Jean-Baptiste Oudry – animals and hunting scenes artist and so much more.

Jean-Baptiste Oudry, by Jean-Baptiste Perronneau.

My last nine blogs focused on female artists and in many cases their fight for equality and so, for this blog, I thought I better give the men a chance. I have gone back to the end of the seventeenth century to look at the work of a distinguished French artist whose painting genre was looked upon by the Academies of Europe as the lowest genre in the hierarchies of figurative art.
The hierarchy in figurative art was established in the wake of the Italian Renaissance for works in 16th century Italy by the prodigious Italian Academies in Rome and Florence and they were later ratified by all the major European Academies, such as the French Académie de peinture et de sculpture, which was one of the leading Art establishments of the time. The hierarchical list, the top genre being the most important in the eyes of the Academicians, was:

 History painting, including historically important, religious, mythological, or allegorical subjects
Portrait painting
Genre painting or scenes of everyday life.                                                               Landscape and cityscape art
Animal painting
Still life

This hierarchical listing was based on a division between art that made a cerebral effort to render visible the universal essence of things and that which merely consisted of mechanical copying of particular appearances. Basically, the list meant that Idealism was honoured and more favoured than Realism.

Let me introduce you to the Master of animal and still life painting, the French artist Jean-Baptiste Oudry. Oudry was born in Paris on March 17th, 1686, the youngest of three brothers. His father was Jacques Oudry, a painter, art dealer, and from 1706, the director of the Académie de St-Luc art school, which was the only serious competition to the more prestigious and influential Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture. He was to give all his sons their initial art tuition. Jean-Baptiste’s mother was Nicole Oudry (née Papillon).

Self-portrait of Nicolas de Largillierre.(1707)

Jean-Baptiste Oudry began his artistic studies at the age of eighteen. In 1704, he first studied with the Marseilles-based Catalan-born French painter Michel Serre, a cousin of the portraitist Hyacinthe Rigaud. The following year Oudry began a five-year apprenticeship with the portrait painter, Nicolas de Largillierre whilst also enrolling in drawing classes at the Académie de St-Luc and the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in Paris. Largilliere set Oudry the task to copy the works of the Flemish and Dutch schools of the seventeenth century. Through the teachings of Largillierre Oudry began to perfect his sense of colour and enhance his skills as a painter of still life and portraiture, both genres in which his master had rightly built up his reputation. In 1708 Oudry submitted a now-lost bust-length painting of Saint Jerome as his reception piece and this gained him the status of Master in the Académie de St-Luc.
Jean-Baptiste Oudry began giving art tuition to some students, one of whom was Marie-Marguerite Froissé, the daughter of a miroitier (a mirror-maker) and in 17o8 master and student married. The couple went on to have thirteen children, one of who, Jacques Charles Oudry, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a painter.

A still life of a swan by Jacques Charles Oudry (Oudry’s son)

After completing his apprenticeship, Oudry set up his own business and concentrated on portraiture commissions and still-life painting to earn money but times were hard so he tried to paint whatever was popular with the public. He wanted to create his own style of portraiture and not be seen as just copying the style of his former tutor, Nicolas de Largillierre, who was at the peak of his fame. Oudry’s clients were mostly of the modest bourgeoisie and the lesser nobility.

Abundance with her Attributes by Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1719)

His financial predicament changed for the better in 1719 when thirty-three-year old Oudry was elected to membership of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (French Royal Academy) as a history painter with his reception work, Abundance with her Attributes. Although classed as a historical painting, look at the superbly painted surrounding array of fruits, vegetables, and animals. It was this talent for painting animals and still life objects that would make him famous. His main rival in this field of painting was Alexandre François Desportes, who at the start of the 18th century had been the principal painter of these genres in France.

Dead Wolf by Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1721)

In 1721 Oudry completed pendant paintings Dead Wolf and Dead Roe which can be seen at the Wallace Collection in London. These masterpieces were followed by several large hunt pictures, the most notable of which was his large 1723 painting (almost five metres wide) entitled Stag Hunt which was his breakthrough work. It can now be seen at the Stockholm Royal Palace.

Fire of the Petit Pont by Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1717)

It was around this time that Oudry reduced the number of portraiture commissions he accepted and concentrated on his still-life and hunting scenes which were beginning to become ever more popular. He even experimented with other genres such as landscapes and cityscapes as can be seen in his 1717 painting, Fire of the Petit Pont.

