The last days of great men or women hold a morbid fascination for us, particularly when they are attended by mystery or just obscured by ignorance. Try as we may, forensic-standard evidence is seldom available to clarify these issues when the events took place more than two centuries ago (as we shall see, even the documents that survive can mislead and do not always bear the weight we want to place on them), and that I fear is the case with the death of Jean-Baptiste Perronneau.
We know that it happened in Amsterdam in November 1783. That much was established by the indefatigable Maurice Tourneux (1849–1917), who, despite being by profession an archivist and bibliographer rather than an art historian, wrote the first serious account of Perronneau in a series of articles for the Gazette des Beaux-Arts in 1896 which were issued also as an offprint in 1903. His work was absorbed by Léandre Vaillat (1878-1952, best known as a dance critic) and Paul Ratouis de Limay (1881-1963, a librarian with a particular interest in pastel, and Desfriches’s great-great-great-grandson), whose monograph of 1909 and in particular its reissue in 1923 became the standard work on the artist until Dominique d’Arnoult’s infinitely deeper catalogue raisonné appeared in early 2015 (but with a 2014 colophon). But every time I go back to Tourneux I discover things I had forgotten he knew, such is the unfairness of art history.
In fact, as regards Perronneau’s death, Tourneux relied on documents located by Nicolaas de Roever (1850–1893), the archivist for the City of Amsterdam who had more than a little interest in art, and was the co-founder of the journal Oud-Holland. Here is what Tourneux wrote:
Au cours d’un troisième séjour de l’artiste en Hollande, le 19 novembre 1783, le sieur Jean Martens se présenta devant le secrétaire de la ville d’Amsterdam et déclara que le sieur Jean-Baptiste Perraunot (sic), sans profession spécifiée, âgé de quarante-deux ans (sic), demeurant sur le Heerengracht, près de la Leidschestraat, était décédé « par suite de fièvre ». Bien que le défunt demeurât dans un quartier fort riche, il n’eut le lendemain que le convoi des pauvres, et fut enterré à la Leidschekerkhoff, cimetière situé près de la porte de Leyde. Lorsque l’aimable et regretté M. N. de Roever me communiqua le résultat de ses recherches dans les archives municipales dont il avait la garde, je crus à une erreur de transcription, en ce qui concernait l’âge du défunt; mais M. de Roever me confirma et me prouva plus tard de visu que le registre portait bien un 4 et un 2. Ainsi, et jusqu’à la minute suprême, tout ce qui a trait à la personnalité du peintre devait rester entouré de mystère et de confusion, et si l’allégation du registre des décès n’était pas démentie par d’autres actes non moins authentiques que celui-ci, elle serait de nature à justifier la méprise de Nagler, dont j’ai parlé au début de cette étude.
Avant d’expirer aussi loin des siens, dans quelque chambre d’auberge, Perronneau avait pu, du moins, confier ses dernières volontés à un Français de passage à Amsterdam et le charger de les transmettre à sa famille. Fils du compositeur languedocien qui, dans la pastorale de Daphnis et Alcimadure, avait devancé nos modernes félibres, Mondonville fils, né en 1748 à Paris, où il est mort en 1808, n’a pas été traité par les répertoires biographiques avec la même faveur que son père, et le récent Supplément, ajouté par M. Arthur Pougin au Dictionnaire de Fétis, se contente de nous apprendre qu’à dix-neuf ans Mondonville fils avait composé six sonates pour violon et basse et qu’il se faisait parfois entendre dans les concerts. Entre temps, il crayonnait volontiers, comme l’atteste un croquis à la mine de plomb du désert d’Ermenonville, daté du 19 juillet 1786, et annoncé il y a quelques années par un catalogue de librairie, et il ne se refusait pas à prêter en 1782 au Salon de la Correspondance fondé par Pahin de La Blancherie, le portrait de sa mère, peint par La Tour (collection Eudoxe Marcille), ainsi sans doute que celui de son père, possédé aujourd’hui par le musée de Saint-Quentin.
Chargé verbalement par Perronneau de ses dernières instructions (ainsi que l’atteste l’acte de partage de la succession), Mondonville avisa la veuve du peintre et l’Académie royale de la perte qu’elles venaient de faire. L’Académie ne s’émut guère de la nouvelle: de l’aveu même de Renou, rédacteur du procès-verbal, on « oublia » de notifier le décès de Perronneau à la séance du 20 décembre 1783, et ce fut seulement à celle du 10 janvier 1784 que la mention en figura au registre.
