San Francisco, CA
The Fine Arts Museums present the first major exhibition in the United States devoted to the Le Nain brothers—Antoine (ca. 1598–1648), Louis (ca. 1600–1648), and Mathieu (1607–1677). Unmarried and childless, the brothers lived and worked together as they produced some of the most enigmatic and arresting paintings of their time. Anticipating the significance of The Brothers Le Nain, the international art magazine Apollo recently identified it as the “most important and original Old Masters exhibition in the U.S. in 2016."
The exhibition, organized in conjunction with the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, and the Musée du Louvre-Lens, France, brings together more than 50 works from international lenders to highlight the Le Nains’ full range of production, including altarpieces that have never before traveled to the United States, such as Nativity of the Virgin from the Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris. It also displays the private devotional paintings, portraits, and tender images of peasants for which the brothers are best known, including the Museums’ own Peasants before a House, one of the artists’ most accomplished outdoor genre scenes.
Born in the small town of Laon, in the Picardy region of France, the Le Nains’ were reportedly trained by an unknown artist in their hometown, but very little is known about their artistic activity until 1629, when Antoine Le Nain is documented as a painter in the guild of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Recognized by their peers as leaders in the contemporary artistic landscape, all three were elected early members of the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture and counted many distinguished figures among their patrons.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website
Whether you go or not, the exhibition catalog, The Brothers Le Nain: Painters of Seventeenth-Century France, features more than sixty paintings highlighting the artists’ full range of production, including altarpieces, private devotional paintings, portraits, and the poignant images of peasants for which the brothers are best known. In France in the 17th century, the brothers Le Nain painted images of everyday life for which they became posthumously famous. They are celebrated for their depictions of middle-class leisure activities, and particularly for their representations of peasant families, who gaze out at the viewer. The uncompromising naturalism of these compositions, along with their oddly suspended action, imparts a sense of dignity to their subjects. This generously-illustrated volume presents new research concerning the authorship, dating, and meaning of the works by well-known scholars in the field. Also groundbreaking are the results of a technical study of the paintings, which constitutes a major contribution to the scholarship on the Le Nain brothers.