Le cheval fondu tapestry designed by Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1730)

During the 1720s, Oudry’s paintings of animal and hunting scenes were looked upon as the best in France and through them he even managed to impress the French king, Louis XV. Royal patronage soon followed and from 1724 onwards, Oudry spent all his time creating royal commissions. Through his honoured royal patronage Oudry became the most visible artist at the Paris Salon of 1725 and the following March he was granted his own solo exhibition at the palace of Versailles. His exhibition was a great success and this along with his paintings at the Salon led to him being offered a position at the royal tapestry works at Beauvais in July 1726 where he became the painter of tapestry cartoons. In 1734 Oudry became director of the factory and shortly afterwards he employed François Boucher as factory painter and the collaboration between Oudry and Boucher was one of the reasons for the success of the Beauvais tapestry works in the eighteenth century. During this period Oudry’s painting output declined and it was this way until 1737.

Stag Hunt by Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1723)

However, his work was in such great demand that he opened his own workshop which produced copies of his works for sale to the public. Between 1722 and 1725, Jean-Baptiste Oudry concentrated on his still-life and hunting scenes and would exhibit his works at the annual open-air Exposition de la Jeunesse which was held on Corpus Christie in the Place Dauphine and on the adjoining Pont Neuf in Paris which was the only public venue available to him.

Royal Hunts of Louis XV by Jean-Baptiste Oudry

The Salon in Paris was the official exhibition of art sponsored by the French government. It originated in 1667 when Louis XIV sponsored an exhibit of the works of the members of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. The exhibitions, to begin with, were not annual events, in fact they were quite sporadic with only one exhibition being held between 1704 and 1737 but from 1737 they became annual events. The Salon’s original focus was the display of the work of recent graduates of the École des Beaux-Arts and exhibiting one’s work at the Salon de Paris was vital for any artist to achieve success in France. Having one’s work in the Salon was tantamount to achieving royal favour and in the early days, before the inception of art dealers, it was the only way an artist had to sell their works. The return to annual exhibitions could be one of the reasons why in 1737 Oudry returned to painting and every year after, he would exhibit his works at the Salon.

Through his friend, Jean-Baptiste Massé, a portrait-painter and miniaturist, Oudry was introduced to Henri-Camille Marquis de Beringhen, Premier Ecuyer du Roi (Master of the King’s Private Stables), and organiser of the royal hunt, and he played a part in launching Oudry’s artistic career at court. He arranged for Oudry to have a studio and lodgings for himself and his family in the Tuileries Palace, so that he could work on royal commissions.

Misse and Turlu,Two Greyhounds Belonging to Louis XV by Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1725)

Oudry’s hunting scenes were very much admired by Louis XV, and Oudry portrayed the king’s favourite royal hounds, Misse and Turlu, and painted scenes of the king riding to the hunt, which was the monarch’s sporting passion.

Henri Camille, Chevalier de Beringhen (1722)

Occasionally, Oudry painted portraits, one of which was of the twenty-nine-year old, Marquis de Beringhen. Once again, this painting is part portraiture and part still-life with dead game, a living animal, and a landscape. It typifies Oudry’s method of painting: the stylish elegance of the rococo style is combined with a perceptive sense of observation. We see the marquis sitting upon a knoll at the base of a tree. He is splendidly dressed in his linen shirt, a pale grey hunting coat lined with teal-blue velvet and trimmed with silver braid and buttons, breeches, and thigh-length boots. We see strands of his powdered hair swept back and tied with a black silk ribbon. He holds aloft a red-legged partridge in his left hand and with his right hand he strokes his faithful pointer. To the left, behind the dog we see lying on the ground a powder horn, fowling piece, game, and a game bag. To the right of the marquis, in the distance, we can just make out two women talking on the terrace of a country house, which may be pure idealization and just included as a befitting noble setting that Oudry had devised for the Marquis de Beringhen. Oudry once again highlights his artistic techniques in the way he depicts the lace of Beringhen’s shirt and the silver embroidery on his coat, and in the feathers of the partridge and the fur of the hound.

Grand Buffet, Still Life with Monkey, Fruit and Flowers by Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1725)

Oudry soon broke Desportes’ royal monopoly and his work output grew. In 1725, the Paris Salon held an exhibition, the first since 1704, and Oudry submitted twelve pictures, including one entitled Grand Buffet but also known as Still Life with Monkey, Fruit and Flowers, which can be seen in the bottom right corner of the November 25th, 1725 edition of the French gazette and literary magazine Le Mecure de France.

Salon de 1725 as advertised in Le Mecure de France

In 1726 Oudry provided twenty-six paintings for an exhibition at Versailles. His other important acquaintance, Louis Fagon, the king’s Intendant des Finances, arranged for Oudry to become the painter to the royal tapestry works at Beauvais. This was to be the start of a new direction for Oudry who over the next decade designed a number of tapestry sets, including four pieces depicting Comedies of Molière, eight pieces based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses and four panels depicting Fables of La Fontaine.

