I don't usually write about art and I am not an art expert but I am definitely interested in the subject. I am taking an art class at the National Art Gallery through the University of Carleton's Learning in Retirement program and have encountered some stories that I would like to share here with you.
Just in time for Valentine's Day we discussed Charles Meynier's Wisdom Defending Youth from the Arrows of Love. It is a magnificent, large painting the theme of which is drawn from the classic 17th-century story by François Fénelon called The Adventures of Telemachus, the story of Ulysses’ son. A love story, of sorts. Definitely seemed appropriate for the day we viewed it because of the cupids attacking with their arrows of love.
The story goes that the youth Telemachus dreams of two choices. In the first option, Venus, the goddess of love, offers him a life of pleasure and luxury and in the second, Minerva, the warrior-goddess of wisdom, offers a life of struggle, virtue and glory. Telemachus is tempted, but will give up on the life of pleasure for the more noble option.
According to the National Art Gallery's website, critics at the time of the painting in 1810 questioned the youth's decision and asked:
"Is he (Telemachus) being prevented from falling into temptation, or had he already fallen? If Wisdom were not there, would he be able to resist? Was he faithlessly abandoning his sleeping beloved? What of the next time he was faced with a similar choice?"
The critics of the day may have had questions but they apparently liked the emotional balance of desire and regret shown in this image. Meynier's works were popular in his time and later lost some of that popularity when, according to the Press Reader, neoclassical works like this were deemed "boring and contrived." Today, they have regained popularity and this painting was acquired to fill a spot in the Art Gallery's collection.
Wisdom Defending Youth from the Arrows of Love is considered one of Meynier's best works. It was purchased by the Art Gallery in the summer of 2015 from a private collector. Exact details of pricing and the seller's name are not shared with the public.
When you visit The National Art Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, make sure to take a look at this painting. I find any painting more more interesting when I know the story it tells. You can find it in the European Art Collection.