Art & Culture

Published on May 10th, 2015 | by Julie Chaizemartin

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Charles De La Fosse, the unknown of Versailles

So much praise and criticism has been given for the realization of the Royal Chapel of Versailles, the most famous being that of Saint-Simon, who cries when he sees the whole architecture and painting of the place: “This beautiful chapel of Versailles, so badly proportioned, which seems a recess the top and want to overwrite the castle.” But today, there are millions of tourists who have forgotten Saint-Simon and admire, eyes wide, the magnificence and desire of a monarch’s excessive ambitions.

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Charles de La Fosse. Photo by Wikimedia.org.

And one commented, “And if we visited once again Versailles?” Because we perhaps did not give a good look at the castle, maybe we missed paintings nestled atop the ceiling, in the hollow spandrels, darkened by time, embedded in the profusion of gold and stucco. We never tire, you could say, of visiting Versailles, but this time, we would pay particular attention to one of the great painters of Louis XIV, Charles de La Fosse, long forgotten and underrated, and whose name has been overshadowed by others: Le Brun, Lemoyne, Rigaud, Jouvenet… An exhibition is currently out of the shadows, as indicated by Beatrix Saule, director of the museum: “To see all these collected works was an extraordinary vision of the painter. This is a real discovery.” After all, if Charles de La Fosse is the most misunderstood painter of the Sun King, many of his great sceneries made for private commissions have disappeared. There are now only a few sketches of the master and several oil paintings, many from private collections. But above all, it is his great decorations for Versailles that testify to his extraordinary talent as a colorist, and that today go from unknown in Versailles to the guest of honor at the castle. A just reward when you think he lived 80 years and never stopped painting for the king, as well as for the Tuileries, for the Invalides, for Great Demoiselle (cousin of Louis XIV), and for the Castle of Marly, which has been destroyed.

In the Palace of Versailles, in the footsteps of Charles de La Fosse

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Ceiling of the Salon of Apollo, painting from Charles de La Fosse. Photo by www.crcv.revues.org.

Let us pause for a moment under the ceiling of the Salon of Apollo, which has just been restored in the King’s apartment, and has finally revealed shades of colors used by the artist. Let’s look at the Chariot of Apollo flying in a swirl of clouds, hued pink and golden brown. Delicacy of the palette, dynamic framing, and sensuality foretell the lightness and audacity of the eighteenth century. Charles de la Fosse does not hesitate to use the colors he had seen in Titian and Veronese during his trip to Italy, Rome and Venice, between 1659 and 1664, as also shown wonderfully in the painting Sacrifice Iphigenia located above the fireplace in the living room of Diana a few meters away. But in this painting, one especially perceives the debt owed to the painter Rubens who he admired above all painters, and who he discovered one day in 1675 in the Duke of Richelieu’s collection. La Fosse becomes one of the proponents of colors and defenders of face drawing, incarnated at this time by Philippe de Champaigne. Two positions, two schools, which give rise to a quarrel and finally see the colors come out the winner, signify the entry into an eighteenth century fond of new ideas.

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Charles de la Fosse’s The Resurrection of Christ, painting in the half dome above the Royal Chapel Organ, Versailles Palace. Photo by www.versaillestovictoria.com.

The tour continues at the Grand Trianon, with a living room of malachite, where you can admire Apollo and Thetis and Clythie Changed in Sunflower, two easel paintings, still mythological and in the service of the king’s image, but in a more intimate atmosphere. Here, it is about a refined painting, for the private sphere of the monarch, who tells, with sensuality, of the loves of the gods. Finally, the Great Work is found in the semi-dome of the apse of the Royal Chapel, where he painted The Resurrection of Christ, a Christ triumphantly accompanied by a cloud of angels. The lessons learned from his master, Charles Le Brun, are still there, learned well, but with this more personal touch that makes his achievements less pompous, more “Rococo” even with its scenic winding clouds, angels, putti, and the place among the favorite artists of the final years of the reign of the monarch.

The last years of Charles de La Fosse are marked by his assiduous attendance at the venue of the financer Pierre Crozat, on Richelieu Street in Paris, which was then the vibrant heart of the artistic and intellectual life of the capital. It is there that he struck up a friendship with particular Watteau and perhaps he crossed paths with the Comte de Caylus and several major collectors. A new company of which he saw the beginnings and of which his painting foreshadowed the graceful lines and bright light.

The exhibition, still visible until May 24, 2015, boasts of being the first retrospective of the painter who was considered the greatest designer in service of the court at the time. A great opportunity to see Versailles!

Headed Photo: Charles de La Fosse by www.lefigaro.fr


About the Author

Historienne de l'art et journaliste. Diplômée en droit et en histoire de l'art à la Sorbonne et à l’École du Louvre, Julie collabore à plusieurs magazines sur des sujets historiques et culturels. Elle a également créé en 2011 un fonds de dotation qui soutient des projets de sauvegarde du patrimoine à l'étranger (en collaboration avec l'UNESCO) et est l'auteur du livre "Ferrare, joyau de la Renaissance italienne" publié en 2012 (éditions Berg International).



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