Exhibitions/ Art Object

Gothic Chapel

Charles Marie Bouton (French, Paris 1781–1853 Paris)
Oil on canvas
18 3/8 x 15 1/4 in. (46.7 x 38.7 cm)
Credit Line:
The Whitney Collection, Promised Gift of Wheelock Whitney III, and Purchase, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles S. McVeigh, by exchange, 2003
Accession Number:
Not on view
In 1822 Bouton and Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (inventor of the daguerreotype, an early photographic process) opened the Diorama in Paris. This scenographic entertainment included two enormous canvases, typically with one featuring a natural view and the other an architectural view, illuminated by moving, colored lights. The strikingly realistic effects thrilled audiences. The Diorama was instantly successful and provided a direct context for paintings like this one that Bouton exhibited regularly at the Salon. In the absence of any ostensible narrative, this imagined view induces a romantic sense of yearning that is heightened through the use of deep perspective and crepuscular light.
Bouton trained under the history painter Jacques Louis David, the panorama painter Pierre Prévost, and the landscapist Jean-Victor Bertin. His colleague Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre was also a landscape painter, one with a background in stage design (who later invented the photographic process that bears his name). Bouton and Daguerre contributed lithographs to such publications as Charles Nodier and baron Taylor’s monumental series Voyages pittoresques et romantiques dans l’ancienne France, which began publication in 1820. In July 1822 they embarked on one of the most innovative projects of their time, the Diorama. This scenographic entertainment included two thin canvases, each measuring approximately 46 x 72 feet, typically with one featuring a natural and the other an architectural view, painted in varying degrees of opacity. They were illuminated by a combination of colored theatrical lights and natural light to create uncannily realistic climatic and temporal effects. The Diorama instantly became one of the most popular attractions in Paris and provides a direct context for paintings like this one that Bouton exhibited regularly at the Salon.

This painting relies on pronounced perspective and crepuscular light to convey a romantic effect that displaces narrative content, evoking the spectacle of the Diorama on a small scale. The rediscovery of France’s medieval Gothic heritage following the iconoclasm of the Revolution of 1789 was central to the aesthetic promulgated by the comte de Forbin, director of the Louvre during the Restoration. The lack of a specific literary context for this work—a feature shared by much contemporary landscape and genre painting—was popular with collectors. Pessiot (2011) elucidated how Bouton drew from and combined elements of his own topographical depictions of medieval sites in creating this painting, which is linked iconographically to a closely related group of paintings and prints, including Poète dans une ruine (oil on canvas, 12 7/8 x 9 5/8 in. [32.5 x 24.5 cm], Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen, inv. 2003.5.2), Couvent de Carmes (Rouen) (lithograph; impression at the Musées de la Ville de Rouen, Bibliothèque municipale, Fonds Normand), and Salle de Réfectoire des moines à Caudebec (lithograph, from Douze Intérieurs . . . , Delpech, Paris, 1832).

The early history of Gothic Chapel is untraced, but it bears noting that Bouton exhibited a painting of similar description at the Salon of 1824: Little Ruin with a Landscape in the Background (no. 245, Petite ruine, fond de paysage, present location unknown). Another, Interior of a Gothic Monument with a Landscape in the Background, formed part of the Mainnemare collection (sale, 18 rue de Courcelles, Paris, February 21, 1843, no. 9, Intérieur de monument gothique avec paysage dans le fond, present location unknown).

[Asher Ethan Miller 2013]
[Jacques Fischer-Chantal Kiener, Paris, until 1986; sold on December 10 to Whitney]; Wheelock Whitney III, New York (from 1986)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850," January 22–April 21, 2013, unnumbered cat. (fig. 54).

Marie Pessiot. "Charles-Marie Bouton, variations sur des vues pittoresques: peintures, gravure et diorama." La revue des musées de France / Revue du Louvre no. 1 (February 2011), pp. 79–81, fig. 10 (color), compares this painting to Bouton's "Poète dans un cloître" (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen, inv. 2003.5.2) as well as to lithographs by the artist and to his work as a panorama painter.

Asher Ethan Miller. "The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 70 (Winter 2013), p. 44, fig. 54 (color).

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