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On View: Meynier Paintings, Gallery 201

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On View: Meynier Paintings, Gallery 201

A suite of five vivid, larger-than-life paintings in Gallery 201 may have caught your eye as you entered from the south door during the Solstice party—2003.6.1 (Polyhymnia, Muse of Eloquence) through 2003.6.5 (Clio, Muse of History)—all painted by artist Charles Meynier between 1798 and 1800.

You’ll notice that they hang in reference to our Jacques Louis David painting of Cupid and Psyche- David, in the end, was a much more famous artist than Meynier, but this suite of paintings should be noted for several reasons.

One- they remained intact as a group. This is HUGE in the grand scheme of art history! The patron was a rich businessman who wanted the series to decorate his home in Toulouse. In the early 1800s a new collector relocated them to a fine schloss in Switzerland, where they decorated the home until purchased by the museum in 2003. As Apollo had nine muses, that would suggest a complete cycle might be ten paintings; but only five were completed—it is thought that the original patron went bankrupt before more could be created. A note about the overall composition—see how Apollo marks the central focal point overall, while the paintings on the left (Polyhymnia, Muse of Eloquence, 2003.6.1) and right (Calliope, Muse of Epic Poetry, 2003.6.4) with their poses and gestures form endi!

ng parentheses to the composition—(like this)? That reinforces the notion that the suite is entirely complete today.

Two- while the overall intent is decorative, the details are phenomenal. I would argue that Meynier is an excellent colorist. This became apparent once Paintings Conservator Dean Yoder cleaned off the surface layers of aged varnish—see the change as the brownish veil is removed?

Detail: Erato, Muse of Lyrical Poetry, 2003.6.2

The flesh tones are lovely! Other paintings employ the use of complementary colors to add greater vibrancy to the final effect (orange and blue on 2003.6.1, Polyhymnia, Muse of Eloquence and yellow and purple on 2003.6.5, Clio, Muse of History.)

Three- Their current state is amazing—a five-year labor of love by our Paintings Conservator, Dean Yoder. In addition the varnish removal, they required canvas re-stretching, in-painting to lessen the visual effect of tiny cracks all over the surface, and restoration of the gilding on the frames (which are original.) Many aspects of the restoration are documented on Conservation’s page on our Website.

-- Alicia Garr

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