by Roderick Conway Morris

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Granet's Lost Landscapes

By Roderick Conway Morris
ROME, Italy 28 December 1996
Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence
Portrait of François-Marius Granet by Ingres, 1809



François-Marius Granet (1775-1851) was a pupil of David and friend of Ingres, who painted a striking portrait of his fellow artist, bright-eyed and swathed in a black velvet cloak, sketch-book in hand, against a thunderous sky and a view over the Roman rooftops to the Quirinal Palace.

It is one of over 80 pictures in the enjoyable loan exhibition 'Lost Landscapes: Granet in Rome, 1802-1824', at the American Academy (until Jan. 12, 1997).

Granet made a successful career as a painter of large-scale Salon canvases on historical and religious themes and ended his days as the curator of the Versailles Museum. The works in this exhibition, however, are some of the numerous sketches he did during his extended stay in Rome, many of them in oil on paper (and subsequently mounted on canvas). Granet left them to the museum named after him in his birthplace, Aix-en-Provence, where they have normally been kept in store (though it is quite likely that his fellow citizen Cezanne got to see them).

What makes these pictures so attractive is partly that many of them are not of obvious, major monuments or vistas, but of out-of-the way, forgotten, but highly-atmospheric places. Even when painting the Colosseum, Granet is as like as not to focus on a small area of it, a tranquil, overgrown section of masonry, captured in light and shadow, below an azure sky, flecked with a few white clouds.

Some of the works seem uncannily to presage Cézanne and the Impressionists, an effect owed, almost certainly, not to any direct influence he had on them, but the fact that the artist in these informal works clearly felt free to experiment, take risks and try out different techniques - which, when they came off, produced works of freshness and originality.

The exhibition, as its title promises, is also an inescapably nostalgic experience, evoking a long-lost, romantic city, half town, half country, with swathes of greenery amid the majestic monuments and aromatic shrubs and wild flowers blossoming among the noble ruins, a city of which Granet could write in his memoirs: 'The silence of Rome is so conducive to study that I shall fondly remember it all my life.'

First published: International Herald Tribune

© Roderick Conway Morris 1975-2024