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Underappreciated Artists: Jean Paul Laurens

September 29, 2009

During my visit to Paris last month, I had the opportunity to stroll around the Panthéon and admire the murals up close. One in particular took my breath away and I looked closer to see who it was by. The signature it bore was Jean Paul Laurens. I had never heard of this artist before.

A visit with Monsieur Google later, I’d like to share this master with you. He lives from 1838 to 1921. Goodness! He died fairly recently. Let’s think about what was going on in the world during the period he was doing his murals. Why is he so underappreciated?

Tutored by Léon Cogniet and Alexandre Bida,  Laurens was popular during the Napoléon III years but his popularity declined rapidly after the monarchy was overthrown.  Gamboni tells us about a caricature published in a popular magazine at the time (L’Assiette au Beurre) in which Laurens is portrayed holding a lavatory brush and with excrement on the palette.  There’s no mistaking the popular opinion of Laurens at that time. He was just born too late.  His style, mostly historical and classical, did not prevail and Orientalism took over.  (Think Delacroix and his Moroccan paintings: there are a few in the Europe 1850-1950 in the National Gallery of Ireland.)  For the same reason, Bouguereau was shunted out of the annals of Art History. Fortunately these artists are making up for lost time in the hands of the Art Renewal Centre. (

Enough talk and more art:

Les Otages ( Hostages.) 1896

Les Otages ( Hostages.) 1896

La Bas Empire Honorius (The Byzantine Emperor Honorius). 1880

La Bas Empire Honorius (The Byzantine Emperor Honorius). 1880

Aren’t they beautiful?

One more!

He replaced Meissonier in the Fine Arts Academy, moved over to the Academy in Toulouse near where he was born and ended his days in his studio in 1921.

‘Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”. Shelley

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