The BMA’s collection of French painting highlights artistic innovation from the 16th to 19th centuries. Saint Paul Shipwrecked on Malta by Baroque artist Laurent de la Hyre illustrates a rarely depicted biblical story using vivid color and elegantly posed figures. Mid-18th century portraits by artists like Louis Tocqué, François Hubert Drouais, and Jean-Marc Nattier reveal new ways people communicated information about themselves. Some sitters asked artists to show them in scenes that reflected their interests, like Drouais’ Madame du Barry Playing the Guitar; whereas others wanted their likenesses to represent an idea, such as Nattier’s Madame de Frémicourt as Minerva.
Works from the 19th century demonstrate the variety of styles and evolution of ideas that characterize this century of great social and technological change. William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s monumental L’Aurore (Dawn) serves as a textbook example of academic painting. Georges Merle’s The Sorceress reflects Romantic interests in the occult, magic, and non-Western culture. A landscape by Gustave Courbet demonstrates the defining characteristic of Realism: depicting the harsh realities of nature and society without embellishment. Landscapes by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Charles François Daubigny, two leading figures of the Barbizon school, serve as precursors to Impressionism. Paintings by Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro show the Impressionists’ interest in capturing fleeting effects of light on nature.