A monumental early 19th-century painting by the talented French artist Charles Meynier (1763–1832) is now on view at the National Gallery of Canada (NGC). Wisdom Defending Youth from the Arrows of Love, measuring 242 × 206 cm, was first shown at the Paris Salon in 1810, and was once in the collection of famed ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev.
“By adding Wisdom Defending Youth to the national collection, the Gallery will be able to offer visitors a richer and more complete story of artistic creativity in the early 19th century, a time of radical change in both society and the arts. Meynier was one of the most talented painters of his generation, and this work shows him at his best – as an artist of great imagination and intelligence,” said NGC Director and CEO Marc Mayer.
The monumental canvas depicts a young hero poised between two alternate futures: a life of empty pleasure, offered by Venus, goddess of love and one of struggle and glory, offered by Minerva, warrior-goddess of wisdom. Cupids, symbolizing the power of uncontrolled desire, attack him with their arrows, while only Wisdom’s shield defends him. The hero will choose the virtuous life, but his decision is difficult, fraught with regret for what he must leave behind. The work is an appeal to self-discipline and control – concepts that resonated in Napoleon’s empire, with its cult of military glory and service to the state.
The work was commissioned by Count Giovanni Battista Sommariva (1760–1826), who amazed his contemporaries with his lavish patronage of the arts. Rich, well connected and corrupt, Sommariva helped shape the art of painting in early 19th-century France.
The ambitious Wisdom Defending Youth adds even greater depth to the NGC’s already strong collection of Neoclassical art, which includes works by Meynier’s contemporaries, Jacques-Louis David, Joseph Chinard, Baron Antoine-Jean Gros, Pierre-Paul Prud’hon and Antonio Canova, among others. In 2012, the Gallery acquired Prud’hon’s Love Seduces Innocence, Pleasure Entraps, and Remorse Follows, commissioned by Empress Josephine for exhibition at the same 1810 Paris Salon, although never finished. Two hundred years later, the two paintings can at last be seen together.
Long ignored, Meynier has only recently been re-assessed. A skilled artist, he was famed for his monumental paintings decorating the Louvre and the Stock Exchange, among other buildings, and for designing the sculptures on the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, one of the classic monuments celebrating Napoleon.
Until September 11, the Gallery hours are extended by one hour. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursdays until 8 p.m. For more information call 613-990-1985 or 1-800-319-ARTS.
Regular admission to the Gallery is: $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and students, $6 for youth age 12 to 19, $24 for families (two adults and three youths). Free admission at all times for Gallery members and children age 11 and under. Free admission Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. (except for the Vigée Le Brun exhibition). For further details, call 613.998.8888 or 1.888.541.8888.
NGCmagazine.ca, the National Gallery of Canada’s online magazine, is a frequently updated source of information on the Canadian art world and events at the National Gallery of Canada. Correspondents from across the country provide engaging and exclusive content on historical and contemporary art in Canada. This online magazine also includes interviews with artists. Read the article “Your Collection: Wisdom Defending Youth from the Arrows of Love by Charles Meynier”, online now.
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The National Gallery of Canada is home to the most important collections of historical and contemporary Canadian art. The Gallery also maintains Canada's premier collection of European Art from the 14th to the 21st century, as well as important works of American, Asian and Indigenous Art and renowned international collections of prints, drawings and photographs. In 2015, the National Gallery of Canada established the Canadian Photography Institute, a global multidisciplinary research centre dedicated to the history, evolution and future of photography. Created in 1880, the National Gallery of Canada has played a key role in Canadian culture for well over a century. Among its principal missions is to increase access to excellent works of art for all Canadians. For more information, visit
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