FIRST PAINTER TO KING LOUIS XIV
Charles LeBrun (1619 -1690)
First Painter to King Louis XIV
The seventeenth century was a seminal period in the development of French culture. It was also the century of the Sun King , a monarch with categorically extravagant tastes who spent a considerable fortune surrounding himself with outstanding artists who he used for his own glorification. In so doing he acquired exclusive rights to a First Painter who was a match for the grandeur of his aspirations. Charles LeBrun became the all-powerful, peerless master of seventeenth century French art. Never in the history of French painting had an artist known such resplendent glory. The goal of satisfying a king whose grandiose dreams surpassed both the imagination and the budget proved nearly impossible. Poussin rejected the challenge; Le Brun accepted it and succeeded. The list of his magnificent achievements is impressive indeed. He was responsible for the decoration of the châteaux of Versailles, Vaux, and Hesselin, the council apartments in the Louvre, and numerous churches. He founded the Royal Academy of Painting, the French Academy in Rome, and the great academic schools. Artists and artisans vied for the honour of working with him and basking in his glory. Early in his career he produced works for Louis XIII, Pope Urban VIIl and the Queen Mother Anne of Austria. He later became Chancellor for Life of the Académie de France., Rector in Perpetuity of the Royal Academy, as well as co-founder and Director of the Gobelins tapestry works. He was given titles of Nobility by the King's court and became a Member of the Académie St. Luc in Rome; he was subsequently elected Prince in Rome, named to the Academy of Architecture and appointed Official Custodian of the King's paintings. He was the originator of the style known as Louis XIV and a staunch promoter of academicism. His approach consisted first and foremost of a highly intellectual and spiritual quest. He was not fond of portrait or landscape painting, which he felt to be a mere exercise in developing technical prowess. What mattered was scholarly composition, whose ultimate goal was to nourish the spirit.