One would think that a guidebook to a museum that is one of the two or three best known in the world produced by a publisher that has unparalleled experience in reproducing the visual arts would be a pleasure to read. This is certainly true of this Scala publication of Paintings in The Louvre, Paris, originally published in 1993 and subsequently reprinted in 1995 and 2000. More than 450 coloured illustrations present the Louvre's holding from the 14th-19th century. The works are included with texts by Michel Laclotte, Honorary Director of the Louvre Museum, and Jean-Pierre Cuzin, Head Curator of the Department of Paintings.
French and European paintings are considered separately. Following an Introduction by Cuzin, which describes the history of the Louvre and how its paintings were accumulated, French paintings, numbering more than half of the entire collection, are considered chronologically in sections devoted to: The primitive and the sixteenth century; The seventeenth century; The end of Louis XIV's reign and the Regency; The mid-eighteenth century; The neo-classical period and The nineteenth century. Each section includes a short scholarly introduction to the period. A chronology from 1180 to 2000 describes the history of the Louvre from its initial defensive purpose to the present-day museum. A rationalisation programme, which commenced in 1981, has seen the number of pictures on display in The Louvre more than doubling.
With the exception of the collections of Bourdon in the Hermitage, St Petersburgh, and Watteau in the Wallace Collection in London and in the Berlin-Charlottenburg collection, nowhere other than The Louvre has a greater breadth and depth of the works of individual French masters. However, it was only in 1750, during Louis XV's reign, that selected pictures from the Royal Collection were put on display to artists and the general public 1750. With the French revolution, the Royal Collection passed to the state. Following the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, some 5000 works of art, which had been gained by Napoleon's military successes and transferred to The Louvre, were returned. With the Declaration of the Third Republic in 1870, The Louvre became the country's national museum as has remained so to this day.
Laclotte adopts a similar overall approach and introduces European painting followed by sections on Italian painting (The fourteenth and fifteen centuries, The sixteenth century and The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries), Flanders and Holland (The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries followed by separate sections on The seventeenth century in Flanders and Holland), Spain, The German and Scandinavian countries, and Great Britain. Once again, each section begins with a short essay on the period. The book closes with a comprehensive Index of Artists. It was not until the end of the 19th century that European paintings were seriously collected, mostly these entered the collection through gifts and bequests. However, some direct purchases of individual works were made, perhaps the most famous being "Whistler's Mother - Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1", painted in 1871 and bought in 1891. This and other works from the same period are now displayed in the Musee d'Orsay.
There are 3 works by Van Dyck; 3 by Goya; 3 by Hals; 2 by Holbein; 4 by Leonardo; 3 by Raphael; 4 by Rembrandt; 4 by Rubens; a Turner, who was absent from the collection until "Landscape with a river and a bay in the background", 1835-40, was purchased in 1967, and 2 by Vermeer. One could go on and on with the roll call of the greatest artists who are not just included in the collection but represented by some of the greatest works ever painted. Then there are the iconic works, such as Delacroix's "Liberty guiding the people, 28th July 1830", Delaroche's "Napoleon crossing the Alps", "The raft of the Medusa" by Gericault, Ingres' "The bather (The Valpincon bather)", "The Turkish bath" and "Monsieur Bertin" and so many by David, "Madame Recamier", "The Oath of the Horatii" and "The consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the coronation of the Empress Josephine, 2nd December, 1804, and these are just the French artists! Leonardo da Vinci's "La Gioconda", also called "Mona Lisa", c. 1503-6, is illustrated on page 178.
A pleasure of this beautiful book is the juxtaposition of paintings by the great masters and works by lesser-known artists. A visit to The Louvre will show that sometimes the quality of the painting is very similar and that it is history that has determined into which category the artist falls. This book might be a little too heavy to be used as a guide book during such a visit but it is a necessary resource for anyone planning a visit.
This series of books also includes other holdings in The Louvre: Egyptian Antiquities; Near-eastern Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities; European Sculpture and Objets d'art.