Valentin de Boulogne

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51rz3hcpthlLast night, Dale and I were privileged to attend the opening of the Valentin de Boulogne show at the Metropolitan Museum. We were blown away. Neither of us knew the work and were stopped dead in our tracks over and over again. Amazing. My major at Columbia was art history and I’d never heard of VdB — could I have slept through the class?

The good news is that there were very few people on the second floor looking at these epic pictures. Most were downstairs drinking and talking to each other. The bad news is that we’d only budgeted an hour and now we will have to return, maybe more than once.

As we talked to each other we kept saying things like, “Rembrandt could have done this if he painted common people and saints” or “can you believe how fabulous the faces are.” This is an absolute WOW! And this is the kind of show that only a few museums in the world can put together. Lucky us to have the Met in our backyard.

Here’s the Met’s overview of this show:

The greatest French follower of Caravaggio (1571–1610), Valentin de Boulogne (1591–1632) was also one of the outstanding artists in 17th-century Europe. In the years following Caravaggio’s death, he emerged as one of the most original protagonists of the new, naturalistic painting.

This is the first monographic exhibition devoted to Valentin, who is little known because his career was short-lived—he died at age 41—and his works are so rare. Around 60 paintings by Valentin survive, and this exhibition brings together 45 of them, with works coming from Rome, Vienna, Munich, Madrid, London, and Paris. Exceptionally, the Musée du Louvre, which possesses the most important and extensive body of Valentin’s works, is lending all of its paintings by the artist.

Although he is not well known to the general public, Valentin has long been admired by those with a passion for Caravaggesque painting. His work was a reference point for the great realists of the 19th century, from Courbet to Manet, and his startlingly vibrant staging of dramatic events and the deep humanity of his figures, who seem touched by a pervasive melancholy, make his work unforgettable.

Doug Anderson

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