Subscriber content

Noël Coypel, painter of grand decors

All the versions of this article: English , français

«Noël Coypel, peintre de grands décors», Château et Grand Trianon de Versailles, du 26 septembre 2023 au 28 janvier 2024.

«Noël Coypel (1628-1707), peintre du Roi», Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes, du 17 février au 5 mai 2024.

A woman in the sky overturns jars full of crystal-clear water. This is the Dew. Designed for the ceiling of the King’s bedroom in the Tuileries, it heralds what we imagine will be an invigorating awakening (ill. 1). The charm of this painting lies in its relatively rare iconography and its colours, the combination of pink and yellow, blue and duck green. Kept in a private collection, it can currently be seen at Versailles, alongside other paintings also created for the Palais des Tuileries.

1. Noël Coypel (1628-1707)
The Dew, 1667-1668
Oil on canvas - 121.3 x 182.9 cm
Private collection Lynda and Stewart Resnick
Photo: La Tribune de l’Art
See the image in its page

Noël Coypel is thus being honoured thanks to a two-part exhibition, at Versailles today and in Rennes in February, curated by Béatrice Sarrazin and Guillaume Kazerouni. Let’s be blunt: it’s essential to see both parts. Versailles focuses on Coypel’s major decors, with a tour that begins at the Grand Trianon and ends at the château, in the Queen’s Grand Apartment, while the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rennes, Musée des Beaux-Arts will be tracing the master’s entire career, from his early days working alongside Charles Errard to the Salons of 1699 and 1704, via religious works, tapestries and, of course, decors.

We had to wait until 2023 for the first monographic exhibition devoted to Noël Coypel. So why was this major painter of the Grand Siècle overlooked and relegated to second place in art history? Although he died at the age of seventy-nine, he enjoyed a long and brilliant career that more or less corresponded to the reign of Louis XIV. He was admitted to the Académie royale in 1663, and was subsequently appointed professor and then director in 1695, after having directed the Académie de France in Rome. He was privileged to have a studio at the Louvre and took part in the most prestigious projects, decorating royal residences as well as civil and religious monuments. Finally, he was at the origin of a dynasty of great painters, father of Antoine and Noël-Nicolas, grandfather of Charles-Antoine. In short, he can hardly be classed as a minor master.

It is no doubt for all these reasons that he was neglected, drowned in the crowd. A proponent of drawing in the Coloris quarrel, influenced by the art of Poussin and by Atticism, he was overtaken by the younger generation at the end of his long life. As Laurent Salomé reminds us, "classical, but gallant, eloquent in a whisper". What’s more, the king’s decorators often took a back seat to the monumental result of their collective work, and to the coordinator of the whole, who for a long time was Charles Le Brun, the king’s painter. Finally, his sons and grandsons in turn made their mark on the artistic scene, so much so that the first names of the Coypel family blended together.
His life is another reminder that great artists are not pure spirits concerned only with beauty. They are also driven by ambition. Coypel had to…

To access this content, you must subscribe to The Art Tribune. The advantages and conditions of this subscription, which will also allow you to support The Art Tribune, are described on the subscription page. If you would like to test the subscription, you can subscribe for one month (at €8) and if you don’t like it, you can send us an e-mail asking us to unsubscribe you (at least ten days before the next direct debit).

If you are already a subscriber, sign in using this form.

Your comments

In order to be able to discuss articles and read the contributions of other subscribers, you must subscribe to The Art Tribune. The advantages and conditions of this subscription, which will also allow you to support The Art Tribune, are described on the subscription page.

If you are already a subscriber, sign in.