Time, Truth and Justice
Topic: Artist

François Marandet believes that this oil sketch, along with two related works attributed to James Thornhill and in the collection of Manchester Art Gallery, are instead by Louis Chéron. The others are ‘Time, Prudence and Vigilance’ and ‘The Victory of Apollo’.
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This discovery results from Marandet’s research for the upcoming show on Louis Chéron that will take place in the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen. The main points are reiterated here with the author’s permission.

From the time of his arrival in London, in 1693, Louis Chéron occupied a prominent place in English artistic life: the great decorations of Boughton House and Chatsworth, as well as the albums of drawings in the British Museum, bear witness to the quality of his output (see Edward Croft-Murray, ‘Catalogue of British Drawings’, London, 1960, p. 272, nos 1–4). Curiously, these thirty years of artistic production is marked out only by a tiny number of surviving paintings, seven of which date from his long stay in England. Of these, ‘Vulcan catching Mars and Venus in his net’, c.1695, in the Tate collection, is perhaps his best-known work. https://bit.ly/2OJxroN

The Tate painting, a ‘première pensée’ (early idea) for the ceiling of a bedroom at Boughton House, clearly reveals Chéron’s handling at this early stage, permitting us to distinguish it from the oil sketches of the other great history painter on the English scene at that time: James Thornhill (1674–1735). Through a frank opposition of light and darkness and a pronounced sense of anatomy, the volume of forms appears more defined in Chéron than in Thornhill. Particularly revealing in this respect is the body of Venus who is like a wax figurine.

The markedly different style of Thornhill’s ‘modelli’ has prompted Marandet to question why the three oil sketches in the collection of Manchester Art Gallery are classified under his name. Thornhill’s smooth, highly pictorial handling is scarcely in evidence; instead, he argues, the relationship with Louis Chéron is plain to see.

The naked woman – incarnation of Truth – conforms to the figure of Venus as she appears in the Tate canvas, both figures having the appearance of being modelled in wax. This sense of form shows through in the rendering of ‘Prudence’, as it does in the allegorical figures aligned in the foreground of the third oil sketch.

The iconography of the sketches, which has never been clarified, appears to be the cardinal virtues. The series was probably completed by a representation of ‘Temperance’, the fourth cardinal virtue, which was likely presented in a partially rounded format, as a ‘pendant’ to ‘Justice’. The important part given to the sky and the illusionistic foreshortening of the figures suggest that the four compositions were preparatory studies for a ceiling decoration. In the absence of any indication that they were executed, the iconography recalls the painted decoration of Antonio Verrio (c.1639–1707) for the bedroom of Queen Anne at Windsor Castle, where the sovereign appears surrounded by the cardinal virtues. Are we dealing with a project perhaps submitted by Louis Chéron with a view to the same great decorative scheme?

Marion Richards, Art Detective Officer, Entry reviewed by Art UK

3 comments

Kieran Owens,

To put a time-frame on this suggestion, the Stamford Mercury of Thursday 3rd June 1725 reports that on "Wednesday morning died suddenly, Mr. Louis Cheron, a famous painter in Covent Garden, who hath left his maid in money £400, and in goods to the value of about £300 more."

His 'Judgement of Paris' was sold at the auction of the estate of Mrs. B. Briggs of Cawkwell House, near Louth and Horncastle, in January 1858.

Francois Marandet has replied: 'I would just say that all components of Thornhill's sketchy manner can be seen – as if it was signed: the summarized definition of the human body, the kind of poses (quite animated but never brutal), a coherent brushwork, last but not least, the subject-matter: there is almost always an apotheosis (or a triumph) with him. Much has been done on this very period of British art in recent years (articles, restorations, and a symposium). It looks like the gap between Lely and Hogarth is gradually being filled …'

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