Nicolas-Marie OZANNE (Brest, 1728 – Paris, 1811)

View of the Port of Brest, seen from the Recouvrance Side

24 x 38.5 cm. (9 716 x 15 18 in.)
c.1790. Pen and brown ink, grey wash, paper enlarged by the artist during execution

• Sale, Paris, year unknown, lot 161 (according to label on verso of mount).
• Sale, Monaco, Sotheby’s, 15 June 1990, lot 68.
• France, Private Collection.

Son of an innkeeper, former cook for the captain of Roquefeuil, Nicolas Ozanne was noticed at a young age for his talent in drawing and his sense of technical and scientific observation. At the age of ten years, he entered into the service of Roblin, master of drawing at the School for the Navy Guards in Brest. In 1743, he became Roblin’s deputy and then replaced him in 1750. He simultaneously took responsibility for training his youngest brother, Pierre, who would also become a Navy draughtsman and engineer. Nicolas Ozanne was only 24 years old when he became involved in the work of the Naval Academy which had just been created in Brest.

The grand reputation of his work won him the favor of the Minister of the Navy, Antoine-Louis Rouillé, and the support of Henri-Louis Duhamel Du Monceau, the General Inspector of the Navy. The commissions he received went from drawing vessels and views of Le Havre commemorating the visit of Louis XV in 1749, to combat views and illustrations of treaties. In 1755, he received a paid leave to be able to accompany Joseph Vernet in his travels for the Ports of France. Twenty years later, it was Ozanne who created a new series of sixty views of the ports of the kingdom.

Appointed Draughtsman of the Navy at Versailles in 1757, and then put in charge of work in the war office of the geographical engineers, Ozanne was soon entrusted with the important mission of educating first the Duke of Burgundy, then the Crown Prince (the future Louis XVI), and his two brothers, the Counts of Provence and of Artois (future Louis XVIII et Charles X, respectively) in naval matters, construction, and navigation. The construction of the flotilla of Versailles and the corvette, the Aurora, for the scientific mission of the Marquesse of Courtanvaux crowned his career as a naval engineer.

Definitively established in Paris in 1765, the artist was busy publishing his works, mainly engraved by his sisters Jeanne-Françoise and Marie-Jeanne. He retired in 1791, after forty-seven years of service, but never stopped drawing until his death in 1811. His work, exclusively graphic, is entirely devoted to the maritime world, where he affirms his conscientious and subtle knowledge. Each of his pages is the faithful expression of something seen and experienced, traced with a sure hand and the didactical sense of a drawing master. Generally in wash, his light, precise, luminous, and elegant drawings were intended mainly to be reproduced in engravings. Some isolated ships may be found, but many of the views are purely decorative, peopled with figures whose pleasing liveliness comes from lessons Ozanne learned from Natoire and Boucher.

It is not by chance that his most inspired compositions concern the port of Brest, his native city, of which he drew all the quays from the cove of the Powder Mill and the Rose Artillery to the mouth of the port, the arsenal, the covered hold, the Pontaniou basins, and the provisions storehouse.

Our drawing can be compared to the View of the Port of Rouen from Upriver conserved in the Museum of Fine Arts in Rouen and dated 1792. Not only does it have the exact same dimensions as our view of Brest, but it is drawn on a sheet of paper glued by the artist himself onto a larger one. The two works also share the same light touch, the broad space reserved for a sky covered with vaporous clouds, and the narrative content. Even if, in the Rouen drawing, it is only an agreeable stroll, the “main subject” of our wash, enveloped in a soft light, is a lot more moving, because it concerns the return of a naval officer welcomed joyfully by his spouse, children, and dog.

Our wash is thus later than the Ports of France series and offers a view from an as yet unpublished angle in Ozanne’s corpus. The artist is situated on the west bank of the Penfeld, at the level of the actual Recouvrance Bridge, in order to be able to include the quay with its houses, the entrance of the river closed by chains, with its merchant ships, sailing barges, and warships, including a demasted vessel, as well as the castle, Vauban’s fortifications, and the mast house. Remarkably precise and nonetheless light, Ozanne’s drawing describes life in a port with a graceful, aerial and deliberately theatrical staging in which everyone –merchant, worker, washerwoman, porter – is occupied. Boats slip along calm water, sea gulls sweep the sky, dogs play, smoke billows out of chimneys while sails and canopies swell under the wind.

Charles AUFFRET, Une famille d’artistes brestois au XVIIIe siècle. Les Ozanne, Rennes, 1891.
Jacques VICHOT, “L’œuvre des Ozanne: essai d’inventaire illustré,” nos 87-102, 1967-1971, especially no 93, 1969, no B2a.

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