Granet holds a special place among French landscape painters of the early 19th century. Unlike his contemporaries Bidauld, Boguet, Chauvin and Denis, he did not follow the classical tradition as revived by Valenciennes, but developed his own direct, intuitive way of translating and synthesising nature – one which heralded Corot’s modernity. Admitted to the free drawing school at Aix in around 1788-1789, Granet studied Constantin’s workshop he became friends with Auguste de Forbin, a young nobleman whose career became closely linked to his. He went to Paris with Forbin in 1796 and joined David’s studio two years later. It was also through Forbin that Granet became linked with the Lyonnais artists Révoil and Richard, which led to his being associated with the “artistocratic” section of the studio by Delécluze, who wrote about it in his memoirs. Unable to pay for his lessons, Granet pursued his training independently by studying the old masters in the Louvre; it was not long before he was an exhibitor there himself, taking part in the 1799 Salon, the beginning of his career as an exhibition artist.

In 1802, he embarked on the journey to Italy with Forbin, and settled in Rome, where he discovered the fountainhead of his art as well as a wide network in the French community. At the Salon, to which he regularly sent works, his originality was recognized thanks to his “interiors”. In 1806 Chaussard praised this artist “who had created a genre of his own and developed his talent while following in nobody’s footsteps nor adopting the style of any school.” Stella dans sa prison (Moscow, Pushkin Museum), which was acquired by Empress Josephine at the Salon of 1810, brought him considerable fame; it reached its peak with Le Choeur des Capucins (New York, Metropolitan Museum), a work that was so much in demand after its presentation in Rome in 1815 that Granet produced no fewer than twelve versions for the most prestigious collections. The Restoration of the Bourbon monarchy was responsible for the success of that painting, which exalted the spiritual life and the rites of a community outlawed by the Napoleonic Empire in Rome. At the end of July 1824, not without regret, Granet left the Eternal City and returned permanently to Paris, where he became curator of pictures in the Royal Museums, a post which Forbin, who was now the director, had obtained for him.

Granet was not a portraitist. The rare faces that appear in his work were those of his female partners, or his own, painted from time to time over the course of his life, and with the same economy of means. Dated 1838, the portrait of a Capuchin friar is therefore all the more surprising. Its interest lies less in its austere, to say the least, picturesque charm than in the new aspect that it brings to our knowledge of the artist. While the identity of the sitter is
unknown, the portrait is certainly proof of Granet’s enduring attachment to the Friars Minor Capuchin, who were associated with his celebrity and who had only recently regained their legal right to practise in France, having been subject to the revolutionary laws outlawing religious congregations, which continued until the beginning of the July Monarchy. Rendered with a marked concern for truth, the grave physiognomy of the venerable old man almost acquires the value of a vanitas, particularly when one considers the psychological mood of the painter during the year 1838, when the afflictions of age had inclined him towards “moral tepidness” and “despondent melancholy”.1

(M.K., trad. J.H.)


1. Letters from Forbin to Granet on 20 May and 14 August 1838, in Isabelle Neto (ed.), Granet et son entourage. Correspondance de 1804 à 1849, Nogent-le-Roi, 1995, pp. 186, 191.




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