The Le Nain mystery

May 26 2017

Image of The Le Nain mystery

Picture: via TAN, Mathieu Le Nain, the Denial of St Peter, Louvre

The three Le Nain brothers, Antoine, Louis and Mathieu, were famous painters in the 17thC in Paris,a nd still highly regarded today. But identifying which brother painted what has been fiendishly difficult, not least becase what signed Le Nain works there are (16 out of roughly 75 in total) only bear the signature "Le Nain". A new exhibition at Louvre Lens seeks to work out who painted what, as Donald Lee writes in The Art Newspaper:

[...] the Louvre curator, Nicolas Milovanovic, has daringly and controversially arranged the works in differently coloured sections of the airplane hangar-like exhibition building by attribution, with galleries devoted to each brother. Because Mathieu lived on for nearly 20 years after his brothers' deaths, it has been slightly easier to distinguish his works, but Milovanovic's sifting of all three has been predominantly connoisseurial, with assays of circumstantial evidence such as it exists. 

His argument, grosso modo, is that the middle brother, Louis, about whom the least is known, is the most prolific and distinguished of the brothers. His work is characterised by cool, subdued and subtle colours (Allegory of Victory, around 1635), free but controlled brushwork, a tendency for classicising (Venus in the Forge of Vulcan, 1641) and a feeling for landscape (to be seen in the backgrounds of his religious canvases). To him is also given the main hand in several religious paintings (The Penitent Magdalene, around 1643) and, above all, the many peasant scenes. 

AHN congratulates Milovanovic for tackling this connoisseurial conundrum - bravo! 

More on the exhibition here

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