Charles Gleyre, a Swiss painter who taught Renoir and Sisley

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Turkish and arab horsemen,

Turkish and arab horsemen, 1838-39, Musée cantonal de Lausanne, photo Nora Rupp

With 120 paintings and many drawings, the exhibition at Musée d’Orsay, on Charles Gleyre, « The reformed Romantic », puts into light the work of a great adventurer who followed American Philanthropist John Lowell Jr, all the way to Khartoum after having studied watercolor with Bonington. He ran for 25 years, an atelier in Paris, where Renoir, Monet and Sisley studied as well as Gérôme and Whistler.

12. Gleyre_Portrait John Lowell

John Lowell junior, 1835, Boston MFA. John Lowell financed his travels to Khartoum

He was born in Switzerland, 20 kms from Lausanne in 1806, and has remained famous in his country. But this is his first retrospective in France where he spent most of his life. After becoming an orphan at 12, he moves to Lyon where his uncle raises him. He becomes a passionate of Prud’hon and Géricault’s paintings and travels to Italy at 22 where he paints « Les Brigands romains » his most famous painting, acquired by the Louvre. But unsatisfied by his career, he joins American philanthropist, John Lowell on an 18 month trip to the Orient.

A view of Athens, 1834, watercolor and pencil on paper, the Lowell Institute

A view of Athens, 1834, watercolor and pencil on paper, the Lowell Institute, Boston

From Pompei to Luxor, he draws and paints portraits and landscapes for Lowell. Most of these works are kept by the Lowell Institute at MFA in Boston who lent them for the show. They are a fascinating testimony to the hardship of traveling in those times. He splits from his companion in Khartoum and makes his way back to France in two years.

Reproduction d'oeuvre

Self portrait, 1827, Lausanne Musée Cantonal des Beaux Arts, photo Nora Rupp

Back in Paris, he is asked by architect Felix Duban to paint the decor of the staircase of Château de Dampierre, which still belongs to Duc de Luynes, and where Ingres also painted. And he works extensively for King Louis Philippe in all his palaces. In 1843, he achieves some fame at last with « Le Soir », a romantic oriental rêverie on a boat. This is when he opens his atelier and starts teaching (500) future glorious painters.

This exhibition of a fairly unknown painter, is interesting historically. Gleyre’s destiny with his voyage to the Orient is quite unique and his drawings and watercolours are stunning. It is a modest exhibition by Musée d’Orsay’s standards.

(Douanier Rousseau is attracting 5 000 visitors a day, mostly families with children). Yet it is a fascinating contribution to history of art. (until 11 September)

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