Eglée barbouillant Silène de mûres pour le forcer à chanter l'histoire du monde, 1771
Born September 2, 1711 in Paris, Noël Hallé was a French painter and printmaker. Hallé is a lesser-known artist among his contemporaries yet his work exudes a poetry and drama that is distinctly French—he was the nephew of Jean Jouvenet. However his brushwork is sometimes loose and this loose style is reminiscent of Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini and Giuseppe Maria Crespi. Hallé's graceful use of figures and body language along with vivid color are what make him interesting to study.
In the above painting, Hallé's Silenus is quite different than the usual portrayal by painters such as Rubens, who often depicted him as obese and disgusting. Here, Silenus is obviously drunk but in a very relaxed manner, yet exudes a certain Classical grace. I don't understand the entire context of this narrative but Eglee is a naiad who smears blackberry on his face in an attempt to extract his profound wisdom on the history of the world while the satyr on his right holds him back. In the background a satyr flees with a beautiful naiad and her companions. Hallé creates a verdant, idyllic setting with vivid attention to detail that we can immerse ourselves in completely, while also conveying the sense of pure myth and fantasy. Hallé's anatomy and skin tones are flawless, and the body language of each figure clearly illustrates their purpose in the composition.
Hercules and Omphale, 1759
Hallé painted more than one version of this theme, and even this version differs from the one I saw at the Palais des beaux-arts de Lille last year. Note how the drapery and cherubs above lead the eye in a circular motion clockwise toward the mural that Omphale, Queen of Lydia, reveals to Hercules. Hallé's ease of figure arrangement is very clever—note how he arranges most of the figures here in groups of three, except for Hercules and Omphale whom he divides in a sharp V-shape. Note the two groups of women above them and how they are arranged, with one looking at Hercules in the light, while the other in shadow looking at the mural. It is clear that Hallé was no fool when it came to composition and figures. Beautiful drapery and skin tones, as always. Compare with the version I saw in Lille:
Histoire d'Hercule et Omphale, 1759
Cornélie, mère des Gracques, 1779
Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi is an important Roman mythological figure as a exemplar mother and woman. Here she gestures towards her two sons, both carrying scrolls as a symbol of knowledge. I really like Hallé's color harmonies here and how they play up the figures without distracting from the overall theme. Note the child with face perched on mom's lap to the right.
The Race between Hippomenes and Atalanta, 1765
Great composition. Hallé uses a strong horizontal narrative to illustrate this story of Atalanta running against Hippomenes. According to the legend, she raced against her suitors in an attempt to find the fittest, as she was a very athletic woman. Hippomenes tricks Atalanta by dropping apples along the way, given to him by Venus, which Atalanta picks up from the ground, in effect losing the race and finding her new husband. Hallé's figure arrangement here is absolutely superb. Knowing that too much focus on background figures could distract the viewer from the main figures, Hallé arranges the figures to lead our eye from left to right and returning repeatedly to Atalanta and Hippomenes. Note also how the left side of the composition is sparse with mostly sky, while the right side has more flora and the majority of figures to emphasize the "finish line". Compare with this famous version by the great Guido Reni.
Hallé's freshness toward mythology is inspirational in that no subject matter needs to be staid or boring. It is all in how we approach the figures and the setting they inhabit. The figures that Hallé illustrates are works of art in themselves, sculptural and graceful in nature while using an innate sense of color and drapery. Reading works of mythology can often seem fantastic or ridiculous to conceive but under the ingenious brush of Hallé, it seems possible and even natural.