26 x 33.5 cm. (10 ¼ x 13 3/16 in.) each
Two oil paintings on canvas forming pendants
One signed lower right on a barrel in the foreground: De Lacroix Roma 17…
• France, Private Collection.
• Florence Ingersoll-Smouse, Joseph Vernet, peintre de marine, 1714-1789: étude critique suivie d’un catalogue raisonné de son œuvre peint, Étienne Bignou, ed. Paris, 1926.
Charles-François Grenier de Lacroix, called Lacroix de Marseille, was a marine painter who enjoyed a great reputation in his lifetime. Inspired by the famous Claude-Joseph Vernet, of whom he was a student under the name of “Della Croce,” Lacroix attracted his own clientele by being very fastidious in his works, and was thus able to prolong his stay in Italy where he remained for about twenty years, although the exact dates have yet to be determined.
Although distanced for a long time from genres in French painting which were glorified, the sea was a subject which fascinated many 18th century artists. In France and Italy, Lacroix depicted most of the ports which he visited. Between dream and reality, he drawing inspiration from known places subtly mixed with inspiration drawn from his own imagination. Thus, most of the artist’s works have never been situated as precise identification of a port is all the more difficult.
In addition to depicting the sea which he loved and knew, rocky coasts are systematically enlivened by figures through a few touches of color, which skillfully lend rhythm to the composition. Poesy naturally emanates from his work, whether a warm sunset or the depiction of a storm which he sublimates through dramatic effects.
Lacroix would, on occasion, produce certain works as pendants. Our two paintings are evidence of this production in their contrast of a calm peaceful sea bathed in sunset, on the one hand, and a violent storm on the other.
The first picture illustrates a port against a mountainous background with a few fishermen going about their work in the foreground. Plunged in the gentle light of the setting sun, the work is situated in Roma. In Italy, the artist could visit the most famous coastal ports, probably that of Genoa as well as those of the Amalfi coast. The fort depicted in mid-ground on the right side of the composition could be compared to the towers of Castel Nuovo in Naples, which had previously attracted his master Joseph Vernet in about 1737 and of which we know a few drawings (ill. 1).
It would seem that this view inspired him, because he depicted it several times, as can be seen in a work in a private collection presenting the same architecture with towers and a similar mast on top of one of them (ill. 2).
Against the same mountainous background, Lacroix depicts a tumultuous sea on the second canvas, in which sinking ships lost among a dark threatening mass of billows are carried away by a howling wind and one of them just smashed against the rocky coast. In the foreground on the left, midst the troubled waves and opaque sky, three men struggle to hold onto a few ropes: a dramatic image which the artist would reproduce several times and broadly used by many 18th century marine painters (ill. 3 & 4).
Midst the debris of drifting shipwrecks, figures struck by the powerful elements flounder, scream and raise their arms as if imploring the heavens. A precursor of the Romantic trend which would enliven the following century, Lacroix uses the unfettered sea to present Nature as insensitive to human suffering.
A subtle balance reigns in these works constructed in homage to the sea which systematically occupies the majority of the composition, and in which human beings, sketched with a few vigorous skillful brushstrokes, only appear to enliven the whole.
With a precise fluid brushstroke, the artist captures the effects of the wind which, on the one hand, carries the birds and blows over the ships coming out of the port, and on the other, surges through the sinking ships’ sails, swells into breakers crashing against the coast, and stretches tree branches silhouetted against the sky.
The modest dimensions of the two canvases bring additional fastidiousness to the work of the artist whose eloquence in coloring lets him faithfully render the changing weather conditions and luminous splendors of the sky opening before him. An attentive observer of the Nature which he loved so much, Lacroix endows the sea with such beautiful radiance that a tragic image of a storm is transformed into something sublime.
Among the many 18th century marine painters, Charles-François Grenier de Lacroix holds a choice place for the remarkable quality and vivaciousness of his works which his mentor Joseph Vernet recognized in him. In fact, a few works signed by the master actually emerged from his student’s skillful brush.
We would like to thank Mr. Jean-Luc Ryaux warmly. After inspecting the works in person, he will include them in his Catalogue raisonné in progress of the works by Lacroix de Marseille.