As you can see from the passage, Tourneux must have been working on Perronneau well before the date his articles appeared, as de Roever had died several years before. But the elements of a good story are all here: a pauper’s funeral (think Mozart), a fever (if you continue thinking Mozart your imagination may be running away with you), and a chance encounter with a passing Frenchman who happened to be connected with Perronneau’s great rival.
So how much of this picture is right? By the time it was retold by Vaillat & Ratouis de Limay, Mondonville had disappeared, but the two register entries were presented in transcriptions of the original Dutch (perhaps from Tourneux’s notes). There was a ludicrous attempt to reconcile the “42 Jaren” with the age of 68 – or actually 67, since that is what is meant by the words “dans la 68e année de son âge” that appear in the Académie register soon after in the text, rather than the erroneous heading “âgé de 68 ans” that was added later (an error V&RdL perpetuated by opting for 1715 rather than the eight times more likely 1716 in the title of their book): the solution proposed was that the body that was buried was not that of the pastellist, but that of his young brother Jean-Baptiste-Henry, the subject of a (to V&RdL lost) painting exhibited by Perronneau in 1746 when the boy would have had to be 5 to be 42 in 1783.
Needless to say d’Arnoult debunks this silliness, correctly (I think) identifying the 1746 painting as the one in the Hermitage showing a boy who was evidently more than 5, and inferring J.-B.-H.’s age from the “âgé de 25 ans” when he died on 7 April 1755. That would put his date of birth to between 8 April 1729 and 7 April 1730 (rather than the “1730 ou 1731” that appears in d’Arnoult’s pp. 208 and 365 or the 1731 on p. 367), but in fact the 1755 parish record judiciously adds the words “ou environ” after the age. As it happens I have found a conformed copy of J.-B.-H.’s baptismal record: he was born 19 June 1730, and so died at the age of 24 and five-sixths. And it will surprise no one to learn that his parrain was his older brother, the artist.
Of course there is still an untidiness in that the Hermitage boy looks rather younger than 16, but that probably just means the painting had been done earlier. D’Arnoult suggests that an estimated age of “une douzaine d’années” and her 1730/31 assumed birth put the picture in period 1744–46: but I leave you to decide which of chronology, biology, arithmetic or language is being stretched. (The point is not merely pedantic: a 1742 date would transform our understanding of Perronneau’s early career, while an age of 15 would add to the issues of the ages of his sitters.)
D’Arnoult doesn’t mention another intriguing theory that was published some time ago, and which caught my fancy for a time. In an article about a Perronneau pastel (you can find it in the Dictionary at J.582.1231) then thought to depict Belle de Zuylen (d’Arnoult is good at rooting out such fantasies, but less convincing in proposing an alternative identity), Paul van den Boogaard came up with an ingenious explanation of the 42 J beside the diagnosed “fever”, suggesting that it should be read as 42 g, for 42 degrees Celsius – the temperature that might have been recorded for a fever. My initial reaction was to wonder whether they had the technology, but Holland was quite advanced in the use of clinical thermometers for measuring fevers, Dr Boerhaave (the subject of a portrait by Troost, right, in the eponymous museum in Leiden) having pioneered the practice. D’Arnoult however was unable to find the register with the entry, and (as we shall see) Boogaard plainly hadn’t seen it either.
D’Arnoult also drops the Mondonville story, but provides the documents which were Tourneux’s only basis for it. Although there was a posthumous inventory of Perronneau’s estate shortly after his death (10 janvier 1784, his date of death being cited as 20 novembre 1783), seven years later another document was prepared liquidating the estate. (The 1791 document still gave Perronneau’s date of death as 20 novembre, suggesting that his widow also had never seen the death certificate, may not have known the cause of death, and perhaps had no more information from Mondonville than his bill.) In the 1794 document, the effects Perronneau had with him in Amsterdam at his death were included, having been omitted from the inventaire. In this liquidation (which we know Tourneux had seen), we find the paragraph stating that
Perronneau avant de mourir avait chargé verballement de ses dernières intentions un S. Mondonville
and going on to list the expenses this gentleman incurred in settling the Amsterdam funeral expenses which d’Arnoult discusses in some detail – without however telling us who Mondonville was.
