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Lafenestre, Georges E.

    Full Name: Lafenestre, Georges E.

    Other Names:

    • Georges Edouard Lafenestre

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1837

    Date Died: 1919

    Place Born: Orléans, Centre-Val de Loire, France

    Place Died: Bourg-la-Reine, Île-de-France, France

    Home Country/ies: France

    Career(s): art critics and curators


    Curator at the Louvre; professor of art history; art critic; poet. Lafenestre was born in a wholesale dealer’s family. He attended the Lycée in Orleans and subsequently the Lycée Charlemagne in Paris, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree. Being in poor health, he was discouraged from attending the École normale. After having obtained a second degree of bachelor of law, he did not continue his studies. By that time he was orphaned. In 1859, at age 22, he left Paris and moved to Barbizon, where his nephew, Gaston Lafenestre, introduced him to his circle of artists. Lafenestre soon began to travel abroad, to England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and, most frequently, to Italy, where he thoroughly explored the rich culture of the country. A passionate lover of art and literature, he became an art critic and he began publishing poems. In 1870 he became secretary to the director of the Beaux-Arts administration (Ministère de l’Instruction publique et des Beaux-Arts), and soon, after his marriage, under-manager of the Beaux-Arts bureau. He held this post until 1876. In 1880 he was appointed inspector of the Beaux-Arts and chief commissioner of the French and international Beaux-Arts exhibitions. In France, however, his duties soon diminished, because the Salons became separated from government control from 1881 onwards. From this year until 1885 Lafenestre instead traveled to Vienna, Munich, Amsterdam, and Antwerp, to be present at international exhibitions. In 1885 he published. in the collection of the Bibliothèque de l’Enseignement des Beaux-Arts, La peinture italienne, an overview of Italian painting, from antiquity until the end of the fifteenth century,. In 1886 his career considerably changed when he was appointed adjunct curator at the Louvre, and professor of the history of painting at the École du Louvre. In that year he published a prize winning monograph on Titan, La vie et l’oeuvre de Titien. In 1888 he rose to the rank of curator, a position he held until 1907. In 1889 he in addition became professor of esthetics and of the history of art at the Collège de France. In 1892 he was elected a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts. In the 1890s and early 1900s, in collaboration with Eugène Richtenberger, he published a series of seven catalogs of European painting, La peinture en Europe. In 1904 he was actively involved in the exhibition, “Les Primitifs français”, in collaboration with Henri Bouchot. This exhibition was a patriotic response to the 1902 exhibition held in Bruges, Belgium, of the Flemish Primitives. Lafenestre wrote the introduction of the Paris catalog, and in that same year he also published Les Primitifs à Bruges et à Paris. A monograph on Jean Fouquet followed in 1905, Jehan Fouquet. In 1908, after his retirement, he was appointed curator at the Condé Museum in Chantilly, near Paris. In 1911 he wrote a second history of Italian art, focusing on Saint Francis and Savonarola, who both, in his view, had deeply influenced Italian culture and art, Saint Francois d’Assise et Savonarole, inspirateurs de l’art italien. In 1920, a two-volume album of masterpieces of European painting in the Louvre appeared. Lafenestre was the author of the critical documentation of the paintings in the first volume. The preface, which contains Lafenestre’s biography, is written by Léonce Bénédite, and the introduction by Louis Demonts. Lafenestre’s La Peinture italienne is a well-written art history, in the tradition of Giorgio Vasari, focusing on the artists, their lives and their works. It was one of the early required texts to be listed in the course catalog for the art history classes of Princeton University. In the preface Lafenestre explains that his overview is based on recent studies in the field as well as on his own observations of most of the art works. The book is illustrated with engravings of paintings, including frescoes, some of which nowadays are faded or damaged. In the introduction to the 1904 catalog, Les Primitifs français, Lafenestre pays homage to the national tradition of French painting, tracing its history from the first centuries up to the sixteenth century. He chided, however, “those stupid exaggerations of patriotic vanity” (“…nous voulons, avant tout, nous garder de ces sottes exaggerations de vanité patriotique…”).

    Selected Bibliography

    La Peinture italienne. Paris: A. Quantin, 1885; La vie et l’oeuvre de Titien. Paris: Quantin, 1886; and Richtenberger, Eugène. La peinture en Europe. 1. Le Louvre, 2. Florence, 3. La Belgique, 4. Venise, 5. La Hollande, 6. Rome (Édifices religieux), 7. Rome (Palais et Musées); “Introduction” in Bouchot, Henry and others. Exposition des Primitifs français. Paris: Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1904: pp. i-xxxii; Les Primitifs à Bruges et à Paris, 1900-1902-1904; vieux maîtres de France et des Pays-Bas. Paris: Librairie de l’art ancien et moderne, 1904; Jehan Fouquet. Paris: Librairie de l’art ancien et moderne, 1905; Saint Francois d’Assise et Savonarole, inspirateurs de l’art italien. Paris: Librairie Hachette et Cie, 1911; and Bénédite, Léonce, and Demonts, Louis. Le Louvre, le musée et les chefs d’Åuvre de la peinture/ The Louvre. The Museum and the Masterpieces in Paintings. 1. Paris: Lapina et fils, 1920.


    Haskell, Francis. “Patriotism and the Art Exhibition” in The Ephemeral Museum: Old Master Paintings and the Rise of the Art Exhibition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000, pp. 105-106; [obituary :] S. R. Revue Archéologique 9 (1919): 396; Bénédite, Léonce. “Georges Lafenestre (1857-1919)” in Lafenestre, George. Le Louvre, le musée et les chefs d’Åuvre de la peinture/ The Louvre. The Museum and the Masterpieces in Paintings 1. Paris: Lapina et fils, 1920, pp. 1-34.

    Contributors: Monique Daniels


    Monique Daniels. "Lafenestre, Georges E.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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