The Fables of La Fontaine – The Two Pigeons by Jean-Baptiste Oudry

Between 1729 and 1734, Jean-Baptiste Oudry produced a total of 276 beautiful and highly finished drawings, including a frontispiece, which illustrated tales from the famous 17th century work by Jean de La Fontaine, Les Fables choisies mises en vers (Selected Fables Rendered in Verse). Each of the scenes was drawn with the brush with black ink and grey wash, heightened with white gouache, on sheets of blue paper, with each image surrounded with a wide border brushed on the same sheet in a darker shade of blue, acting as a fictive mount. These drawings, all made during this five-year period have long been recognised as Oudry’s most famous works as a draughtsman.

Louis XV Stag Hunting in the Forest at Saint Germain-en-Laye by Jean Baptiste Oudry (1730)

In 1728 Oudry began on a royal commission Louis XV Stag Hunting in the Forest at Saint Germain-en-Laye. It was a massive painting, measuring 210 x 390cms. Louis XV was a keen and knowledgeable hunter who knew the name of every one of the dogs in the pack. This work was painted for the hunting pavilion in Marly, and again it is a combination of animal painting and landscape genres. Oudry depiction set in a clearing in the forest of Saint Germain, is the moment of the halloo, the cry or shout used to attract attention or to give encouragement to dogs in hunting.

A Wild Sow and her Young Attacked by Dogs by Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1748)

Louis XV liked this work so much that, in 1733, he commissioned Oudry to produce three tapestry cartoons illustrating the hunts. The tapestries, woven under Oudry’s supervision at the Gobelins factory, were intended to decorate the king’s bedchamber and antechamber and the Council Chamber at the Château de Compiègne. In 1738, it was decided that the series should comprise nine cartoons; the last was completed by Oudry in 1746 and delivered to Gobelins. They made two sets of the tapestries. One set for the chateau at Compiègne and the other was sold to Philip, Duke of Parma, the King’s son-in-law.

Clara the Rhinoceros in Paris by Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1749)

In the 1720s and 1730s, Jean-Baptiste Oudry established himself as the preeminent painter in France of hunts, animals, still lifes, and landscapes. His Painted Menagerie focused on a set of eleven life-size portraits of exotic animals from the royal menagerie at Versailles, painted by Oudry between 1739 and 1752. The paintings ultimately went into the ducal collection in Schwerin, Germany. The most famous of these is the splendid portrait of Clara, an Indian rhinoceros who had become a celebrity in mid-eighteenth-century Europe.  The Indian rhinoceros, who was born in Assam and had been named Clara, caused a sensation in Europe. A Dutch captain, Douwe Mout van der Meer, brought the three-year-old rhino in 1741. It was an animal that had never been seen before in Europe and he presented her at the Saint-Germain Fair in Paris, where she inspired many artists to undertake drawings and studies of her. Jean-Baptiste Oudry’s depiction of her is life size. The grand painting was shown at the Paris Salon in 1749 and acquired in 1750 by Duke Christian Ludwig II of Mecklenburg-Schwerin together with Oudry’s series of menagerie paintings. In all, there were approximately 57 drawings by him which ended up in the possession of the court in Schwerin.

Farmhouse by Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1750)

Although Oudry is remembered for his animal and hunting scenes his idealized landscape work was of the highest quality. In 1750 the Dauphin, Louis, the elder son on Louis XV, commissioned Oudry to paint a picture of rural life which would highlight the bountiful and beauty of Ile-de-France and to promote the state’s progressive agricultural policy. Later the painting became known as The Farmhouse.

Jacques-Charles Oudry – Nature morte avec chien et le canard

Oudry was not a very wealthy man but lived comfortably. Oudry lost some of his responsibilities when Louis Fagon, the king’s Intendant des Finances, was replaced by Daniel-Charles Trudaine. Oudry suffered two strokes in quick succession in 1755. The second left him paralysed and he died shortly thereafter in Beauvais on April 30th, 1755, aged 69. He was buried in the Church of Saint-Thomas in Beauvais. His son, Jacques-Charles Oudry, trained by his father, was also an accomplished painter.

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The Hunt in the Forest by Paolo Uccello

Hunt in the forest by Paolo Uuccello (c.1470)

When I visited the Claude Lorrain exhibition at the Ashmoleon Museum in Oxford last month,  I had time to look around their permanent collection of painting.  To my mind they have one of the best collections on offer with works from artists of different nationalities and from different eras.  I strongly recommend you visit this gallery for I know you will not be disappointed.

