The Brothers Le Nain: Painters of Seventeenth-Century France

By C. D. Dickerson III, Esther Bell, Claire Barry, Emerson Bowyer, Elise Effmann Clifford, Don H. Johnson, Frédérique Lanoë, et al.

Active in Paris during the 1630s and 1640s, the brothers Antoine (ca. 1598–1648), Louis (ca. 1600/1605–1648), and Mathieu (ca. 1607–1677) Le Nain created some of the most beautiful and enigmatic works of art in history. Painters of altarpieces, portraits, and allegories, they are most renowned for their mysterious scenes of peasants. Despite the brothers’ immense talents and extraordinary imaginations, they remain largely unknown today. Many important details of their lives and work continue to elude historians, just as they did in the nineteenth century, when the Le Nains first became the subject of scholarly inquiry.

The essays in this book address many of the questions that surround the brothers, including: Where and with whom did they train? What inspired them to undertake their paintings of the poor? Who were their clients and patrons? Perhaps the greatest riddle, however, is that of determining which brother created which painting or whether their practice was one of collaboration.

Featuring a catalogue of sixty-five of their best works with a diagram comparing their stylistic qualities, extensive entries, and lavish details, The Brothers Le Nain: Painters of Seventeenth-Century France presents new scholarship concerning the authorship, dating, and meaning of their art. Supplementing discussion of the works are the results of a systematic technical study of the paintings and new findings from seventeenth-century documents, which are offered here for the first time.

Published on the occasion of the first full-scale exhibition on the Le Nains in the United States, co-organized by the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, this is the first volume in the English language to offer a comprehensive assessment of these masterful and mysterious artists.


C. D. Dickerson III is curator and head of sculpture and decorative arts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and he is the former curator of European art at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

Esther Bell is curator in charge of European paintings at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Claire Barry is director of paintings conservation at the Kimbell Art Museum.

Emerson Bowyer is an independent art historian and former research assistant at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Elise Effmann Clifford is head paintings conservator at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Don H. Johnson is professor emeritus in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rice University in Houston and head of the Thread Count Automation Project.

Frédérique Lanoë is an art historian and instructor at the Manufacture des Gobelins in Paris.

Nicolas Milovanovic is curator of seventeenth-century French paintings at the Musée du Louvre in Paris.

Alain Tallon is professor and chair of the History Department at the Université Paris–Sorbonne.

Colin B. Bailey is director of The Morgan Library & Museum in New York.

Pierre Rosenberg is a member of the Académie française and honorary president-director of the Musée du Louvre.

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