Dimensions with frame: 81 x 71 cm. (31 7⁄8 x 27 15⁄16 in.)
• France, Private Collection.
"M. Ricquier has color, drawing and an excellent touch." André Van Hasselt, 1841.
Louis Ricquier was one of the most important Belgian history painters in the first half of the 19th century. Originally from Antwerp, he studied at the Royal Academy in his native city under the direction of Mathieu-Ignace Van Bree (1773-1839) and carried off two first prizes. In 1812, in the wake of his elders – his master Van Bree, laureate of the second Prix de Rome in 1797; the painter from Bruges, Joseph-Benoît Suvée, Director of the French Academy in Rome; François-Joseph Kinson; and even the sculptor from Liege, Henri-Joseph Rutwhiel – and taking advantage of the French annexation of his country which had been in effect for almost 20 years, the young artist went to Paris. There, Ricquier met up with Philippe Van Bree (1787-1871), the younger brother of his teacher. The following year, he exhibited a large picture painted in Paris at the Antwerp Salon, Androcles Pulling a Thorn from the Lion’s Paw. He participated in the same Salon again in 1816, just after the fall of the Empire and the creation of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. The artist chose an original subject, Fernand Cortès triumphing over Montezuma.
The support offered to Belgian artists by William II, who was anxious to develop the arts, made it possible for the painter to accompany his friend, Philippe Van Bree, on a three year trip to Italy. Leaving in 1816, the young enthusiastic men visited Florence, Rome, and Naples, while filling up sketchbooks and immersing themselves in the hot Transalpine light.
Back from Italy, Ricquier participated regularly in the Salons of Ghent, Amsterdam, and Brussels with “troubadour” works which stage figures from the Flemish Renaissance and the Golden Century: Rubens, Van Dyck, Admiral Bloys van Treslong, Jacqueline of Bavaria, or the Prince of Orange. For all of that, he didn’t forsake Paris, where he exhibited a Subject from the History of Christopher Columbus in the Salon of 1822. In the French capital in 1824, he married Marie-Catherine-Theresa Van Bree, sister of Mathieu-Ignace and Philippe. The couple ended up settling definitively on rue Saint-Lazare shortly before 1840.
Founded during the Revolution of 1830, the young Belgian State wanted to affirm its identity by exploiting its historical tradition and encouraging painters to draw their subjects from Flanders’ glorious past. At the Salon of Brussels in 1830, the Capitulation of the Burgomaster Van der Werff by Gustave Wappers, also a student of Mathieu-Ignace Van Bree, caused a sensation. In contrast to his compatriots, Ricquier abandoned historical themes and turned to renew his inspiration under the sun of Naples. The works he sent to the Parisian Salon of 1833 included no less than seven paintings of Campania landscapes and genre scenes sub-titled “Costumes of Italy” (nos 2012-2018). One of them, A Family of Brigands which bears a lot of affinity with our work, won him a second class medal. It was acquired by the Brussels Museum of Fine Arts (inv. 157, oil on wood, 50 x 42 cm / 19 11/16 x 16 9/16 in.). From then on, Ricquier continued to pursue Italian themes: he exhibited Neopolitan Fishermen, View of the Golf of Salerno taken from Vietri in the Salon of 1849 (no 1741) and a View taken in Naples at the Salon of Lyon in 1852 (no 342).
Like his contemporaries Louis-Leopold Robert, Victor Schnetz, and Guillaume Bodinier, Ricquier found subjects of daily life, figures of brigands, and Italian peasants to be picturesque with a Romanticism and “mystic savagery full of originality,” similar to that mentioned by Berlioz during a trip to Rome in 1831 when he described his fascination for the pifferari in the Abbruzzo.
Riquier’s Italianizing pictures, including our Italian Family, are generally small scale and painted on wood whose smooth surface is ideally suited to his minute brushstroke and enameled detailed technique inherited from 17th century masters. In keeping with his “troubadour” paintings, the compositions are static and figures, though modest, display elegant movements, restrained gestures, and interiorized expressions like the ladies and knights of the past. The painter finds pleasure in tranquil contemplation of his protagonists and admiring description of their sophisticated and motley costumes.
Our panel centers on a family taking advantage of a soft summer evening on a terrace overlooking a narrow valley, with proud fortified villages dominating the landscape from high on their hills. The stone pillars and grape-draped trellis form a frame inside the picture which celebrates the simple family happiness of a peasant couple with their two boys and a dog. The setting sun envelops them in golden reflections, traverses their fine fabrics, sparkles across the satin stripes of the apron or silver buckles, and fills the scene with nostalgic poignant poetry.
General Bibliography (Unpublished Work)
Patrick et Viviane Berko, Dictionnaire des peintres belges nés entre 1750 & 1875, Brussels, Laconti, 1981.