The Le Nain Brothers, Three Men and a Boy, c.1647-8, oil on canvas, 54.1 x 64.5cm. National Gallery, London.
Very little is known about the French Le Nain brothers, Antoine, Louis and Mathieu, other than that they shared a studio and took local town folk, children and people of very modest and humble means as their subjects. I have not researched their work but stumbled across this image today while looking for thesis related images. I have to admit that as a painter, it didn’t actually occur to me that this is an ‘unfinished’ work until I read the catalogue entry alongside it. That is, the painting struck me as retaining a very beautiful, organic quality which I think would have been lost had it been ‘finished’. Though it is noted to show signs of wear in the right corner, finishing this piece in the sense of filling up the expanse of the canvas to the same level of detail and polish would have erased the variety of rich surface areas and use of colour which gives the work its lively, painterly qualities. In sum, rather than lament its apparent incompleteness, I am glad it wasn’t finished at all, and would have been more than happy to arrive at that artistic decision if it was on my easel.
Currently reading anything I can get my hands on to wrap my head around eighteenth-century French materialist philosophy for my thesis, I came across a passage where La Mettrie shares his thoughts on the origin of humans. He ponders:
“Perhaps he [man] was thrown by chance on a point of the earth’s surface without anyone being able to say how or why, but simply that he has to live and die, like mushrooms which appear from one day to the next.”
Julien Offray de la Mettrie, Machine Man, in (trans. and ed.) Thompson, A., Machine Man and Other Writings, Cambridge, 1996, p.23.