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Gillet, Louis

    Image Credit: Wikipedia

    Full Name: Gillet, Louis Marie Pierre Dominique

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 11 December 1876

    Date Died: 01 July 1943

    Place Born: Paris, Île-de-France, France

    Place Died: Paris, Île-de-France, France

    Home Country/ies: France

    Career(s): curators

    Institution(s): Université Laval


    French critic of both classical art and literature throughout Europe. Gillet was born in Paris, France. His parents were third or fourth generation Parisians: his father, Stanislas Gillet (1845-1905), was an automobile manufacturer. His mother was Louise-Victoire Born (1851-1925). Gillet attended the Collège Stanislas de Paris Preparatory school, the largest private school in France, before entering the École normale supérieure, a prestigious graduate school in France. His education coincided with the founding of art history as an academic discipline at the Sorbonne under Henry Lemonnier (and assisted by the young Émile Mâle). Throughout his schooling, he cultivated friendships with writers that later influenced his works, including the poet, Charles Peguy (1873-1914), and the writers Romain Rolland (1866-1944), Paul Claudel (1868-1955), and James Joyce (1882-1941). At the École Gillet pursued a thesis on the history of landscape in painting.

    After his education, he was appointed professor of art history at the Catholic Institute, Paris. He married Suzanne Doumic (1883-1975) whose father was the future publisher of the conservative literary journal Revue des Deux. In 1900, Gilet moved to Germany to lecture on French at the Universität Greifswald (University of Greifswald). By 1904 he was back in Paris, writing criticism for the Revue des Deux, along with his father-in-law. From 1905 onward, his art interests broadened to contemporary art and artists whom he termed “great masters of a dying generation” such as Cézanne, Rodin, and Manet.  His criticism for the Revue des Deux brought him invitations to write at the more respected journals, Revue des Deux Mondes, and the nascent art-history journals Revue d’art and la Revue de l’art ancien et moderne. He moved to Canada where he taught art history at the Université Laval beginning in 1907. However, a caustic review by Gillet in 1911 of a loan exhibition of XVIIth-century French religious painting at the University’s art galleries destroyed Canadian his reputation. (In the article, he wrote: “It is better to have nothing [than the proposed] Musée de Québec preserved in the buildings of Laval University; it’s a worthless cargo.”) (Karel). Gillet was commission to write many articles in English on artists for the Catholic Encyclopedia. He returned to Paris where he became a curator of the recently opened Musée Jacquemart-André in 1913. At the outbreak of World War I he resigned his position to join the French military, serving as an Officer of the Legion of Honor from 1914-1918. After the war he focused on his art book publishing. His 1927 Trois Variations Sur Claude Monet was followed by a 1928 booklet, La Peinture française Moyen Age et Renaissance. In 1929 he was tapped to write the art volume, Histoire Des Arts, for the multi-volume history, Histoire de la nation française, edited by Gabriel Hanotaux (1853-1944). Gillet devoted much of his energies in his later years to researching Chartres Cathedral, publishing La cathédrale de Chartres in 1929. Gillet was elected to the Académie Française on Nov 21, 1935, joining his father-in-law, Rene Doumic (1860-1937). His review of the Goya exhibition in France in 1938 became a clarion in France to save the Prado museum in Madrid from destruction during the Spanish civil war. Gillet died on July 1st, 1943, in Paris, France. He is interred at Père Lachaise Cemetery (59th division). His daughter was the World War II resistance fighter Simone Demangel (1903-1995) and his son the architect Guillaume Gillet (1912-1987).

    Though Gillet was known as a critic, he was regarded as more of an art and literature historian than a critic in his own time, largely for his essays in the Revue des Deux Mondes for over 40 years. At Gillet’s induction into the Académie Française, his colleague, the historian Georges Goyau (1869-1939), declared “There is in you [Gillet] a poet who gives wings to the historian, a poet who knows how to embrace the horizon of history.”

    Selected Bibliography

    • [complete bibliography:] Gillet, Louis. Histoire de l’art français. vol. 2. Paris: Zodiaque, 1977, pp. 401-402;
    • [collected essays:] Eryck de Rubercy, ed. Essais Et conférences Sur L’art: De Giotto à Matisse. Paris: Klincksieck, 2012;
    • Péguy Charles, Jean Tharaud, and Tharaud Jérôme. Les Primitifs français. Contes De La Vierge Jérôme Et Jean Tharaud. Paris, 1904;
    • [example Catholic Encyclopedia entry]. “Filippo Lippi.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910.;
    • “Un projet de musée à Montréal”. La Canadienne. January, 1911, pp. 4-7;
    • Histoire Artistique Des Ordres Mendiants: Essai Sur L’art Religieux Du XIIIe Aud XVIIe siècle. Paris: Flammarion, 1912;
    • La Bataille De Verdun, 1919;
    • Louis De Clermont Tonnerre. Paris: Perrin, 1919;
    • Lectures étrangères: 1.-2. série. Paris: Plon-Nourrit, 1924;
    • Trois Variations Sur Claude Monet. Paris: Librairie Plon, Les Petits-Fils de Plon et Nourrit, 1927;
    • Dans Les Montagnes sacrées; Orta, Varallo, Varese . Paris: Plon, 1928;
    • La Peinture française Moyen Age Et Renaissance. Paris: Vanoest, 1928;
    • “Les Vitraux De Chartres, Ou, La cathédrale enchantée”. L’Illustration. no. 4474 (December 1928), issued separately, Paris: L’Illustration, 1928;
    • Hanotaux, Gabriel, and Piot René. Histoire De La Nation française. Paris: Plon, 1929;
    • Histoire Des Arts. Volume 11 of Hanotaux, Gabriel, ed., Histoire de la nation francaise. Paris: Sté de l’Histoire Nationale, Plon, 1929;
    • Shakespeare. Paris: Grasset, 1931;
    • Watteau, Un Grand maître Du XVIIIe siècle. Paris: Plon, 1943;


    Contributors: Lee Sorensen and Zahra Hassan


    Lee Sorensen and Zahra Hassan. "Gillet, Louis." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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