Guillaume Lethière Exhibition at The Clark


Louis-Léopold Boilly, Meeting of Artists in Isabey’s Studio (detail), 1798, oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre, Paris, RF 1290bis. Photo: RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY

Born in Sainte-Anne, Guadeloupe, Guillaume Lethière (1760–1832) was a key figure in French painting during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The son of a white plantation owner and an enslaved woman of mixed race, Lethière moved to France with his father at age fourteen and would soon thereafter begin studying drawing and painting. While establishing himself as a formidable history painter, Lethière successfully navigated the tumult of the French Revolution and its aftermath to achieve the highest levels of recognition in his time. A favorite artist of Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother Lucien Bonaparte, Lethière served as director of the Académie de France in Rome, as a member of the Institut de France, and as a professor at the École des Beaux-Arts. A well-respected teacher, he operated a robust studio that rivaled those of his most successful contemporaries and trained a number of artists, including young women and artists with connections to the Caribbean. Despite his remarkable accomplishments and considerable body of work, Lethière is not well known today and has never been the subject of a major exhibition. An examination of Lethière’s extraordinary career reveals an ambitious artist who worked in multiple genres and at the grandest scale and sheds new light on the presence and reception of Caribbean artists and cultural figures in France during his lifetime. 

Guillaume Lethière is co-organized by the Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, and the Musée du Louvre, Paris, and curated by Esther Bell, deputy director and Robert and Martha Berman Lipp Chief Curator; and Olivier Meslay, Hardymon Director; with the assistance of Sophie Kerwin, curatorial assistant, at the Clark; and by Marie-Pierre Salé, chief curator in the Department of Drawings at the Louvre. 

Guillaume Lethière is made possible by Denise Littlefield Sobel and the Mellon Foundation. Major funding is provided by Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy Demands Wisdom; with additional support from Charles Butt, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the Robert Lehman Foundation, and the Terra Foundation for American Art. 

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition and its accompanying materials do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.