The Brothers Le Nain Painters of 17th-Century France
The Fine Arts Museums present the first major exhibition in the United States devoted to the Le Nain brothers—Antoine (ca. 1598–1648), Louis (ca. 1600–1648), and Mathieu (1607–1677). Unmarried and childless, the brothers lived and worked together as they produced some of the most enigmatic and arresting paintings of their time.
The exhibition, organized in conjunction with the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, and the Musée du Louvre-Lens, France, brings together more than 40 works from international lenders to highlight the Le Nains’ full range of production, including altarpieces that have never before traveled to the United States, such as Nativity of the Virgin from the Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris. It also displays the private devotional paintings, portraits, and tender images of peasants for which the brothers are best known, including the Museums’ own Peasants before a House, one of the artists’ most accomplished outdoor genre scenes.
Born in the small town of Laon, in the Picardy region of France, the Le Nains were reportedly trained by an unknown artist in their hometown. Little is known about their artistic activity until 1629, when Antoine Le Nain is documented as a painter in the guild of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Recognized by their peers as leaders in the contemporary artistic landscape, all three were elected early members of the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture and counted many distinguished figures among their patrons.
The presentation and its substantial catalogue offer new research concerning the authorship, dating, and meaning of the brothers’ paintings. Anticipating the significance of The Brothers Le Nain, the international art magazine Apollo recently identified it as the “most important and original Old Masters exhibition in the U.S. in 2016.”