LE NAIN brothers
(b. 1598/1610, Laon, d. Louis and Antoine: 1648, Mathieu: 1677, Paris)

Peasant Family

c. 1640
Oil on canvas, 113,3 x 159,5 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

This painting is the collective work of Louis and Antoine Le Nain. The three brothers produced their work collectively. This is supported by the fact that they never used any other form of signature but 'Le Nain', as a kind of studio stamp. It explains the existence of complex pictures where brilliant passages of paintings are to be found alongside mediocre areas executed by assistants or pupils. But there are also others of a high level where the brothers worked alone or with each other, without help from outsiders.

The Louvre has two paintings depicting peasant families by Le Nain, one of them is an austere and virile work. This one, however, strikes a note of profound intimacy, a warmth of spirit, like the atmosphere of a domestic festivity.

The general harmony of greys and browns is in keeping with the spirit of austerity reigning in French painting in the time of Louis XIII. Unlike the Flemings, who made their scenes of rustic life an occasion for depicting the unleashing of the coarsest sensual instincts, Louis Le Nain saw in the peasant soul a profound gravity, even solemnity; the expression of a life of toil whose hard realities have bestowed on it a sense of its own dignity. The paint quality is flowing and rich, with touches of impasto used not simply for effect, as in the work of Frans Hals, but giving proof of a sensitive brush, searching out the modelling with attention and feeling.

Several early copies give evidence of the paintings reputation.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.