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Le Nain brothers

Band of Brothers

Somewhere around 1600, in a remote French town, three brothers were born. They grew up strange; not only did they live together all their lives (none of them married), they worked together every day. And they were staggeringly gifted artists whose paintings often depicted poor peasants in a sympathetic way.

Meet the Brothers Le Nain—Mathieu, Louis, and Antoine—whose work is shown in a major exhibition at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor. Between now and January 29, one can witness a rare display of the paintings that influenced artists from Courbet to van Gough, and (IMHO) Diego Rivera and the WPA social realism painters of the 1930s Depression.

For years, art historians and restoration experts have pored over paintings by the Le Nain brothers, trying to decide which brother created which painting. There seems to now be a consensus that the brothers worked together on the same painting, and experts no longer try to attribute a particular work to Antoine, Louis, or Mathieu. For the purpose of attribution, paintings are simply by the brothers Le Nain—one very talented artist.

Because most of the works are on loan from the great institutions of Europe, this is an opportunity most rare.

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