Although lacking the breadth and depth of their Italian, Dutch, and Flemish counterparts, the Museum’s French and Spanish collections nevertheless feature several outstanding works. The last great figure of Spain’s Golden Age, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, is well represented by his early masterpiece The Blessed Giles before Pope Gregory IX, painted for the Sevillian monastery of San Francisco. The Man Scraping Chocolate, by an as-yet unidentified Spanish artist, provides a look at the production of the “food of the gods” that took Europe by storm in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Spanish collection is particularly strong in still lifes, including a pair of works by Meléndez, another pair by his follower Juan Bautista Romero, and a fine flower-piece by Bartolomé Pérez.
The highlight of the Museum’s 17th-century French paintings is Pierre Mignard’s Christ and the Woman of Samaria, a picture greatly coveted by (but denied to) no less a collector than Louis XIV. The French rococo is better represented by a studio version of Rigaud’s portrait of Louis’s great-grandson Louis XV, still lifes by Chardin and Monnoyer, portraits by Nattier and Vigée Lebrun, a splendid animal piece by Oudry, and three works from the studio of Boucher.
Volaire’s masterful Eruption of Vesuvius, a work commissioned by a British “Grand Tourist,” hangs along with others that would have been coveted by like-minded visitors to Italy.
Rounding out the 18th century is Peyron’s Death Alcestis, an austere neoclassical work that illustrates the political and cultural reaction against the perceived excesses of the exuberant and licentious rococo era. Nineteenth-century French painting was distinguished above all by the varying approaches and responses of France’s artists to the landscape. Jean-François Millet was one of the first artists to paint en plein air (outdoors) and thus exerted considerable influence upon the younger generation of impressionist artists who would revolutionize the art world. Millet’s down-to-earth approach to painting is clearly evident in his Peasant Spreading Manure, which offers the perfect entrée into the collection’s small but choice group of impressionist pictures by Boudin, Pissarro, and Monet.