Born in Turin in Northern Italy François Brunery (1849-1926) was an Italian academic painter also known as Francesco Bruneri. He moved to Paris for a short period in the 1860s, where he studied with two of the most prestigious academic painters of the day, Jean-Léon Gérome and Léon Bonnat. On the eve of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, Brunery returned to Italy where he remained throughout the rest of his career.
During the years following his return to Italy, Brunery settled in the Veneto and painted mostly small format views of Venetian canals, piazzas and bridges, using an en plein air technique with an emphasis on light that suggests a strong influence of the Impressionist artists of the day. Venice was great a strategic location for a painter as it was a key stop on the Grand Tour. The wealthy foreign visitors to the city were fond of buying paintings depicting Venetian typical life in order to take a souvenir of Venice home with them. Following this trend, Brunery’s small scale paintings typical of Venetian vistas became extremely popular.
By the end of the nineteenth century, Brunery had established an international reputation as a painter of anecdotal genre scenes, producing a very popular type of “cavalier” paintings. This tradition had been popular in Venice since the early eighteenth-century, depicting a dashing young man, dressed in a frock coat and silk stockings, either courting a young woman or admiring himself in a mirror. Such images were enduringly popular, and Brunery’s technical virtuosity showcased his considerable skill in creating a convincing light hearted, and often slightly satirical, narrative.
Later in his career, Brunery, along with fellow painters, Landini, Vibert and Crogaert, established the “Cardinal School of Painters”. The domestic antics of cardinals exercised a powerful fascination for several popular painters and their patrons in the second half of the nineteenth-century, in response to the rising anticlericalism induced by Pope Pius IX’s efforts to regain political power and the Catholic Church’s attempt to impose moral standards that it didn’t always exemplify. In turning to depiction of the clergy, the message was clear; although they deserved respect and prestige, they nevertheless fell victim to the same foibles as everybody else. The aim was not to belittle or offend but to offer a light hearted view of day to day trials that anyone might encounter. These interior genre scenes increasingly poked fun at the clergy and delighted in portraying them in domestic dramas, showing their susceptibility to the everyday trials and tribulations familiar to their humbler flock. Brunery’s intimate portrayals of everyday life are at once amusing and full of character but also highly skillful in execution. Fine details were achieved through minute brushwork and sumptuous scenes were created with Episcopal purple and crimson amongst elegant settings.
Brunery first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1879 with Le Retard du Fiancé, a social satire with exceptional focus on the beauty of fabrics, textures and decorative objects. He also exhibited regularly at the Salon throughout the rest of his career and received an Honorable Mention in 1903. Brunery found fame both in Europe and in America, with galleries in New York exhibiting his work in the 1890’s and again in the years preceding the First World War. His light hearted and timeless paintings evoke delight and have maintained and enduring popularity.