This exhibition – presented at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Montreal, the Musée des Beaux Arts in Rennes and the Musée Fabre in Montpellier – presents a selection of 17th-century French paintings from French public collections, continuing a major series of historical retrospectives highlighting the richness and diversity of France's rich provincial art collections. (The Rubens Century, 1977-78; 19th-century French Sculpture, 1986 and The Seicento: the Century of Caravaggio in French Public Collections, 1988-89)
The exhibition highlights the full scope and diversity of French 18th-century painting, exploring a range of themes: successive generations of artists across the century, changes in taste, and the evolution of artistic styles. The mid-century is explored in depth, with the emergence of a remarkable group of painters whose work established France as a leading artistic centre – the virtuoso brilliance of Simon Vouet, the spiritual intensity of Georges de La Tour, the realism of the Le Nain brothers, or the lofty meditations of Nicholas Poussin. Drawing on the remarkable collections of 17th-century paintings in French museums and churches, the exhibition gives a representative panorama of the work of over 70 painters, throughout what became known in France as the Grand Siècle. A great century indeed, best known for the splendours of the Baroque and the excesses of court art, but which also witnessed a flowering of creative expression and diversity throughout the French provinces.