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France's rebellious romantic.

A first-hand witness of the disruptions caused by the French Revolution and Napoleon's rise to power, Anne-Louis Girodet (1767-1824), an important painter of the French School, is considered one of the pillars of Romanticism's early period, using historical painting to reflect emotions. He also painted many portraits and, in them, made clear his stance on the issues of the day--he spoke out against slavery by painting a portrait a Jean-Baptiste Belley, the black deputy from Santo Domingo; committed himself politically to Napoleon Bonaparte as Emperor; and argued for the Romantic aesthetic in support of his contemporary, the writer Francois-Rene Chateaubriand.

Born into a bourgeois family in Montargis, Girodet became a painter despite his parents' objections. After the death of his father in 1784, he became a student of Jacques-Louis David who, before the Revolution, reinvigorated French painting and established the rules of Neoclassicism. Along with Antoine-Jean Gros and Francois Gerard, Girodet was among David's most celebrated students. He demonstrated an extraordinary talent and was an exceptional draftsman. He quickly grasped the aesthetic and intellectual rules of Neoclassicism, rules he would set out to contravene in his artistic endeavors after the French Revolution.

In 1789, Girodet won the Prix de Rome with his painting, "Joseph Recognized by His Brothers," and thereafter continued to paint in his own way. He set off for Italy to study the great masters of the Renaissance. In 1793, his "Sleep of Endymion," which he sent to the Paris Salon, attracted attention, but his more fluid style and his incorporation of mystery, sensuality, and the irrational marked a divergence from David's Neoclassicism and created a volatile relationship between teacher and pupil.

Girodet also was known for his explosive personality. His portrait of "Mademoiselle Lange as Danae" (1799), a revenge on a courtesan-actress, scandalized the Salon with its satirical sexual references. His lively personality and painterly skill attracted the attention of Napoleon, who appointed him royal portraitist in 1800. His emotional instability drew Girodet to dramatic or violent subjects like "The Apotheosis of French Heroes Who Died for Their Country during the War for Liberty" (1801), "A Scene from a Deluge" (1806), and "The Burial of Atala" (1808), for which he was awarded the Legion of Honour that same year.

In 1810, after Girodet won a major competition, beating David's famous canvas, "The Rape of the Sabine Women," the relationship between the artists deteriorated. After inheriting a fortune in 1812, Girodet produced fewer paintings, shutting himself up in his house to write poems on aesthetics, illustrate books by Virgil and Jean Racine, and translate Greek and Roman authors.

An exhibition currently touring in Canada considers the most significant, intriguing, and contentious aspects of the artist, including the literary sources of his work, his development of new subject matter, and his interest in political issues and the diversity of mankind. It also deals with Girodet's remarkable powers of imagination and his particular attraction to the bizarre.

Among the 130 works in the show are monumental paintings as well as historical scenes and a selection of works on paper. The exhibition is arranged in chronological order, but also explores specific themes, demonstrates the development of an artist whose life was profoundly affected by his ambition to build himself a glorious career, and by the socio-political context of his times, one of the most turbulent periods in European history.

"Girodet: Romantic Rebel" is on , view through Jan. 21 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art.
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Title Annotation:Museums Today - Girodet's art showcased in new exhibition
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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