The Rest by a Fountain
Oil on canvas
Purchased through the Mrs. Harvey P. Hood W'18 Fund and the Miriam and Sidney Stoneman Acquisition Fund; P.995.43
Charles-Joseph Natoire, who served as the director of the French Academy in Rome from 1751 to 1777, came into prominence after winning the Grand Prix in 1721. He worked in Italy from 1723 to 1729 and was received into the Royal Academy in 1734. In Rome he oversaw the training of such painters as Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806) and Hubert Robert (1733-1808).
Natoire’s popularity spread immediately upon his return from Rome, when he was commissioned in 1737 to decorate the private apartments of Louis XV (reigned 1715-74) at the Château de Fontainebleau. Natoire completed six canvases representing scenes of hunting and fishing that were installed as overdoors in the large and small dining rooms, where they remained in place until 1793.
The painting in the collection of the Hood Museum of Art is an autograph version of one of the Fontainebleau canvases, now in a private collection in Italy. Like many decorative pictures, it has been cut down and was probably also originally vertical in format. Its genesis is unclear: too highly finished to have served as a preparatory study, it may be a replica—it is the same scale as the vertical canvas—perhaps kept by the artist as a record of his prestigious commission. The presence of numerous pentimenti, or visible alterations, and the sheer brio of the brushwork, however, suggest that it predates the one now in Italy.
Whatever its origins, The Rest by a Fountain is a testament to the sophistication and elegance of decorative painting during the reign of Louis XV. The subject is an idealized melding of social and class types, all brought together in a rugged landscape setting. A hunting party has stopped to rest at an elaborate and overgrown fountain. One hunter waters his horse, to the apparent consternation of a young herdsman, while two others sit on the ground, picnic basket and wine bottles close at hand. Two riders gallop into the scene in the background on the right.
The theme of the hunt—the focus of most of the paintings commissioned at this time for Fontainebleau—was especially popular in art during the reign of Louis XV. The king’s interest in the sport resulted in a series of commissions on the subject from a number of artists. Famous for its vast hunting grounds, Fontainebleau was a particularly appropriate setting for such scenes. Yet The Rest by a Fountain is also a paean to the pleasures of being outdoors. Using landscape as a setting for social interaction and flirtation, it continues the tradition of the fête galante, literally “gallant party,” that was invented by Jean-Anotine Watteau (1684-1721) in the previous generation. A variety of social types has converged on the site to hunt, tend to their herds, or simply take in the sun. Contrasting elements underscore the traditional dichotomy between city and country. Moreover, the intermediary figure of the reclining gentleman who, dressed in city clothes, assumes the pose of an ancient river god represents an ideal merging of nature and culture. The magic of Natoire’s painting lies in its synthesis of these disparate elements into a convincing and beautiful whole.
Last Updated: 1/21/10