• The artist’s collection.
• His sale, May 6th, 1824, lot 63: “Beautiful landscape embellished with figures, ten o’clock in the morning. A lake, whose waters arrive in a cascade in the foreground, spreads an agreeable freshness through this picture where the air circulates. On canvas. 28 inches by 22. Framed. ”
• France, Private Collection.
• Certainly the Salon of 1783, no 104, Vue d’un petit Moulin des environs de Saint-Denys, (View of a small Mill near Saint-Denys) “18 inches high by 24 wide.”
The Artist’s Education
Son of a merchant in Versailles, Jean-François Hüe was the protégé of Jacques-Augustin de Silvestre, drawing master to the Children of France. Sent to Paris, he became the student of Gabriel-François Doyen and then Joseph Vernet. Otherwise, he seems to have frequented the studios of Simon-Mathurin Lantara (1729-1778) and the painter of architecture Pierre-Antoine Demachy (1723-1807), known for his views of Paris. The latter presented him at the Academy to be approved in 1780, and the large Moonlight exhibited by Demachy at the Salon of 1783 was painted in collaboration with Hüe (no. 47).
The very particular manner of our painter reflected his various influences. Like Vernet, he liked vast landscapes organized like a theater scene. From Doyen, he held to easy and solid drawing of figures, who were often quite numerous in his compositions. Finally, he shared a taste for light effects with Lantara, while he had both topographical precision in his views, as well as an interest in the surroundings of Paris, in common with Demachy,
Even before his entry into the Academy, Hüe presented two landscapes to Montpellier in 1779. He made his entry into the Salon two years later and was received as a landscape painter in 1782, with The View of a Forest Taken at Fontainebleau as his reception piece. In Rome, where the artist stayed for eighteen months from 1785 to 1786, his art of picturesque landscape was enriched with new effects, ruins, ancient monuments, or waterfalls.
From then on, his work was split between Italianate landscapes inspired by studies realized on site, and seascapes which were either calm or agitated by tempests or storms. His reputation in this genre made it possible for him to obtain the commission from the Constitutant Assembly in 1791 to complete the suite of Ports of France which had been left unfinished by Joseph Vernet. Between 1792 and 1798, Hüe realized six pictures shown in the Salon between 1793 and 1800 (Paris, Musée de la Marine). Under the Empire, even as he continued to exhibit regularly at the Salon until 1822, the artist also received other official commissions, namely for the Gallery of Diana in the Tuileries Palace
A Rare Early Work
Rare evidence of the artist’s beginnings before the Italian picturesque invaded his work, our picture was in all likelihood presented at the Salon of 1783 next to the reception piece, three views in the neighborhood of Montmorency, a “study of a cow after nature,” as well as three other canvases depicting a Setting Sun, Moonlight, and a Storm in the Countryside.
Significantly smaller than the other paintings exhibited and simply entitled, View of a Small Mill in the Surroundings of Saint-Denys, this landscape almost is closer to the 17th century Dutch masters and the gallantry of Fragonard than it is to Vernet. The mill is in fact relegated to the composition’s background, its wheel can be deduced from the foam on the waves that the wheel lifts. In the distance, behind the hill, stretches the plain of Saint Denis, dominated by the Basilica’s towers with the north spire still intact.
The foreground is deep and raised, giving the impression emphasized in the description of our picture by the anonymous author of the sales catalogue after the artist’s death that the “air circulates.” It is a vast clearing near a brook where a country festival is in full swing. The villagers dance enthusiastically to the sound of the violin, discussions are underway, and couples form under the indulgent gaze of the elders. The children have fun: a little boy seems to wish to go fishing, another eats an apple, two companions venture onto the unstable stump which overlooks the little waterfall so as to try to catch the kite caught in the branches of an old oak, while the third, who has climbed high in the tree, tries to untangle the string. The scene teems with details because each figure has his own occupation, a specific pose, all the way to the little figures armed with sticks in the rear left who, in lively activity despite their tiny size, seem to be playing or working.
Landscape Above All
In spite of this overflowing life which could suffice for a genre scene, Hüe’s work remains in the register of landscape. The main part of the picture is occupied by wild trees from the Francilienne countryside and the sky is traversed by majestic clouds. The first, with Lazare Bruandet, to adventure into the depths of the immense rocky mount at Fontainebleau, Hüe was equally one of the pioneers to discover nature in the north of Paris, not as grandiose and intimidating, but no less picturesque. With similar enthusiasm, his observant and light brush describes the rocks of Franchard in a canvas undoubtedly contemporary with ours as it does with the cultivated fields along the banks of the Seine, as well as the beech trees, birches, and poplars in the outskirts of Montmorency and Saint-Denis.
A worthy student of Vernet, Hüe recomposed nature for the best effect, all in remaining surprisingly faithful to the site. Above all, anticipating landscape development in the 19th century, he was committed to rendering the nuances of the sky which pinkened along the horizon, the clarity of the still fresh air once dissipated by the morning fog, the timid sparkle of rays of sunlight still low over the wavelets of water, the infinite variety of greens in the foliage or fleeting shadows in the clouds.
Bibliography of the Work
Emile BELLIER DE LA CHAVIGNERIE, Dictionnaire général des artistes de l’école française, Paris, 1882, p. 785.
Catalogue des tableaux composant le cabinet de feu M. Hüe (Jean-François), peintre du Roi et de l’Académie, Paris, 1824, p. 12, lot 63.