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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 12 September 2006—An attractive and most interesting exhibition of some thirty American paintings is currently being shown at the Louvre Museum in Paris. Entitled American Artists and the Louvre (until 18 September), the first part of the exhibition deals with the first half of the nineteenth century, bringing together works which have a direct link with the Louvre, being exhibited there during the salons, or because they had been part of the collections themselves, such as Benjamin West's The Death of Hyacinth . Works of American artists have been shown there since the museum opened in 1793. These historic paintings are displayed on walls of pale violet.

Benjamin West (1738 - 1820)
The Death of Hyacinth, 1771
Oil on canvas
Philadelphia Museum of Art, lent from Swarthmore College
Photo courtesy of Musée du Louvre

Beyond, where the decor changes to a pale pistachio shade, the second part  presents works of American artists for whom the Louvre played a deciding factor in their art. Even though many of their paintings were completed years later, they clearly reveal the importance that the museum and its collections still had on both their style and subject matter. The museum, for instance, influenced American artistic training on a practical level via its copying practices, where students spent hours working on copies and casts from the Louvre's collection, and by the time spent in the galleries analysing the original artworks. Easels and paints were frequently set up there, and long after returning home, the American students would reminisce on their discoveries in France and on the museum's legendary support for artistic education. The Louvre was and still is, the first stop on art pilgrimages in Europe.

But in spite of the fact that the French had a high opinion of these artists on the other side of the Atlantic, few apart from perhaps Mary Cassatt won general recognition. Her paintings of women and children clearly reflect her familiarity with the master paintings in the Louvre while Thomas Hart Benton directly quoted Rubens'  Marie de Medici cycle as his inspiration for Slaves. The black man, the slave, is shown as a martyred saint, face to face with the evil whip-cracking Simon Legree from Uncle Tom's Cabin. High art and popular culture were thus linked.

Thomas Hart Benton
Born: 1889, Neosho, Missouri, United States of America
Died: 1975, Kansas City, Missouri, United States of America
Slaves, 1924 – 27
Oil on cotton duck mounted on board
Image: 66 7/16 x 72 3/8 x 1 7/16 in. (168.8 x 183.8 x 3.7 cm) Frame: 68 1/2 x 74 5/8 x 2 in. (174 x 189.5 x 5.1 cm)
Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Art Acquisition Endowment Fund,  2003.4
Photo courtesy of Musée du Louvre

Henry Benbridge went to Corsica to paint Pascal Paoli, the Corsican liberator  while Benjamin West, who was very popular in France, won acclaim for his romantic Rubens style works. And interestingly enough, The Return of the Prodigal Sonby Henry Mosler was the first work to be bought by the French Government in 1879. Whistler's At the Piano is also on display, a painting inspired by the artist's assimilation of 17th and 18th century Dutch and French paintings of bourgeois family life.

Pride of place, however, is given to Samuel F.B. Morse's painting, The Gallery of the Louvre, completed in 1833, which depicts the Salon Carré with an imaginative selection of the Louvre's most famous Old Masters, carefully reproduced in the style of the original artist. Morse himself is in the centre, leaning against a chair, while in the background you can see James Fennimore Cooper, author of The Last of the Mohicans, who was a great friend of his. The idea behind the work was to show the masterpieces of the Louvre to the American public to improve and form their taste, but alas, his painting was not at all well received and Morse turned his attention elsewhere, finally becoming famous as the inventor of the electric telegraph and the "Morse Code".

Samuel F. B. Morse
Born: 1791, Charlestown, Massachusetts, United States of America
Died: 1872, New York, New York, United States of America
Gallery of the Louvre , 1831–33
Oil on canvas
73 3/4 x 108 in. (187.3 x 274.3 cm) Frame: 88 3/4 x 123 in. (225.4 x 312.4 cm)
Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection,  1992.51
Photo courtesy of Musée  du Louvre

American Artists and the Louvre
14 June - 18 September 2006
Musée du Louvre
Salle de la Chapelle and Salon Carré
75001 Paris
Tel: (33) 1 40 20 53 17

Related Archives: Thomas Eakins: An American Realist

Still Looking: Essays on American Art by John Updike

Patricia Boccadoro is a senior editor at

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