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French Masterpieces Come to China

A little je ne sais quoi comes to China


French Masterpieces Come to China

A little je ne sais quoi comes to China


In celebration of 50 years of Sino-French diplomatic relations, the National Museum of China is currently holding an exhibition to mark the ninth art festival Sino-French Culture Spring. Running until June 13, The World Of Chinese decided to take a look. Diplomatic relations started in 1964 under the respective presidencies of Charles de Gaulle, and Mao Zedong.

The exhibition, understandably, relied heavily on the relationship between the two countries and showcased ten works of renowned French artists, which were originally shown in French galleries. The works are on loan from the Musee du Louvre, Chateau de Versailles, Musee d’Orsay, Musee Picasso and Centre Pompidou, and the Musee national d’Art moderne.

It’s the first time the five galleries have ever worked together to produce an exhibition of this scale and value overseas.  The Bolt artwork even had to receive the permission and signature of the French president himself. This little piece of France now stands right at the heart of China, and shows the strength of their current relationship. The symbolic pieces were chosen help to represent France’s development, depicting its own history from the Renaissance to the Second World War. Although the stylistic nature of each artist varies dramatically, some focusing on light and dark, color, relations between man and woman, seduction, etc., they all relate in that they showcase France’s illustrious heritage.

Starting with Jean Clouet and the portrait of Francois I of France (borrowed from the Louvre), this unusually large painting is an example of the opulence in renaissance portraiture, with crowns buried in the the deep red background and fine details on Francois’ rather fetching silk gown. His shoulders fill the canvas, representing his manly strength and power. Francois I was a patron of the renaissance in France, often inviting artists such as Leonardo da Vinci to hang out with him; little is known about Clouet with uncertainty over which portraits he actually painted, his own son followed in his footsteps painting many of the royal families’ portraits.


Geroges de La Tor depicts Jesus with his earthly father in the painting St Joseph the Carpenter. Specializing in religious themes and the contrast between light and dark, the piece is full of symbolism from the cross, such as the carpentry tool in Joseph’s hand and the light shining through Jesus’ fingertips. The painting exchanged from the Louvre was painted during the Baroque era and focuses on stillness and simplicity.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Hyacinthe Rigaud’s painting of Louis XIV is one of the most renowned Baroque portraits of the King and focuses on glorifying the monarchy; it was so successful at the time that there two copies were made by Rigaud himself, the first as a gift to Louis’ grandson Philip V King of Spain and the second to remain in his own castle. In the end both remained in Versailles and it is the second painting that is on display in China.  The portrait became the prime example of what a state portrait should. It made Rigaud famous and he went on to complete many portraits for European nobility.


Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Fragonard’s The Bolt is one to get you hot under the collar, and depicts sensuality and seduction between man and woman with the painting capturing the point of no return as they lock the door. In a direct diagonal line is an apple suggesting their actions, like most fun things, are forbidden and scandalous. At this time, and arguably now, France was perceived as a place of loose morals and erotic themes were used by Fragonard throughout his career.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Auguste Renoir was a leader in the Impressionist style of painting, reaching his initial acclaim when six of his paintings were hung in the first impressionist exhibition in 1874. During this period, France was undergoing much change with cabarets, shops and cafes becoming new meeting places; Renoir focused on people enjoying the outdoors ,using light and bright colors to represent the world as he saw it.


Image courtesy of Flickr user wallyg

Picasso, known as one of the most influential artists of all time, is also represented in the gallery. Co-founding the Cubist movement he was a revolutionary 20th century artist and had a very long prolific career, which ranged highly in style; some of his works are highly realistic whereas others such as his African-influenced period were much more experimental, showing the world from different angles. Two of his pieces La Lecture de la Lettre and The Matador are in the exhibit borrowed from Musee Picasso, showing his contrasting styles.



Centre Pompidou, musée national d’Art moderne displays Fernand Leger’s piece in the exhibition. Composition Aux Trois Figures focuses on contrasts in color and form. His art often represents his strong political views; becoming an active part of the French communist party after World War II, his work incorporated more modernistic techniques and elements further into his career.


Pierre Soulages is known as the “painter of black” a key figure of post-war abstract art he uses light reflection and different techniques of painting so that the textures are often rough allowing light to hit in different ways.  He allows people to interpret his art in their own way, not expressing any singular message, they appear simple and he makes subtle changes to the paintings, so they don’t seem like an ominous, monotonous black.


China is now the second largest art market in the world, recently overtaking Europe. With new-found wealth, the upper-classes are only growing in China. Wanting to show off their new wealth, art is quickly becoming the hottest investment on the market. The gallery has had great success and with good reason; not only does it have hugely famous works of art that  many will have very few opportunities to see, but there are also lesser known artists from China too, giving the whole exhibition a certain je ne sais quoi.

Cover image by Steve Johnson from Pexels