Francois Flameng—Interpreter of Beauty

Beautiful places, beautiful people, beautiful clothes—Francois Flameng loved to paint them all.

Born in an art studio in Paris in 1856, Flameng may have known from an early age that he was destined to be an artist.

Indeed, in many ways, he had everything going for him.

Paris was the center of the art world and his father was a celebrated engraver who had once wished to be a painter.

All of his father’s regrets were channeled into making his son a success.

Specializing in history painting and portraiture, Francois Flameng became a professor at the Académie des Beaux-Arts—the premier institution of fine art in France.

If you’d like to add a little atmosphere as we view a gallery of Flameng’s work, press play.

Napoleon I and the King of Rome at Saint-Cloud in 1811 by Francois Flameng
Napoleon I and the King of Rome at Saint-Cloud in 1811 by Francois Flameng
Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna by Francois Flameng, 1898
Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna by Francois Flameng, 1898

Many of his studies in Italy are rich in architectural detail in the most vivid light and color.

The Carnival in Venice by Francois Flameng
The Carnival in Venice by Francois Flameng
Ile Pointeaux by Francois Flameng
Ile Pointeaux by Francois Flameng
Equestrienne Au Cirque Fernando by Francois Flameng - c. 1890
Equestrienne Au Cirque Fernando by Francois Flameng – c. 1890
Intelligence by Francois Flameng
Intelligence by Francois Flameng
Reception at Malmaison in 1802 by Francois Flameng, c.1894
Reception at Malmaison in 1802 by Francois Flameng, c.1894
A Concert in Versailles by Francois Flameng
A Concert in Versailles by Francois Flameng
Napoleon I and the King of Rome at Saint-Cloud by Francois Flameng, 1896
Napoleon I and the King of Rome at Saint-Cloud by Francois Flameng, 1896
Portrait of a Lady by Francois Flameng
Portrait of a Lady by Francois Flameng

Flameng would often use a camera lucida to create an optical superimposition of his subject.

Allowing him to duplicate key points of the scene on the drawing surface, it would aid in the accurate rendering of perspective.

How a camera lucida device is used to help with drawing composition
How a camera lucida device is used to help with drawing composition

Once he had the sketch to ensure proportion and perspective were correct, he would paint rapidly yet with such fine detail that within an hour he had what took most artists four hours to complete.

Princess Zinaida Yusupova with her sons Felix and Nikolai at Arkhangelskoye by Francois Flameng - 1894
Princess Zinaida Yusupova with her sons Felix and Nikolai at Arkhangelskoye by Francois Flameng – 1894
Mrs Adeline M. Noble by Francois Flameng
Mrs Adeline M. Noble by Francois Flameng
Napoleon I hunting in the Forest of Fontainebleau, 1807 by Francois Flameng
Napoleon I hunting in the Forest of Fontainebleau, 1807 by Francois Flameng
An Elite Soldier of the Imperial Guard by Francois Flameng
An Elite Soldier of the Imperial Guard by Francois Flameng
I have always thought that portraits ought to be arranged as picturesFrancois Flameng

Flameng said that fashions and hairstyles changed so often that the exact likeness captured in a portrait was gone within a few short years.

Therefore, he said, portraits should aim to be pleasant works of art that one would purchase to adorn the wall of a drawing room, even if it were not a portrait of one’s own image.

Zinaida Yusupova with the famous Yusupov family La Pelegrina pearl by Francois Flameng - 1894
Zinaida Yusupova with the famous Yusupov family La Pelegrina pearl by Francois Flameng – 1894
Maria Fedorovna by Francois Flameng, 1894
Maria Fedorovna by Francois Flameng, 1894

Flameng found that he learned as much about the social aspects of his work as he did the actual practicing of his art.

Making sittings more agreeable for models he had to learn their tastes and habits, likes and dislikes.

That way, he could encourage them to pose in ways that reflected their personality and remain in one position for a long time without noticing it as much.

Portrait of the Duchess Dora Leichtenberg by Francois Flameng - 1896
Portrait of the Duchess Dora Leichtenberg by Francois Flameng – 1896

Of equal importance to remaining true to his artistic integrity was producing a work that was pleasing to the subject and also to her friends and acquaintances.

Portrait of Mme D by Francois Flameng - 1911
Portrait of Mme D by Francois Flameng – 1911

When subjects disagreed with his choice of arrangement or style of composition, he would use all his skill to gradually encourage her to see his point of view without contradicting or offending, always admitting she was right, but gently helping her drop her own preconceived mental image.

Family Portrait of a Boy and his two Sisters admiring a Sketch Book by Francois Flameng, 1900
Family Portrait of a Boy and his two Sisters admiring a Sketch Book by Francois Flameng, 1900
The Chess Game by Francois Flameng
The Chess Game by Francois Flameng
The People of Paris Come to Versailles by Francois Flameng
The People of Paris Come to Versailles by Francois Flameng
Offizier des Chasseurs à Cheval Regiments of the Napoleonic Imperial Guard by Francois Flameng
Offizier des Chasseurs à Cheval Regiments of the Napoleonic Imperial Guard by Francois Flameng
Portrait of Madame Max Decougis by Francois Flameng
Portrait of Madame Max Decougis by Francois Flameng
Even the ordinary woman is a thousand times more worthwhile to paint than the ordinary man. But women are never ordinary.Francois Flameng
Portrait of a Lady by Francois Flameng
Portrait of a Lady by Francois Flameng

Flameng painted the colors and pageantry of war.

But he was no stranger to its violence.

At age 14, he was playing with fellow students at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, when a bombshell exploded in the courtyard.

It was a gift from the Prussians to mark the onset of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and it prompted him to enlist.

Accepted in the ambulance corps, when Paris fell to the Prussians, he saw seven children killed under the window of his father’s house in Montparnasse.

Napoleon and his staff reviewing the mounted chasseurs of the Imperial Guard by Francois Flameng

In the Woods by Francois Flameng
In the Woods by Francois Flameng
A portrait painter should not only be endowed with talent, but also possess the qualities of a philosopher, of an observer, of a psychologist, and be provided with inexhaustible patienceFrancois Flameng
Lady Duveen, née Salamon by Francois Flameng, 1910
Lady Duveen, née Salamon by Francois Flameng, 1910
Portrait Of Mademoiselle Herpin by Francois Flameng - 1908
Portrait Of Mademoiselle Herpin by Francois Flameng – 1908
Picnic by Francois Flameng
Picnic by Francois Flameng
Evening by Francois Flameng
Evening by Francois Flameng
Napoleon After The Battle Of Waterloo by Francois Flameng
Napoleon After The Battle Of Waterloo by Francois Flameng
Portrait of a mother with her children in the garden by Francois Flameng
Portrait of a mother with her children in the garden by Francois Flameng
An Evening's Entertainment for Josephine by Francois Flameng
An Evening’s Entertainment for Josephine by Francois Flameng

Francois Flameng didn’t only paint beauty.

Renowned for his paintings that showed some of the horrors of the First World War, he was an accredited documenter for the War Ministry and named honorary president of the Society of Military Painters.

Flameng’s war paintings were derided by many critics for being too realistic and not including heroic drama.

World War I by François Flameng
World War I by François Flameng
The offensive of the Yser, First French line near Het-Sas, by François Flameng
The offensive of the Yser, First French line near Het-Sas, by François Flameng
World War I Attack by François Flameng
World War I Attack by François Flameng

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