Barthelemy Menn(20 May 1815 - 10 October 1893) was a Swiss painter and draughtsman who introduced the principles of plein-air painting and the paysage intime into Swiss art.
Menn was born in Geneva as the youngest son of four to Not (Rhaeto-Romance language form for Louis) Menn, a confectioner from Scuol in the canton of Grisons, and Charlotte-Madeleine-Marguerite Bodmer, the daughter of a wealthy farmer from Coinsins in the Canton de Vaud. Already at the age of twelve, Menn took drawing lessons from the little known Jean Duboi (1789-1849), and later, he entered the drawing school of the Geneva Arts Society. The repeated claim that he was also a pupil of the famous enameller Abraham Constantin (1785-1855) appears to be erroneous. In 1831, Menn was second in the annual drawing competition of the Geneva Art Society. The following year, he entered the studio of the Swiss history painter Jean-Leonard Lugardon (1801-1884), who was a pupil of Baron Gros(1771-1835) and acquainted with Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867). There, Menn was educated in figure drawing and composition before heading for Paris, where, in fall 1833, he entered the studio of Ingres. He was, therefore, no beginner when meeting the master, but needed some polishing and refinement in his art. In a letter to his friend Jules Hebert, Menn reported on the new situation: eEverybody, even the eldest in the studio tremble before Mr. Ingres. One fears him a lot in such a way that his corrections have a great impact. He is of an extreme sensibility,e while the education in Ingrese studio has been described by Theophile Silvestre, as follows: 'The students spend half of their time studying nature and half studying the masters among which they are especially attached to Phidias, the bas-reliefs of the Parthenon, classical sculpture in general.e This explains why among Menn's early works there are many copies after the Parthenon frieze that was accessible in Paris in a set of plaster casts at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts since 1816. (Fig. 2). Menn also copied several works by Raffael, Titian (Fig. 3), Veronese and Rubens in the Louvre, and works by Ingres.
When the latter decided to give up his studio to take the post as director of the French Academy in the Villa Medici in Rome, Menn returned to his grandparents in Coinsins before following his master in fall 1834. His journey led him first via Milan to Venice, where he met briefly his compatriot Louis-Leopold Robert (1798-1835), and where he would copy works by Titian and Tintoretto. He then travelled via Padua and Bologna to Florence, where he met old classmates from Ingrese studio, and arrived finally in Rome in spring 1835. There, Menn copied works by Raphael and Michelangelo, but he also started to produce extraordinary fresh small landscape paintings in the open air. In summer 1836, he visited the Campagna, Capri and Naples, where too he drew and painted landscapes directly from nature, and copied classical antiquities from Pompeii as well as Giovanni Bellini's Transfiguration in the Museo Borbonico. When back in Rome, he produced history - and genre paintings, of which in 1837, he sent 'Solomon presented to Wisdom by his Parents' (Salomon presente e la sagesse par son pere et sa mere; Fig.N) to the annual Salon in Geneva. Menn returned via Florence, Siena and Viterbo to Paris in late 1838, where he exhibited at the Salon from 1839 to 1843, and where he became the drawing master of Maurice Dudevant, the son of George Sand. In her circle, he became acquainted with Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) who wanted to employ him as an assistant while working on the decoration of the cupola of the library in the Palais du Luxembourg. At the same time, Menn got to know the painters of the Barbizon School, and especially Charles Daubigny (1817-1878). Most importantly, however, Menn became friends with Camille Corot (1796-1875), who, from 1842 onwards, visited Switzerland frequently. It was also in Paris that he became acquainted with members of the Genevan Bovy family who followed the utopian socialist ideas of Charles Fourier.