The Flandrins in the Fondation Custodia

After the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon has spent so many months behind closed doors, their patience has been rewarded with an ambitious exhibition on the Flandrin brothers. Originally from Lyon, Auguste (1804-1842), Hippolyte (1809-1864) and Paul (1811-1902) were major artists of the nineteenth century.

They were eclipsed for many years by the lack of interest that afflicted large swathes of the art of their time; the Flandrin brothers were re-discovered by the public on the occasion of the exhibition held in 1984-85 at the Musée du Luxembourg and in Lyon. The present retrospective showcases the many new discoveries made about the brothers since then, and takes a fresh look at their careers. The choice of Lyon was obvious, given the Flandrins’ loyal attachment to their birthplace, as well as the large reference collection existing in the museum.

The work of the three brothers, whose careers crossed constantly and intertwined, is presented in seven sections, allowing their production to be examined and contextualised. First, the dialogue between the portraits reveals their personalities and the bonds that connect them, then their apprenticeship in Ingres’ studio, their work from live models, their active study of nature in the open air, their large decorative historical projects and finally the heritage of the Flandrin brothers within their close environment, and their influence on the art of our time. The ten drawings and paintings lent on this occasion by the Fondation Custodia all form part of the section devoted to landscape, a genre particularly favoured by the Paris foundation, and especially with regard to the nineteenth century. All the Flandrin paintings owned by the Fondation Custodia are on show in Lyon, but many other pieces and documents produced by the artists remain in Paris.

1. Letter by Hippolyte Flandrin to « Monsieur le Directeur » (non identified), dated 18 April 1855
Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris, inv. no. 1973-A.673

The letters, particularly those of Hippolyte, were the first Flandrin items to enter the collections of the Fondation Custodia in 1960 and the group grew progressively larger until 2017, by which time it numbered about fifty letters (see for example fig. 1, or the article devoted to one of the letters in the E-newsletter of the Fondation Custodia, no. 10, December 2017). There is no doubt that an annotated edition of the whole Flandrin correspondence, in the wake of the various publications by Marie-Madeleine Aubrun, would constitute a valuable resource for art historians.

2. Hippolyte (or Paul?) Flandrin, Presumed portrait of Raymond Balze, 1840
Graphite. – 260 × 193 mm
Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris, inv. no. 2001-T.17

Apart from the portrait presumed to be of Raymond Balze (fig. 2), executed by Hippolyte or Paul Flandrin in 1840, a legacy of the purest tradition of pencil portraiture of their teacher, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, all the Flandrin drawings now in the Fondation Custodia are landscapes. Drawn in pencil, sometimes on blue paper and heightened with white gouache (fig. 3), or delicately painted in watercolour, these views cover all the styles of landscape attempted by the Flandrin brothers. The whole group was acquired by the Fondation Custodia directly from the artists’ family in 1989.

3. Paul(?) Flandrin, Ruins in the Roman Countryside
Graphite and white gouache on blue paper. – 79 × 194 mm
Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, inv. no. 1989-T.27
4. Paul(?) Flandrin, View of the Bay of Gaeta, 1838
Watercolour and graphite. – 69 × 186 mm
Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, inv. no. 1989-T.25
5. Auguste Flandrin, View of The Bay of Naples with the Castel dell’Ovo and Mount Vesuvius, 1838
Watercolour and graphite. – 65 × 133 mm
Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, inv. no. 1989-T.23

The Italian views in watercolour have been chosen to appear in the exhibition in Lyon (fig. 4). These refined, colourful broad landscapes are evidence of the experiments made with this technique by the three brothers during their discovery of Italy (between 1833 and 1835, then in 1837 and 1838) (fig. 5). The difficulty lies in attributing these to any of the three brothers when they are not signed with a first name; the ‘triumvirate’ (as Ingres nicknamed them) were in the habit of working collaboratively.

6. Paul Flandrin, Album containing 33 drawings
Graphite on tracing paper. – 52,9 × 33,5 cm
Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, inv. no. 1996-T.18(1/33)

The collections in the Fondation Custodia also comprise a large group of 33 landscapes by Paul Flandrin: drawings on tracing paper, assembled in an album (fig. 6). All of the drawings are linked to compositions by the artist, and are likely ricordi, souvenirs, of these compositions, carefully kept by Paul. Although the album is a bit faded and time-worn in appearance, it remains an essential study document for this artist’s work. Unfortunately, its fragility and poor state of repair meant that it could not be transported to Lyon.

Paul is also the author of five small paintings on show in Lyon, acquired in 2010 by the Fondation Custodia (fig. 7). They form part of the vast collection of oil studies painted in the open air, especially in Italy, by nineteenth-century European artists and now in the Hôtel Turgot, Paris. The Flandrin paintings are characterised by harmonious simplified patches of colour, used to render – with notable economy of means – the ‘calm, luminous’ Italian landscape so admired by his brother Hippolyte. Pursuing its intense policy of acquiring new works, the Fondation Custodia has this year, 2021, become the owner of a View of Rome, painted in oil on paper by Paul Flandrin (fig. 8). This painting displays a sensitivity to atmospheric effects that is seldom to be found in the artist’s work. With great skill, he has managed to capture the nature of the sky and the diffused yellow light that gradually disperses the mist enveloping Rome in the early morning.

  • 7. Paul Flandrin, Surroundings of Volterra, 1835
    Oil on paper, laid down on cardboard. – 18,6 × 24 cm
    Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris, inv. no. 2013-S.21
  • 8. Paul Flandrin, View of Rome from the Pincio, 1834
    Oil on paper, laid down on canvas. – 18,7 × 27,7 cm
    Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris, inv. no. 2021-S.5

So, a number of the works by the Flandrin brothers in the Fondation Custodia have taken up residence this summer in Lyon. Some of these drawings will be on show in Paris, with others, in the exhibition planned for 2023, French Nineteenth-Century Drawings of the Fondation Custodia. They will be accessible online at that time, on the database of the Fondation Custodia’s collections. For those who find it difficult to wait, it is always possible to come and admire the drawings, paintings and letters in the Hôtel Turgot (by appointment only).