France, Private collection.
Salon of 1795, Paris, no 183, Historic Landscape decorated with Figures.
In the Livret of the 1799 Salon, it is specified that François Nicolas Dupuis was born in Paris and was a student of the history painter Nicolas-Bernard Lépicié (1735-1784). However his very rare paintings would tend to make one think that he learned more from the landscape painter Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes (1750-1819), who had been an academician since 1787. In fact, one of Dupuis’ works recently sold under an attribution to Valenciennes. Like the latter, Dupuis remained an heir to the French tradition of historic landscape handed down through Claude Lorrain, Nicolas Poussin, Joseph Vernet, and Hubert Robert. Similarly to Valenciennes, he adopted a more realistic approach to nature with a poetic vision which helped open the way for Romantic landscapists. Furthermore, like Valenciennes, he imposed a rigorous spatial construct which emphasized depth while simultaneously delighting in atmospheric effects and the warm light of summer evenings in the Roman countryside.
No documentary trace has been found of a voyage to Italy by François Nicolas Dupuis, and it is not outside the realm of possibility that he found his inspiration in the engravings and paintings of artists who had sojourned on the other side of the Alps. His career seems to have actually begun in 1794, with his nomination on April 7th, (Germinal 18, Year II) as second assistant in the Print Department at the Bibliothèque Nationale. The following year, having become Assistant Curator of Prints, he exhibited at the Salon for the first time, where he presented three works: Historic Landscape decorated with Figures (n° 183), A Mother Picking a Flower to Entertain her Child (n° 184), and A Family Scene in a Garden. Small Gouache (n° 185). Not much later, Dupuis was appointed Drawing Professor at the Central School of Eure and Loire County in Chartres, a position which he occupied until 1821, at least according to the 1821 publication of General Statistics of Academies, Libraries…Drawing Schools… in Paris and the Counties with names of the Curators, Directors, Professors, Secretaries, Etc. (p. 207).
From this point on, the artist concentrated on teaching drawing which he considered primordial and only means of creating a link between the trades or between the patron and the one who executed the final work. He defended his ideas in letters which he addressed to the Ministry, as well as in articles which he published in the Journal des sciences, arts et belles-lettres d’Eure-et-Loir. Preoccupied by his duties, Dupuis nonetheless returned to the Salon in 1799 with Psyche Just When She has Received the Dagger and the Lamp from her Sisters (n° 101), and then in 1802 with A View in the Vicinity of Chartres (n°. 96) which demonstrated his interest in painting after Nature.
The landscapist’s relative remoteness from Paris probably explains the rareness of his works. In public collections there are only two Landscapes enlivened with figures clothed in Consulate fashions, one signed Dupuis and the other Francois Dupuis. However what really makes it possible to fully appreciate the art of François Nicolas Dupuis are both the painting from the 1799 Salon, rediscovered two years ago and today in a private collection, plus our panel.
The only extant signed and dated painting by the artist, our landscape undoubtedly was part of the first submission to the Salon of 1795. All aspects of the painting combine to produce a work destined to make the artist known to a demanding Parisian public enamored of novelties. Hence the careful attention to execution and technique, choice and quality of support; the minutiae and profusion of details; the ambitiousness of a composition broadly open to the distance without any verticals apart from the trunks of a few trees by the river; the subtle interplay in space between different planes, reflections, and shadows; the delicate inclusion of mythological themes. Thus, one discovers a sensitive artist who, without the least dryness, has a refined and almost enameled polish. His figures are full of life and testify to his training as a history painter. Above all, the work is imbued with great poetry (and it is known that the painter composed poems) which uses slivers of golden light as if they were a multitude of rhymes singing the tranquillity of an idealized Nature in a time when myths were the reality.
Collection des livrets des anciennes expositions…, Paris, 1871, Salon of 1795.
Jean-François Heim, Philippe Heim et Claire Béraud, Les Salons de Peinture de la Révolution française. 1789-1799, Paris, 1989, p. 201.