Skip to main content

Noël Hallé

Halle - Eglée et Silène
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.

Noël Hallé - The Race between Hippomenes and Atalanta - WGA11034
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.

Popular posts from this blog

More Old Master Drawings

There is nothing in all the world more beautiful or significant of the laws of the universe than the nude human body.
Robert Henri

Charles Louis Müller, A Standing Female Nude Leaning Against an Arch, ca.1864

Once again I decided to talk about some Old Master drawings and delve into the thinking behind how these drawings may have been created and the knowledge of the artist. In the above drawing by Müller, done in sanguine with white chalk highlights, the figure is drawn from a low view-point, with her body twisting toward her left side while resting on one knee. Note how Müller alternates the bent right leg with the bent left arm to create dynamic contrast. The right arm is also foreshortened and partially in shadow. Expressing power and femininity, this is a study that is Renaissance in spirit, even Mannerist, revealing the female nude as sculptural yet always graceful.

Anton Raphael Mengs, Seated male nude viewed from the back, 1755

One of several Academic nude studies by Mengs, this …

Guercino il Magnifico

Self-Portrait of the Artist holding a Palette, ca.1635

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, known as Guercino was born on February 8, 1591 in Cento, a small city near Ferrara. He is one of the great masters of the Italian Baroque and poet of painters. Noted for his speed and efficiency, Guercino also worked in a number of mediums with equal passion whether ink, chalk, charcoal, or oils. His nickname, which means 'little cross-eyes' in Italian, derives in part from an apocryphal childhood accident where he supposedly awoke from a deep sleep as a child from a loud scream that caused his eyes to cross. Another story says something was thrown into his eyes. At any rate, he was self-taught as an artist from as early as nine years old and by his early teens was discovered by the eldest of the Carracci where he would spend some time at the Accademia Degli Incamminati before venturing out on his own. Despite his apparent 'handicap', his vision and talent would make him a giant that few…

Old Master Drawings

Drawing is not the form; it is the way of seeing the form.

A male nude from behind, c.1630 Gian Lorenzo Bernini

In this blog I talk about painting but the importance of drawing cannot be understated of course, and I believe we can learn just as much from studying their techniques of line and strokes as we can from brushstrokes...more in most cases as the drawing is more expressive and intimate. It reveals the personality and character of the artist.

The above drawing apparently comes from the period of Bernini's teaching at the Accademia di San Luca in Rome, one of four from the exact same model. This drawing is fairly big for a study, at 55.6 x 42cm (21 x 16 inches). Consider Michelangelo's study for Libyan Sibyl, is only 28.9 x 21.4 cm (11 3/8 x 8 7/16 inches), a small study for a fresco which would be painted several times larger than life size. I can only guess that Bernini was teaching a big class and that maybe his work was on display for students to study, or it ma…