1700/30 Marseille – 1782 Berlin
Paire of tondi in oil on copper
16 cm diameter each
Despite a large number of known by this artist works, the life of Charles-François Grenier de Lacroix is very little documented. He owes his nickname "Lacroix de Marseille" to his birthplace, which is dated between 1700 and 1730. His lifeline is not easy to trace: he travels between Marseilles, Avignon, Nîmes and Paris, and returns to Italy several times. A pair of marines, signed and dated 1743, offer a first trace of his activity. His paintings bearing the mention "Roma" ranged between 1750 and 1763. During his stay in the eternal city, Lacroix de Marseille imitated and reproduced the fancy views of Joseph Vernet, as attested by four copies dated 1751 according to works of the master, now preserved at Uppark House in Sussex (Fig. 1).
He perfectly assimilates the techniques of Vernet, his vedute competing with the best examples of the genre. After the departure of his mentor in 1753, his signature, "Della Croce", began to appear on most of his works. Not benefiting as Vernet from the protection of the Academy of France, he must make a living by responding to assignements from a clientele visiting Rome.
In 1757, we find the painter in Naples. Fascinated by the volcanic eruptions of Vesuvius, which experienced intense activity in the 18th century, he immortalized, in many paintings, this extraordinary natural phenomenon: like a whole generation of artists, Lacroix de Marseille pays particular attention to violent manifestations of nature, such as storms and fires (Fig. 2). Back in France, he exhibited at the Salon du Colisée in 1776 and the Salon de la Correspondance in 1780 and 1782. The notoriety of the painter is attested by the many engravings made from his works by Le Mire and Le Veau.
Lacroix de Marseille mainly produces small marines or whimsical landscapes of reduced size, often presented in pairs (Fig. 3). Our two small copper tondi are typical of his production. These caprices were probably painted in France, in the 1770s, from memory. The artist continues to exploit this Italian vein on his return. Indeed, they can be compared to a series of imaginary views, inspired by his stay in the peninsula, dating from 1775-1777 (Fig. 4).
The waterfall surmounted by a circular temple in ruins in our composition on the left recalls the site of Tivoli. Lacroix evokes a place that has fascinated all the painters of the 18th century: Vanvitelli, Boucher, Fragonard and Hubert Robert succeeded each other around the same motif. But it is Joseph Vernet who must be regarded as one of the most avid Tivoli enthusiasts. The painter has provided an international clientele with souvenirs of the most popular sites such as the famous "Cascatelles" which he has reproduced nearly forty times.
Following his master, Lacroix has staked his Italian journey of places illustrating the notions of the picturesque and sublime, which are so many models for his paintings - demanded by aristocrats wanting to keep a memory of the Grand Tour. Long after his return from Rome, the painter continues to take advantage of the richness of these motifs, while taking a certain liberty towards reality, the temple of the Sybille being placed, sometimes on the right (Fig. 4), sometimes on the left in his compositions (cf our copper).
Not satisfied with "competing with nature", Lacroix de Marseille, like Vernet, constantly animated his landscapes with graceful figures. He introduces subjects of everyday life in the manner of Bamboccianti: fishermen pulling their nets, young women dancing and peasants passing by with a loaded mule evoke the perpetuity of life in an idyllic site punctuated by factories and ancient monuments. The painter combines the majesty of a framework of ruins with the simplicity of the new life. He represents his characters in stereotypical attitudes, which he invariably repeats over the course of his career and which are in a way his signature.
One can not fail to admire, in our charming paintings, the mastery of space, the round format of the brass being intelligently exploited by the artist. The trees with thin and sinuous trunks in the foreground, patterns recurring at Lacroix work, delicately follow the curve of the supports. The two pendants are composed in a symmetrical way, the painter favoring for each a balanced game of lines: the architectures, the animated streams and the rocks are arranged so as to arrange pleasant escapades towards the distance.
Lacroix de Marseille borrows the effects of atmospheres from the master of Avignon. It translates, with clear and transparent shades, the enveloping light of Italy. This sense of colour harmony and this refinement of the touch give his landscapes a pre-romantic feeling. One can easily understand the craze of the contemporaries for this type of picturesque views, the latter having been seduced, like the merchant Lebrun, by "the easy execution and the pleasant colour" of the poetic visions of Lacroix de Marseille.
Private collection France
Fig. 1 : Charles François Lacroix de Marseille d’après Joseph Vernet, Scène de port, le soir, 1751
Oil on copper, 97,8 x 137,2 cm
Uppark House and Garden, West Sussex.
Fig . 2 : Charles François Lacroix de Marseille, La Vésuve en éruption, Signé et daté « Croix/1761 »
Oil on copper, 75 x 134,8 cm,
Fig. 3 : Charles François Lacroix de Marseille, Paysage à la cascade et Marine,
huiles sur cuivre, 17 x 12 cm
Fig. 4 : Charles François Lacroix de Marseille, Paysages italiens avec des personnages pêchant près de cascades,
huiles sur toiles, 48,2 x 31 cm chacune,
signées et datées, sur l’une : « De Lacroix / 1775, et sur l’autre : « De Lacroix / 1774 »,