1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Le Nain

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LE NAIN, the name of three brothers, Louis, Antoine and Mathieu, who occupy a peculiar position in the history of French art. Although they figure amongst the original members of the French Academy, their works show no trace of the influences which prevailed when that body was founded. Their sober execution and choice of colour recall characteristics of the Spanish school, and when the world of Paris was busy with mythological allegories, and the “heroic deeds” of the king, the three Le Nain devoted themselves chiefly to subjects of humble life such as “Boys Playing Cards,” “The Forge,” or “The Peasants' Meal.” These three paintings are now in the Louvre; various others may be found in local collections, and some fine drawings may be seen in the British Museum; but the Nain signature is rare, and is never accompanied by initials which might enable us to distinguish the work of the brothers. Their lives are lost in obscurity; all that can be affirmed is that they were born at Laon in Picardy towards the close of the 16th century. About 1629 they went to Paris; in 1648 the three brothers were received into the Academy, and in the same year both Antoine and Louis died. Mathieu lived on till August 1677; he bore the title of chevalier, and painted many portraits. Mary of Medici and Mazarin were amongst his sitters, but these works seem to have disappeared.

See Champfleury, Essai sur la vie et l'œuvre des Le Nain (1850), and Catalogue des tableaux des Le Nain (1861).