Rediscovering the Art of Guillaume Lethiere | Visual Art | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
click to enlarge Rediscovering the Art of Guillaume Lethiere
Guillaume Lethiere, Woman Leaning on a Portfolio, oil oncanvas, circa 1799;

Guillaume Lethiere (1760-1832) was one of the most well-known artists of his generation, making a name for himself painting portraits of the rich and famous in Paris, operating a successful studio that rivalled his peers, and serving in prestigious academic posts across the continent. But the neo-Classicist has slipped off the art world's radar since his death 200 years ago.

Lethiere's canonical fortunes are about to change, however, as he will be the focus of an exhibit examining his life and career at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, this summer. "Guillaume Lethiere" opens June 15 and is on view through October 14. 

click to enlarge Rediscovering the Art of Guillaume Lethiere
Oath of the Ancestors, oil on canvas. circa 1822. From theexhibition “Guillaume Lethiere” at the Clark Art Institute June 15 to October 14.

The first retrospective of its kind, the exhibit was organized in partnership with the Musee du Louvre. Five years in the making, it features over 100 paintings, drawings, and sculpture. Clark Director Olivier Meslay and Deputy Director Esther Bell led the museum's curatorial effort for this exhibit. "Lethiere was one of the most respected painters of his time, yet his influence and achievements are not well known today. His work deserves to be studied and celebrated. We are truly excited to bring his art to light," Bell says.

Lethiere was born in the French colony of Guadeloupe to a white plantation owner and an enslaved woman of mixed race. At age 14, he moved with his father to France, where he trained as an artist and witnessed the French Revolution. A favorite artist of Lucien Bonaparte, Napoleon's brother, Lethiere served as director of the Académie de France in Rome, as a member of the Institut de France, and as a professor at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. A respected teacher, he operated a successful studio that rivaled his contemporaries.

click to enlarge Rediscovering the Art of Guillaume Lethiere
Guillaume Lethière, Venus and Adonis, before 1817, oil on canvas. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen, France, 975.4.179. Photo: Y. Deslandes/Réunion des Musées Métropolitains Rouen Normandie

Communications director Victoria Saltzman explains the partnership between the Clark and the Louvre: "The Louvre generously lent several paintings. The director of the Louvre was very enthusiastic and interested in co-organizing. The exhibition will open in Paris at the Louvre on November 13 after it closes in Williamstown." 

With a permanent collection rooted in French paintings, the Clark often makes connections between its permanent collection and special exhibitions. "When the Clark acquired Lethiere's Brutus Condemning His Sons to Death in 2018, we became deeply immersed in researching Guillaume Lethiere, and our curatorial team recognized that the rich story of his extraordinary career and accomplishments had the potential for being an important exhibition."

click to enlarge Rediscovering the Art of Guillaume Lethiere
Guillaume Lethière, Erminia and the Shepherds, c. 1795, oil on canvas. Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, Mrs. John B. O’Hara Fund, 2013.1.FA. Photo: Courtesy Dallas Museum of Art

It took five years of intensive research in France, North America, and the Caribbean by several members of the curatorial team and the assistance of scholars from around the world to produce the Lethiere exhibit. 

When asked about the significance of the painting featured on the cover, Saltzman says, "Woman Leaning on a Portfolio is among Lethiere's most arresting portraits. It represents Lethiere's stepdaughter, Eugenie Servieres, who, after training in his studio, went on to have a successful career as a professional artist."

click to enlarge Rediscovering the Art of Guillaume Lethiere
Guillaume Lethière, Judgement of Paris, c. 1812, oil on canvas. Private collection

The exhibit does not shy away from the difficult subjects of colonialism and slavery, which are examined with insightful essays by Frederic Regent and Anne LaFont. A 432-page catalog, the first book published on Lethiere, provides an overview of his extraordinary career.

On Saturday, June 15 at 11am, cocurators Esther Bell and Olivier Meslay will discuss their research and the work that went into creating the exhibition.

Event Details

"Guillaume Lethiere"

Through Oct. 15

Clark Art Institute 225 South Street, Williamstown Williamstown

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