louvre were interrupted in 1677 when he accompanied the king to Flanders (on his return from Lille he painted several compositions in the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye), and finally—for they remained unfinished at his death—by the vast labours of Versailles, where he reserved for himself the Halls of War and Peace (1686), the Ambassadors' Staircase, and the Great Hall of Mirrors (Galerie des Glaces, 1679–1684). Le Brun's decoration is not only a work of art, it is the definitive monument of a reign. At the death of Colbert, François-Michel le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois, Colbert's enemy, who succeeded as superintendent in the department of public works, showed no favour to Le Brun who was Colbert's favorite, and in spite of the king's continued support Le Brun felt a bitter change in his position. This contributed to the illness which on 22 February 1690 ended in his death in his private mansion, in Paris.

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