LE NAIN brothers
(b. 1598/1610, Laon, d. Louis and Antoine: 1648, Mathieu: 1677, Paris)
Blacksmith at His Forgec. 1640
Oil on canvas, 69 x 57 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris
The Reims Venus and the Forge are close in style, in the latter the artist simply removed Venus and painted a straightforward genre picture in which he could concentrate on the most sympathetic rendering of men working in a forge.
The smith himself looks towards the spectator as if he has been disturbed by the artist and asked to hold the pose while a photograph is taken. The other figures look in different directions, exactly as a group of people will do today when caught unawares by the camera. Especially perceptive is the depiction of the seated old man on the right - he is staring into space exactly as many old people tend to do, particularly when they are preoccupied with something which is not part of the event in front of them. The gazes of the three children are alert but lacking the concentration of the adults. Thus the painters of this picture have observed, for the first time in French painting, a 'slice of life'.
The depiction of the better-off peasantry is interesting from a sociological point of view because there are so few renderings of that class, but, even more important, it showed that masterpieces could be produced from humble material. This realistic treatment of 'low' subjects was not to be found again in French art until Courbet in the nineteenth century.