He was called the “Ruisdael of Montmartre” and worked at the Louvre with Vivant Denon on restoring the collections of Dutch paintings. He has made more than a thousand paintings with cloudy skies and rainy countrysides. Georges Michel, (1763-1843) a French painter who hardly ever left Paris, is the topic of an exhibition “Le paysage sublime” at Fondation Custodia, which specializes in drawings and Dutch works.
The visit started with Hotel de Turgot, a lovely hotel particulier between rue de Lille and de l’Université built in 1743, which houses Fondation Custodia and has just been beautifully restored. This is where researchers who study Dutch art and drawings, can go and check out the 55 000 letters by artists which are kept in the museum created by Frits Lugt. This amazing collection is constantly enlarged and a show downstairs is devoted to the latest acquisitions and to miniatures! Totally fascinating and worth the trip.
It is always a shock to discover artists who have rarely been exhibited and Georges Michel, a prolific painter who died in 1843, has rarely been shown in France. The only portrait known of him is in Philadelphia. At the end of the 19 th century, the galerist Durand Ruel sells two of his paintings to the museum of Fine Arts in Boston and gives one to the Metropolitan museum. By then his paintings are in many provincial French museums and at the Louvre.
A collector from Lyon owns fourteen of his works, some of which are exhibited here. It takes for a Dutch foundation, who had bought many of his drawings, to rediscover him and this new show at Fondation Custodia is an event. Ger Luijten, director of the foundation for the past seven years, has decided to show paintings by a Frenchman whose inspiration came from the Dutch 17 th century painters and who, in turn, inspired Van Gogh. It is quite spectacular and immaculately exhibited.
What is most fascinating in his body of works, is the talent he puts into painting rural countrysides with huge grey skies. He concentrates on villages surrounding Paris like la Plaine Saint denis and Pantin, which will disappear under constructions fifty years later. Very inspired by Jacob van Ruisdael and Rembrandt, he owes to many Dutch painters his light and dark contrasts. Vincent Van Gogh mentions him in his letters to his brother Theo.
Energetically run by Ger Luitjen, a former curator at the Rijksmuseum, the foundation has replaced the Dutch Institute and always offers very intimate and original exhibitions of high quality.
Besides Georges Michel and a whole room of his drawings, you can discover 65 of the important collection of miniatures. Margaret Lemon, lover of Van Dick is featured here painted by Samuel Cooper, Caspar David Friedrich is portrayed by Labroue on ivory and Julie Forestier is painted by her fiancé Ingres. The Swiss artist Jean-Etienne Liotard has a portrait of a Lady, maybe Madame de Pompadour? Contemporary and old drawings by French, Italian and Dutch artists, complete this series of shows until April 29.
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