Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy, by François Lemoyne 1737
This allegorical painting is the last masterwork by one of the greatest French eighteenth-century painters, François Lemoyne. The major turning point in the artist’s career was the year 1727 when he took part in a competition organised by the French minister of the Arts, the Duc d’Antin. The aim was to encourage history painting, works depicting historical, mythological or religious scenes that were seen as the most important aspect of painting. Lemoyne shared the first prize with his main rival, Jean-François de Troy (two of de Troy’s works can be seen in the Dining Room). As a consequence, Lemoyne received prominent royal commissions, among them the largest and most important ceiling painting of the period, painted in 1733-1736 for the Salon d’Hercule in Versailles. Because of the great success of this work, Lemoyne was appointed First Painter to the King in 1736.
Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy was painted at the height of Lemoyne’s fame and success. The painter was suffering from severe depression at the time and inexplicably saw himself as the victim of conspiracies by his colleagues. The subject of the painting could refer to this imagined situation: the bearded figure of Time with the scythe is holding up Truth, the nude female figure. Falsehood with the mask and Envy in a greenish skin colour have been pushed to the ground. Immediately after finishing the painting, Lemoyne lost the fight against his mental illness and committed suicide.
The painting is a masterwork in its forceful composition, sculptural quality and complicated but very convincing spatial arrangement. All these features reveal Lemoyne’s careful academic training. Our present exhibition shows examples of the study of the nude model as encouraged and taught at the Academy. These formed the basis for sophisticated compositions like this.
An earlier painting by Lemoyne in the Wallace Collection, Perseus and Andromeda of 1723, is quite different in character, demonstrating how much Lemoyne’s style had developed. Colour and brushwork are more important, the space is less defined and shallow. It was painted shortly after the young Boucher had been Lemoyne’s pupil.
Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy was commissioned by Lemoyne’s greatest private patron, the financier François Berger, for whom Lemoyne had worked since 1721. Berger had also bought Lemoyne’s Perseus and Andromeda. Both paintings passed into the equally prestigious collections of the fermier général Etienne Bouret and of the court banker Jean-Joseph Delaborde. All three collectors had displayed several of Lemoyne’s works as a group, a sign of the great fame of the painter. The painting was probably enlarged by Bouret in c.1757 to form a cycle with larger works by Lemoyne.
4 and 18 October at 1pm by Dr Christoph Vogtherr
Bordeaux, Jean-Luc, François Le Moyne and his generation 1688-1737, Paris 1984, p. 125-126,
Ingamells, John, The Wallace Collection Catalogue of Pictures III: French before 1815, London 1989, pp. 243-248.
Bailey, Colin, “Francois Berger (1684-1747): enlightened patron, benighted impresario”, Curiosité. Etudes d’histoire de l’art en l’honneur d’Antoine Schnapper, Paris 1998, pp. 389-405.