Eugène Carrière
The Painter's Family

The Painter's Family
Eugène Carrière (1849-1906)
The Painter's Family
1893
Oil on canvas
H. 125,5; W. 221,5 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

La famille du peintre [The Painter's Family]


This painting sums up both the life and work of Eugène Carrière. In one huge family portrait, the painter brings together his favourite themes: childhood, maternity and the human figure. Only the right hand side has been left free, allowing a distant view into a sitting room. The composition is original, unaffected, with six faces aligned as if in a frieze, all turned towards the viewer without any attempt to feign conversation or any other such activity. With its monumental format, this painting compares with the large group portraits from the 17th century Dutch tradition.

A great part of Carrière's work was devoted to portraying members of his family. His first submission to the Salon in 1879 was also his first success: a portrait of his wife and his first child (Maternity, Avignon, Musée Calvet). Rarely has the private life of an artist figured so much in his work. In this portrait we can see Carrière's wife, Sophie (1855-1922), with their children, from left to right, Nelly (1886-1971), Lucie (1889-1959), Jean René (1888-1982), Marguerite (1882-1964) and Elise (1878-1968). The character of each model is concentrated in the face, the body having a secondary role. The criticism often levelled at Carrière, of using blurred outlines, wisps of fog or smoke to cover up imperfections, is not justified in this case. A journalist from the Journal des débats said of this painting: "It rather looks as if, having solidly constructed and brilliantly modelled his figures, he then erases or blurs the image to remove anything he considers unduly assertive or harsh". This fine balance of forms and colours gives the portrait its gentleness and, rather than fixing the moment, gives it its feeling of transience.




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