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Introduction to the Exhibition—America Collects Eighteenth-Century French Painting

Yuriko Jackall, assistant curator, department of French paintings, National Gallery of Art. When Joseph Bonaparte, elder brother of Napoleon, arrived in the United States in 1815, he brought with him his exquisite collection of 18th-century French paintings. Put on public view, the works caused a sensation, and a new American taste for French art was born. Over the decades, appreciation of French 18th-century art has fluctuated between preference for the alluring decorative canvases of rococo artists such as François Boucher and Jean Honoré Fragonard and admiration of the sober neoclassicism championed by Jacques Louis David and his pupils. To celebrate the exhibition opening of America Collects Eighteenth-Century French Painting on May 21, 2017, Yuriko Jackall shares some of the best and most unusual examples held by American museums. On view through August 20, 2017, these 68 paintings tell their stories on a national stage: Who were the collectors, curators, museum directors, and dealers responsible for bringing 18th-century French painting to America? Where are the paintings now?