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Posted on: 01/Oct/2009

National Gallery exhibition traces neoclassicism in 18th-century French decorative art

Tres chic? At the National Gallery, ‘Le gout a la grecque: The Birth of Neoclassicism in French Art’ showcases works of art as well as personal objects and pieces of furniture. The exhibition presents 150 works, a number of which have come from the Louvre in Paris.

By Nelly Abravanel - Kathimerini


The new season at the National Gallery will be bringing out the fashionable aspects of Greece. The exhibition “Le gout a la grecque: The Birth of Neoclassicism in French Art,” which has just gone on display at the cultural venue in Athens, presents the birth of a whole era.

Visitors can get a taste of the elements and the events that changed French taste at the beginning of the second half of the 18th century. The time span is very specific, given that it was over a period of 25 years during the reign of Louis XV that French art made a decisive turn from rococo to a brand-new style, which eventually led to what today is described as neoclassicism.

The heavy, elaborate rococo decorations had already become tiring, as is attested in academic texts of the time – for instance in the works of Denis Diderot, who campaigned for the return to austerity and to the so-called “Greek” style. The philosophy and sense of aesthetics that accompanied the French Enlightenment, the return to order and rationalism created the intellectual framework for the birth of neoclassicism in French art.

At the same time, excavations conducted in Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy revealed ancient finds that the French considered to be more Greek than Roman. Parisians also became better acquainted with antiquity through travelers’ tales as well as by viewing the acquisitions of leading collectors, which later went into the Louvre’s collection.

As such, the introduction to European neoclassicism is depicted through an exhibition at the National Gallery that makes visitors feel that an entire hall from the Palace of Versailles has been transferred to the center of the capital.

The new style, which was later called “gout a la grecque,” infiltrated various areas, both in art and daily life. That is why the display showcases a variety of works, including vases, trays and even furniture that decorated the apartments of the court elite.

Also part of the new exhibition is a portrait of Louis XV’s last mistress, Madame du Barry, who is portrayed dressed as an ancient Greek woman. Du Barry’s personal objects also decorate the final part of the exhibition and provide insight into the activities of collectors at the time.

The National Gallery, in collaboration with the French Embassy in Athens, presents this development in French art through 150 works that have come to Athens mostly from the Louvre, but also from other museums abroad. The exhibition is co-curated by Marie-Laure de Rochebrune, Nafsika Litsardopoulou and Anny Malama.

National Gallery, 50 Vassileos Constantinou, tel 210.723.5937-8. The exhibition runs 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays & Wednesdays-Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays through January 11, 2010.


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