Observations sur le Muséum National, par le Citoyen Le Brun, Peintre, et Marchand de Tableaux; Pour Servir de suite aux Réflexions qu’il a déjà publiées sur le même objet.

16 pp. 8vo (196 x 127 mm.), 19th-century marbled boards (spine a little defective). Paris: Charon, 1793.

[bound with]:

—. Quelques Idées sur la Disposition, L’Arrangement et la Décoration du Museum national… Two folding engraved plates. 30 pp. 8vo. Paris: Didot jeune, An III [1794/95].

First and only editions of two of Lebrun’s rare polemical pamphlets critiquing the direction of the Louvre. Lebrun (1748-1813), the prominent Parisian art dealer, leading connoisseur of Dutch and Flemish art, and husband of the court painter Vigée Lebrun, played an outsized role in the creation of the Louvre. He was essential in the compilation of desiderata lists for the French confiscations of art in conquered territories throughout Europe. Once the artworks arrived in Paris, Lebrun was charged with their cataloguing and integration. Beginning in 1793, Lebrun launched a series of treatises regarding the arts and the values a great national museum should maintain; these pamphlets are all very rare.

I. A remarkable work, which resulted in the public humiliation of the administrators of the Louvre. Lebrun thereby insinuated himself into the planning for the new Revolutionary national museum. The scholar of 18th-century art history Charlotte Guichard contends that Lebrun’s contribution to the creation of the Louvre remains grossly underappreciated — she calls him the “eye of the Louvre” — and that historians have focused too much on Baron Denon, who was appointed museum director in 1802.

Guichard writes about the present pamphlet (p. 5, in trans.): “In his Observations… which he published in response to [the Louvre’s exhibition catalogue], the art dealer Lebrun forcefully contested the connoisseurship of the artists called to inventory the works and to direct the [Muséum national]. For this, he publicly prepared in his pamphlet a list of forty errors in attribution, mix-ups between copies and originals, paintings by a workshop, and autographed works…Faced with such a public presentation, the minister of the interior, despite the repeated repudiations of the artists of the Commission, was forced to entrust the first inventory of the Muséum national to the most famous dealer of the reign of Louis XVI, compiled in November 1793 and counter-signed by the artists that [Lebrun] had just publically shamed.”

II. This work presents Lebrun’s vision for the rooms of the Louvre and their organization. He even elaborates with precise measurements and the arrangement of specific genres of art. Of particular interest is Lebrun’s focus on the conservation of paintings, for which he designates a large department composed of three divisions. He lays out a system by which the Louvre’s masterpieces can be carefully conserved and “the French republic will have beaten time and the seasons to benefit monuments which must be immortal like the name of their creators” (Lebrun, p. 25). The two engraved plates illustrate two of Lebrun’s proposals for the design of the museum’s entrance facade.

Both works are in excellent condition. Two fascinating and scarce pamphlets by the renowned art dealer who was intent on leaving his imprint on the Louvre.

❧ D. Speith, Revolutionary Paris and the Market for Netherlandish Art (2018), p. 214. See C. Guichard, “Le Marché au Coeur de l’Invention Muséale?: Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Lebrun au Louvre (1792-1802),” in Revue de synthèse, no. 2011-1, pp. 93-118. N. Etienne, ed., The Restoration of Paintings in Paris, 1750-1815 (2017), p. 58.

Price: $3,500.00

Item ID: 6949