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Work Zephyr and Flora

Department of Prints and Drawings: 18th century

Zéphyr et Flore

Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN-Grand Palais - Photo S. Nagy

Prints and Drawings
18th century

Author(s):
Chabod Christine

The present work, a study for a large-scale decorative project, underlines the importance of Charles de La Fosse in the history of French drawing. In the transitional period between Le Brun, of whom he was one of the main assistants at Versailles, and Watteau, whom he foreshadows in his admiration for Rubens and the Venetians and his warm, colorful palette, La Fosse belongs to a generation of artists who inherited the seventeenth-century tradition and created a new sensibility.

The seasons

In this half-length portrait set in an oval frame, Flora is shown seated on the left, with her head in profile. She is naked to the waist, and her legs are covered with drapery. She is looking at Zephyr and stretching her left hand toward the young man's face. Zephyr, likewise depicted from the waist up, is leaning toward her. His left hand rests on Flora's knee, and he is holding a crown of flowers in his right hand.

Renovation of the Hôtel Crozat

The present work, along with a second drawing depicting Zephyr and Flora (also in the Louvre), have been compared with the oval paintings of the Seasons decorating the dining-room of the Hôtel Crozat, in the rue de Richelieu in Paris. The paintings were entrusted to Antoine Watteau, as is shown by the famous Louvre drawing depicting Flora, a preparatory study for the Spring panel (unfortunately since destroyed). The commission, which dates from 1715-16, will originally have been given, along with a ceiling decoration for the gallery, to Charles de La Fosse by his friend and protector Pierre Crozat. La Fosse was too busy with the decorations for the gallery on the theme of the Birth of Minerva (now destroyed) and called on Watteau to do the work. He may have planned to depict the Four Seasons, since the Bacchus now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Alençon, which bears an early attribution to La Fosse, could well be a study for Autumn. The present drawing is one of fourteen works by La Fosse listed in the auction catalogue for the Pierre Jean Mariette collection. Five of these are now in the Louvre.

A controversial style

Despite the rapidity that the intricate mix of black and red chalk strokes gives to this drawing, La Fosse's contemporaries were highly critical of his art. Antoine-Joseph Dézallier d'Argenville, a man of letters and an art collector, wrote in his Abrégé de la Vie des Peintres Fameux (1761): "Intelligent use of light, great fire, a heavy touch, weighty draperies, and shortish figures are the signs of his hand".

Bibliography

Bacou Roseline, in Dessins français de Watteau à Lemoyne : LXXXIXe exposition du Cabinet des dessins, cat. exp. Paris, musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, février-juin 1987, notice 3.
Duclaux Lise, Monnier Geneviève et Petiet Marie-Noëlle (sous la dir. de), Dessins français du XVIIIe siècle : Amis et contemporains de P.-J. Mariette : XXXVIIIe exposition du Cabinet des dessins, cat. exp. Paris, musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1967, notice 1.
Guiffrey Jean et Marcel Pierre, Inventaire général des dessins du musée du Louvre et du musée de Versailles. École française, vol. VII, 1907, notice 5450.
Levey Michael, "A Watteau rediscovered", in Burlington Magazine, n 731, CVI, février 1964, pp. 53-58.
Rosenberg Pierre et Prat Louis-Antoine, Antoine Watteau 1684-1721. Catalogue raisonné des dessins, t. II, Milan, Leonardo Arte, 1996, notice 370.

Technical description

  • Charles de LA FOSSE (Paris, 1636-Paris, 1716)

    Zephyr and Flora

    1715-16

  • Black chalk, red chalk, white highlights, beige-tinted paper

    H. 26 cm; W. 21.6 cm

  • Pierre-Jean Mariette collection; sale, Paris, 1775; Saint-Morys collection; confiscation of émigré property, 1793; given to the Louvre in 1796-97.

    3927429

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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