The painting I am featuring in today’s My Daily Art Display is one by Paolo Uccello entitled The Hunt in the Forest which he completed around 1470.  Hunting was a very popular pastime for the aristocracy in those days.  The depiction of hunting in art goes back to the Ancient Greeks when it can be seen on their tableware.  During the time of the Romans, many hunting scenes can be found on their sarcophagi and in Medieval times hunting scenes could be found in their manuscripts, wall paintings and tapestries.  There were many forms of hunting in the Medieval times, such as hunting with hawks, which took place mainly in the spring and summer and the boar and bear hunting which took place during winter.

Cassone (chest) with spalliera (backboard)
Cassone (chest) with spalliera (backboard)

It is believed that this work of art you see before you was a one-off painting and not part of a series.  It is of an unusual size, measuring 63cms tall x 165cms wide.  With those dimensions it could well have been intended for the front panel of a cassone, a Renaissance marriage chest or a spalliera, the back of a Tuscan bench or settle, or the headboard or footboard of a bed.  The spalliera paintings were very popular at the time this painting was completed.  Therefore we are probably safe to assume that this work was painted for a wealthy family to be seen by guests as they entered the house and went into the camera, the reception room which was also often the bedroom, where the spalliera or cassone would be in pride of place.

 So what do we see before us?  Is it a painting of a real hunt or is it an imaginary scene?  Art historians tend to believe the latter is correct as hunts such as these would have had a number of different species of dogs each trained to carry out a specific task in the hunt.  There would be dogs which were good at following scents.  There would be another species of dog which were fast running and capable of catching and bringing their quarry to ground.   In this painting we only have the one type of dog.   In the painting we also only see one type of deer, the roebuck, and that would be unlikely to be the case in a real hunt.  The setting for the hunt is also very questionable.  The scene is dark and it appears that the hunt is taking place at twilight or during the night and this is not the normal time of day set aside for hunting.  Hunting, especially in forests, would normally take place during the day when the maximum amount of sunlight can filter through the trees.

The view we have before us is also one of organised chaos !  The hunters seem to be converging upon each other from two sides while the dogs and the hunted animals seem to be disappearing into the central distance.  There seems to be no attempt by the hunters to enact a carefully co-ordinated plan to capture their prey.

I love the vibrant colours in this painting.  Look how Uccello has given the leaves on the trees golden highlights.  I love the bright livery of the horses and the colourful clothing of the aristocratic hunters atop their horses, ably being assisted by the beaters.  On the livery of the horses we see many examples of a golden crescent moon emblem which could be a sort of homage to Diana the Roman goddess of hunting (Artemis the Greek goddess of hunting) who was often seen wearing a crown shaped as a crescent moon.

The aristocracy liked to have hunting scenes adorning the walls of their mansions.  Hunting, in some way, like chivalric jousting tournaments, was akin to battle and those taking part in such events were looked upon as being fearless and athletic.  Men who organised such hunts (maybe not in this case!) were looked upon as being tactically astute and great leaders and just the qualities which were needed for those who were to lead armies into battle.  In those days hunting was a very prestigious pastime and strangely, sometimes looked upon as an allegory of love.

The one question, which has yet to be answered and one can only guess at it, is who commissioned Uccello to carry out this work.  We know that this was Uccello’s last major painting before he died in Florence in 1475 and historians think the painting was completed around about 1470.  Art historians have come up with a couple of ideas but none our conclusive.  I have already mentioned the crescent moon emblems on the horses livery and as well as being associated with Diana they were also the emblem of the Strozzi family.  The Strozzi clan were an ancient and noble Florentine family who played an important part in the public life of Florence and this painting may have been commissioned by one of them.  The other possibility was that Uccello painted this picture whilst he was still living in Urbino and before he returned to Florence.  We know that he was in Urbino from 1465 to 1469 and if that was the case he could well have been commissioned by his patron, the Duke of Urbino, Federico da Montefeltro whose palace was full of works of art.

This is undoubtedly a masterpiece and as we look at the painting we can almost hear the noise made by the hunters crashing through the undergrowth and the baying of their animals as they chase after their unfortunate quarry.  It is an exciting painting full of vitality and colour.  The artist encourages us to stare into the depth of the forest and our eyes alight on Uccello’s distant vanishing point in the central background but no sooner do we stare into the distance than our eyes dart back to the foreground, seduced by the colours and the rhythm of the hunt. 

I just love this work and it is even better to stand in front of the original.