Charles-Joseph Natoire and the Académie de France in Rome

BookCharles-Joseph Natoire and the Académie de France in Rome

Charles-Joseph Natoire and the Académie de France in Rome

A Re-Evaluation

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 2015:04


April 7th, 2015

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In 1752 Charles-Joseph Natoire, then a highly successful painter, assumed the directorship of the prestigious Académie de France in Rome. Twenty-three years later he was removed from office, criticised as being singularly inept. What was the basis for this condemnation that has been perpetuated by historians ever since? Reed Benhamou’s re-evaluation of Natoire’s life and work at the Académie is the first to weigh the prevailing opinion against the historical record.
The accusations made against Charles-Joseph Natoire were many and varied: that his artistic work was increasingly unworthy of serious study; that he demeaned his students; that he was a religious bigot; that he was a fraudulent book-keeper. Benhamou evaluates these and other charges in the light of contemporary correspondences, critics’ assessment of his work, legal briefs, royal accounts and the parallel experiences of his precursors and successors at the Académie. The director’s role is shown to be multifaceted and no director succeeded in every area. What is arresting is why Natoire was singled out as being uniquely weak, uniquely bigoted, uniquely incompetent. The Charles-Joseph Natoire who emerges from this book differs in nearly every respect from the unflattering portrait promulgated by historians and popular media. His increasingly iconoclastic students rebelled against the traditional qualities valued by the French artistic elite; the Académie went underfunded because of the effects of war and a profligate king, and he was caught between two competing institutional regimes. In this book Reed Benhamou not only unravels the myth and reality surrounding Natoire, but also also sheds light on the workings of the institution he served for nearly a quarter of a century.


‘Benhamou’s book […] offer[s] a riveting account of [Natoire’s] downfall and a perceptive analysis of the difficulties and frustrations that he, like his predecessors, encountered as director’ […] It offers a much needed corrective and makes a convincing case for restoring Natoire’s tarnished reputation [...] Benhamou’s meticulously researched, extensively documented study attests to the fundamental value of archival research’.
New Perspectives on the Eighteenth Century

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Title Page4
Copyright Page5
Useful names, dates and events16
Royal art institutions funded and supervised by the Bâtiments du roi16
Académic de France à Rome: directors general, directors, wars and deficits16
Charles-Joseph Natoire: biographical overview18
Note on sources23
I. (1700-1751)26
1. In the bosom of the family (Natoire, 1751)28
My family, always difficult to satisfy and restrain (Natoire, 1752)30
My sister Jeanne (Natoire, 1751)31
My unlucky brother (Natoire, 1753)35
A brother who gives me grief (Natoire, 1762)37
Mybrother the abbé, who is very helpful to me (Natoire, 1772)39
2. His gift for painting (d'Antin, 1723)42
Shows great promise, draws well (Vleughels, 1724)42
The excellent men who fill the Academy (Académic de peinture et de sculpture, 1648)45
3. The brilliant verve of Natoire and Boucher (Locquin, 1912)48
Critics, severe and often outlandish (Natoire, 1755)53
Reduced to decorating overdoors (Natoire, 1747)61
A loving attention (Tosatto, 1998)67
4. Natoire is the most qualified (Tournehem, 1750)72
II. (1752-1777)78
5. It seems necessary to pass some time in Rome (Perrault, 1664)80
Have students copy all that is beautiful in Rome (Colbert, 1673)85
6. A deep understanding of what is required (d'Antin, 1708)90
The shortcomings were infinite (Marigny, 1752)91
A poor eulogy (Guiffrey, 1897)94
7. My position requires it (Natoire, 1755)96
It would be better if it didn't cost so much (Natoire, 1751)101
Never received, only admitted (Guiffrey, 1900)104
8. Completely inadequate for a difficult time (Lecoy, 1874)108
Compel them to be obedient, well-behaved, humble and focused on work (Colbert, 1682)110
I have made myself a little bit hated (Vleughels, 1731)118
He has found the secret of making all the pensionnaires hate him (Cochin, 1765)121
This innovation appears to threaten their self-esteem (Natoire, 1754)125
9. This strayed lamb (Natoire, 1753)130
Unless you want to pass for a heretic (Natoire, 1753)132
Whip in hand (Natoire, 1753)135
Everything stems from this affair (Réponse du sieur Mouton, 1769)141
10. Never a more singular case (Mémoires secrets, 1768)144
We believed him lost (Natoire, 1766)145
I associated only with the French Minims (Mouton, 1769)146
Unsociable and uncompromising (Natoire, 1767)148
'Facts' born of spite (Mémoirepour le sieur Natoire, 1769)153
These assertions are baseless (Mémoire pour le sieur Natoire, 1769)157
We understand Natoire's plan perfectly (Mémoire sur referé, 1769)162
I don't know what to hold on to (Natoire, 1770)164
A troublesome shadow (Worley, 2003)166
11. I've been advancing money to the Academy for a long time (Natoire, 1773)168
Receipts examined. Passed (Comptes des Bâtiments, 1683)170
The Bâtiments cannot cover expenses (Villacerf, 1694)174
We are, in truth, in very difficult times (Marinier, 1706)175
Funds are suspended (Marigny, 1758)180
If you had simply looked (Perier, 1766)183
I have always advanced my own salary (Natoire, 1775)187
Proved by A + B (Alaux, 1933)189
12. I must obey and conform (Natoire, 1775)198
I already have my eye on someone (d'Angiviller, 1775)198
The tears of old age (Huvé, 1775)201
At the edge of his grave (Bernis, 1777)204
Natoire's death aroused little emotion (Caviglia-Brunel, 2012)209
We didn't know him well (Mantz, 1852)213
Appendix 1: Natoire and art (1737-1777)218
Section 1: Natoire on painting (1747)218
Section 2: Natoire and the public (1737-1757)220
Appendix 2: Natoire and money (1752-1777)240
Section 1: Funds received and expended, differences/(deficits) and advances (1752-1775)240
Section 2: 'Observations' January 1773243
Section 3: Choin, 'Comparaison des différentes comptabilités de M. Natoire, Directeur de l'Académie de Rome', 6 February 1773245
Section 4: Cuvilier, 'Comptabilité telle qu'elle devroit être réglée à 5 1. par écu', 20 April 1773247
Section 5: 'Mémoire pour parvenir au règlement des comptes de M. Natoire sur la gestion qu'il a eu de l'Académie de France à Rome', August 1776248
Section 6: 'Rapport en dernière analyse de la question à décider vis-à-vis de M. Natoire', 2 May 1777249
Section 7: 'Comptabilité de M. Natoire, ancien directeur de l'Académie', 2 May 1777251