Louis Le Nain (born about 1593 – died May 23, 1648) is an outstanding French artist of the first half of the 17th century, the founder of the genre in painting, famous for group portraits and scenes reflecting the way of peasant life. Unlike the biography of Louis Lenin, most of the information from which was lost in the mists of time, the master’s work left a bright mark on world art. His paintings, executed in a realistic manner, combine elements of different styles of that time, combine the accuracy of drawing with an atmosphere of epic tranquility, and touch contemporaries with an almost worldly simplicity and humanity.
Louis Le Nain is the most gifted of the three painting brothers. In creative collaboration with Antoine (Antoine Le Nain; 1597-1648) and Mathieu (Mathieu Le Nain; 1607-1677), he created a number of immortal works. Some of them have become a professional and intellectual challenge for contemporary art critics.
Biography of Louis Le Nain
Louis Le Nain entered the world at the dawn of the 17th century. According to some sources, his birth took place in 1593 in the small town of Laon in northern France. Other sources date the event to 1603. His father, Isaac Le Nain, as a royal sergeant in Picardie, provided the family with a comfortable life among wealthy peasants and winemakers. Love for the native land and rural way of life will be reflected in all subsequent works of the master.
Little is known about Louis Le Nain’s childhood and learning conditions. In the manuscripts of the history of his hometown, dating from 1711-1723, it is only indicated that three brothers learned the craft from a foreign artist. Presumably, he was a Flemish who settled in their city, who had previously adopted the writing style of Pieter Brueghel l’Ancien and David Teniers I (David Teniers l’Ancien). Louis’s early work is close to the Baroque style.
In 1629, Louis moved with his brothers to Paris, where they jointly open an art workshop. The reason for this was the admission of Antoine to the association of painters Saint-Germain-des-Pres (Saint-Germain-des-Pres). By painting portraits of children and adult lords, rural, religious and mythological scenes, the brothers make a favorable impression on the public and receive regular orders. However, they do not have the habit of signing their paintings with names, as a result of which they are perceived by the public as a single whole – the Le Nain family of artists.
In the early 1630s, Louis visited Italy and admired caravaggism, the fashionable trend of the time. Returning to Paris with fresh and vivid impressions, he seeks to synthesize the plots of genre scenes synthetically. Preserving simplicity and unpretentiousness, in the performance of the master, they acquire special significance, picturesque beauty, a kind of solemnity. Compositions become thoughtful, reflecting the contrast of a light airy landscape and tangibly material characters in the foreground. The color palette combines noble gray-brown shades with a predominance of silver-gray and fragmentary bright accents.
In March 1648, the Le Nain brothers become members of the newly founded Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture (L’Academie royale de peinture et de sculpture). Two months later, on May 23, Louis dies, becoming a victim of a plague epidemic. And two days later, for the same reason, his older brother Antoine dies.
The most famous paintings
By the end of the 20th century, art critics managed to share the common heritage of the brothers. Today, the works of the great master adorn museums and galleries under his own name. Here are just a few of Louis Le Nain’s most famous paintings:
La Visite a la grand-mere (1645-1648) – a genre scene in a large farm room with a peasant grandmother hosting guests, illustrates the simplicity of family happiness. For a long time, the painting was in a large private collection of Crozat, a famous financier and art lover. In 1772, on the advice of Denis Diderot, it was bought by Catherine II. It is currently in storage in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
Famille de paysans dans un interieur (1642) – characters of a peasant family in a dark interior gaze intently at the viewer, which creates a strong effect of presence. The painting, recognized as a masterpiece of the master, reflects the virtuoso play of light and shadow, delicate handling of each object, tonal harmony. Part of the collection of the Louvre (Musee du Louvre) in Paris.
La Famille de la laitiere (1641) – the work captures the scene of the farewell of the milkmaid with the family. The woman is already ready to leave – in the far perspective on the left, an even rural landscape stretches right up to the horizon. A saddled donkey, drawn in profile and occupying the central part of the picture, reflects the submissive fate of the characters – the milkmaid herself, with a brass jug on a strap, the eldest teenage son, husband and youngest daughter. The painting took part in the Moscow exhibition of French art in 1955. It is stored in the Hermitage.
Lieu champetre (1640) – a rural landscape with urban buildings in the background painted in the artist’s Paris studio and reflects nostalgia for cute images from childhood. The verified distances between the figures of children and adult peasants, the connection of the earth and the sky, the interconnected planes of the hilly terrain reflect the filigree precision of the composition. The work is on display at the National Gallery of Art.