Art, Behind the Scenes, Getty Research Institute, Research

Recovering Lost History in Le Brun’s Prints

<em>Crossing of the Granicus</em>, Gérard Audran after Charles Le Brun, 1672. The Getty Research Institute, 2003.PR.33

Crossing of the Granicus, Gérard Audran after Charles Le Brun, 1672. The Getty Research Institute, 2003.PR.33

In 2003 the Getty Research Institute acquired hundreds of 17th-century French prints that had been in the collection of a European noble family. This family had systematically, over hundreds of years, amassed an incredibly important collection of Old Master prints, paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts.

For reasons unknown to me, the family sold its large collection of prints shortly after World War II. Not surprisingly, the works of famous printmakers such as Dürer and Rembrandt were snapped up by dealers and museums; but the so-called “reproductive prints” remained in storage for about 60 years—that is, until I saw them in large old collection of folders on the floor of a preeminent print dealer in Frankfurt, Germany.

I got on my hands and knees, opened up the soiled folders, and saw things that had not been on the art market for a generation or more—including the spectacular prints that are the stars of the current GRI exhibition Printing the Grand Manner: Charles Le Brun and Monumental Prints in the Age of Louis XIV. Each of the images showing the battles of the Emperor Constantine the Great or Alexander the Great is made up of two, three, four, or five large sheets that have to be assembled like a puzzle. That day seven years ago, I covered the gallery floor with huge images that, I would come to learn, played an important but forgotten role in the history of art.

Recovering this lost history, and fostering an appreciation for prints that were once considered among the most important works of art in all of Europe, is one of the goals of the exhibition and the accompanying catalogue, which I co-authored with Christian Michel and Christina Aube. I hope you’ll get to see for yourself these long-forgotten prints in the exhibition, which is on view at the Getty Center through this Sunday, October 17.

Installation view of <em>Printing the Grand Manner: Charles Le Brun and Monumental Prints in the Age of Louis XIV</em>

Installation view of Printing the Grand Manner: Charles Le Brun and Monumental Prints in the Age of Louis XIV

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      It’s been 125 years since Van Gogh’s death, today we celebrate his life’s work.


      5 Ways to See Van Gogh’s Irises

      Through observations, visitor conversations, and some sneaky eavesdropping, we’ve compiled the top 5 ways people enjoy this painting.

      1. In a Crowd
        One of the most obvious ways that people see the painting is in a crowd. The gallery is almost always filled, and you might have to wait before you can get up close. The anticipation builds as you start in the back row, and slowly move until you are close enough to see the brushstrokes of Van Gogh’s thick paint.

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      3. Alone
        If you arrive right at 10 a.m. when the museum opens, the quiet gallery provides a perfect backdrop to really examine the painting. Solitude and seclusion gives the gallery a sense of intimacy. 

      4. Multiple Times
        Repeat visits can give rise to multiple interpretations. Is it a melancholy or joyous painting? Expressive or depressive? 

      5. Internationally
        Visitors from all across the world viewed this famous Van Gogh. In just one hour you can hear multiple languages—French, Italian, Chinese, Korean, German, and more. Irises seems to rise above cultural boundaries—a Dutch painting inspired by Japanese ukiyo-e prints—to strike an emotional resonance amongst all viewers. 

      What is your favorite lens to view Van Gogh’s work through? 

      07/29/15

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