• Sale New York, Parke-Bernet Galleries, February 13th, 1958, lot 34
• Sale New York, Parke-Bernet Galleries, October 26th, 1963, lot 279
• Private European Collection.
The last child of the landscape painter Pierre Patel (1605-1676) and Marguerite Verdier, Pierre-Antoine followed in the footsteps of his father and older brother Jacques who disappeared early as the result of a duel. The young artist’s education took place in the family studio where he gave a hand, observed, and then became an assistant to his father to the point of participating in the actual painting of pictures. The year following Pierre’s death, Pierre-Antoine who was twenty-nine years old was received as a master painter in the Academy of Saint Luke which had grown out of the former Parisian guild of painters and sculptors. As opposed to his father who frequented Vouet and Romanelli, he does not seem to have made any friends or associated with the famous artists who could have had a decisive influence on his art or career. Nonetheless, in a notarial act dated 1680, he bears the title “master painter and ordinary painter to the King,” which seems to indicate that he worked for the king.
Patel’s most famous production is the series of Twelve Months of the Year dated 1699 and today scattered among public and private collections. Whether of reduced format or, on the contrary, very large scale, his other paintings include simple pendants and less ambitious series whose themes embrace The Seasons, The Elements, and Moments during the Day. All of his works were intended for a loyal, enlightened essentially Parisian clientele who retained a lively souvenir of Patel the Elder’s limpid art and delighted in Patel the Younger’s poetic compositions. For although he developed a similar genre of Mediterranean landscape garnished with imposing antique ruins and enlivened by a few rare figures, his style was quite distinct from his father’s.
Pierre-Antoine loved the air and sky, and so avoided extending his foliage and architecture all the way to the upper edge of the picture. In his work, the background separates into successive planes framed by twisted tree trunks. The foreground gains depth and becomes filled with sharp rocks and wild vegetation. The rhythms of the entire composition are choppy, whirling, and polyphonic, but details, especially in terms of architectural elements, retreat and blend into light and shadow whose effects resonate in brownish harmonies. Patel the Younger plays with lighting in order to accentuate the unreal, fanciful, and sometimes strange aspects of his compositions. He uses it to define perspective, while guiding the viewer’s gaze among various gestures of the figures or midst crumbling walls of ancient temples and through bluish mountains on the horizon.
A mature work, the landscape we are presenting perfectly illustrates Patel the Younger’s very personal style. The ruined edifice with its massive substructure, vaults, floors, apses, and Corinthian columns evokes at one and the same time Caracalla’s Baths, the house of Augustus, and vestiges of the Forum of Nerva which the artist knew from engravings. Shepherds and travelers seemingly indifferent to the glories of the past inhabit this monumental mineral setting which was created and destroyed by man. The setting sun illuminates the scene from the left, while its rays diagonally traverse arches and vaults in a complex play of chiaroscuro which prevails over the massiveness of the building and halves the foreground pool. Tufted foliage and vegetation which has invaded the ruins are bejeweled with golden reflections or silhouetted against the sky across which a few rare vaporous clouds float high overhead. The composition is off balance: heavy and dark on the left, ethereal and empty on the right, it is penetrated by a warm, theatrical, enchanting light which inspires dreams and was so dear to the artist.
Bibliography of the Work
Natalie COURAL, Les Patel, paysagistes du XVIIe siècle, Paris, 2001, p. 236, cat. PAP 57, ill.
Stephen Donald BORYS, The Splendor of ruins in French landscape painting, 1630-1800, exh. cat. Allen Memorial Art Museum, Ohio, 2005.