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Massive 'Gallery Of The Louvre' By Sam Morse At NBMAA

The new exhibit in the Don and Virginia Davis Gallery at New Britain Museum of American Art is made up of one painting.

The massive artwork, "Gallery of the Louvre," was painted starting in 1831 by Samuel F.B. Morse. It depicts painters, sketchers and writers working in a gallery full of some of the Paris' museum's greatest masterpieces: the "Mona Lisa," Caravaggio's "Fortune Teller," Rembrandt's "The Angel Leaving the Family of Tobias," van Dyck's "Venus at the Forge of Vulcan" and three dozen more.

The gallery depicted in the painting, the Salon Carré, isn't where those artworks were hanging in 1831. Morse used his imagination to re-install them all together to depict this gallery as a place where artists gathered to bathe in the glory of the best the history of art had to offer.

Morse cast himself front and center as one of those artists, leaning over the shoulder of a young woman. Morse's friend, "Last of the Mohicans" author James Fenimore Cooper, is depicted with his wife and daughter huddled around an easel in the corner. Other artists — all friends of Morse — finish out the creative crowd inspired by the classic depictions of saints and holy men and women, landscapes and seascapes, cherubs and angels, beggars and working men.

The exhibit, mounted in collaboration of the Terra Foundation, which owns the painting, is meant to draw attention to Morse's experimentation with media, colors and technical processes. According to the museum statement, the painting "brings together Morse's artistic, scientific and technological pursuits and inflects its adoration of the old masters with the artist's Calvinist worldview and xenophobic conservative cultural politics." The museum also points out that the Morse artwork is the only major American example of the once-popular art sub-genre of "gallery picture." Another example of such a picture is the Wadsworth Atheneum's 1749 painting "Interior of a Picture Gallery with the Collection of Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga" by Giovanni Paolo Panini.

When Morse exhibited the painting, critics liked it but the public didn't. Morse gave up painting soon thereafter and went on to his second career: helping to invent the telegraph and Morse code.

In the NBMAA gallery, a terrific schematic diagram sits in front of the painting, to identify every artwork Morse depicted.

To complement the exhibit, a half-hour film about the painting will be shown on Thursday, June 29, at 1 and 4 p.m. Admission to the film is free with admission to the museum.

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