Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Jean Michelin ~ Also Signed as Le Nain

If the scene and the people in this painting look similar to those from this week's selection of the week here at Fifty Two Pieces, it's because both paintings are now attributed to Jean Michelin. The Baker's Cart shown here was originally purchased in 1927 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York as a painting by Le Nain. After cleaning in 1928, the Museum discovered it was the owner of a painting by a lesser artist, one Jean Michelin in 1656.

Who was this Le Nain and why would Jean Michelin have signed as someone other than himself? The plot thickens when you discover that there were in fact three Le Nain brothers who painted in a common workshop in Paris after 1630. Antoine, Louis and Mathieu never married and seemed to work as one, sometimes even on the same painting. So it must have seemed like second nature to not use their first names when signing. Although some art historians have attempted to identify certain types of works to an individual brother, there is much debate as to the validity of the attributions. Their work was fairly well thought of and a number of other artists imitated their style, including Jean Michelin. Attribution is further complicated because after 1648 when Antoine and Louis died no work is dated. Matthieu Le Nain and Jean Michelin lived on until 1670 when Michelin died and 1677 when Matthieu joined his brothers. All of the paintings by these four artists show the poor to be of solid character and internal worth if not monetary wealth. Michelin was good enough with the Baker's Cart to have had his painting purchased by one of the world's leading art museums.

On a side note, while the French were busy treating subjects with somber stillness in the 1600's, the Dutch saw opportunities for boisterous good humor. In the June 29th issue of the New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl writes about the Judith Leyster exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington D.C. Leyster worked in the 17th century at the same time as the Le Nain brothers. Her work is part of an important area of Western art by women prior to the nineteenth century. Click here for the link to the New Yorker article. Pictured to the left is Judith Leyster's self-portrait. Looking at art from the 17th century makes for an interesting afternoon!

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