It would of course be fascinating to find that Perronneau’s last contact was with the son of the subjects of two of La Tour’s most important pastels (left is the Art Institute of Chicago’s version of the mother, née Anne-Jeanne Boucon: J.46.1423): just imagine the fictional possibilities for such a final conversation, whether down the pub or not. All the more so when you know that Mondonville fils, as Tourneux has him, was not merely an amateur draughtsman, but a pastellist with an entry in the Dictionary. And that his mother, also known as an amateur artist (as well as the titular La Boucon in one of the most gorgeous pieces ever written by Rameau – who you will recall from my last post was with La Tour when Mme de Graffigny met them in 1748):
was too a pastellist, as we find from her father’s estate inventory. And the link with pastel goes back to that father, Étienne Boucon, who was not merely a patron of the arts, but close enough to Crozat that Rosalba mentions him in her diary and even had lunch with him. Indeed just before Perronneau’s death Mondonville fils, by then in possession of his parents’ pastels, exhibited them at the Salon de la Correspondance, as recorded in the Nouvelles de la république des lettres et des arts for 19 juin 1782:
But there is no evidence that Mondonville fils was in Amsterdam, and I think it highly probable that the S. Mondonville mentioned in the Perronneau document was actually his cousin, Martin Cassanéa de Mondonville, whose presence in Amsterdam is attested by the baptism of three children at the French church (Catholic) between 1779 and 1783:
I can find little further information on him (there is a genealogy here), but his mother and sister had recently returned from Moscow by mid-1783 (and may have been in Russia when Perronneau was). He appears from the few records we have to have associated with French Catholic expatriates and visitors, including Marc’Antonio Missoli, an important dancer and choreographer. And of course he was also the grandson of Étienne Boucon.
But what about the cause of Perronneau’s death? Reporting de Roever’s reading of the register as “koorts” (fever), as entered by a certain Jan or Jean Martens (of whom Tourneux, V&RdL and d’Arnoult tell us nothing), d’Arnoult nevertheless introduces the possibility of the eruption of the Laki volcano in Iceland which was widely thought to account for many deaths around Europe in 1783/84, citing the paper of Thordarson & Self, which does indeed provide a hugely detailed assessment of the environmental effects of the eruption. D’Arnoult suggests that the large numbers of deaths it caused might account for the chaotic circumstances of the burial.
The Laki event of course has been the subject of many investigations of more or less rigour, from the initial contemporary comments of Lalande (Ducreux’s pastel, Versailles, right), who tried to dismiss the dry fogs that appeared in June 1783 as the result of hot weather and rain, to the multiplicity of studies attempting to apply modern science to remote events where the data are not what one would gather now. Lots of famous people died that year, and one document even suggests that Laki caused Leonard Euler’s death (as it happens, from a brain haemorrhage).
So it’s time to have our own look at the evidence and see if anything can be added. Here is the 20 November cemetery burial record, which is easy enough to locate in the Stadsarchief Amsterdam:
And here is the entry from the Amsterdam death tax register known as the Gaarders Archief, which was indeed a lot harder to track down:
But to answer some of these questions, you need not only the line concerning Perronneau, but the adjacent entries. Here is the whole page covering three days in November:
From this you can see immediately that Boogaard’s ingenious idea is simply wrong. Everyone in the register gets an age. It’s just a mistake.
What about the mysterious Jan Martens? Was he a reliable witness? Well, he should have been: Jan Martens (c.1737–1808) was a heelmeester (surgeon) in Amsterdam, in practice from at least 1761, as his name appears in the list of members of the Amsterdam committee for medical supervision:
By 1784 one source even refers to him as the “beroemde” (famous) Stads Chirurgijn. (Martens’s address, by a curious coincidence, is the same as that – “op de Prinsse Gragt, bij de Leijdse KruijsStraat” in 1735 – of one of Liotard’s brothers, Daniel-Louis, whose birth in Geneva was known to Roethlisberger & Loche, but not the fact that he settled in Amsterdam where he was a monteur de boîtes; I have been unable to establish if he was still there when his brother came to Amsterdam in 1755.)
As for the Gaarders Archief entry, the Dutch system at that time did indeed levy taxes on death registrations. They were based on assessments of income and capital, divided into five classes. The wealthiest, those with capital in excess of 12,000 guilders, paid 30 guilders; the lower rates were 15, 6, 3 and for the poorest, nothing. Based on the total numbers in the Gaarders Archief for the second half of 1783, only 0.3% of deaths fell into the first class, while 84% fell into the fifth, or “pro deo”, category. In view of the link to assessed taxable income and capital, it is unclear to me how the tax would have been imposed on visitors, particularly those without close family members in a position to make declarations of assets or income (perhaps some kind Dutch archivist familiar with these records could assist, but my attempts to find examples were unfruitful before my attention span expired).
The second baffling thing in these entries is the phrase “Is Gehaalt” which appears in the cemetery register. D’Arnoult merely translates literally “a été enlevé”, while V&RdL expand as “on a cherché le corps, sans frais funéraires l’enterrement a eu lieu.” On its own the words are wildly ambiguous; perhaps again a kind Dutch archivist can assist. But a perusal of the entire cemetery register shows that the phrase is used very rarely. The nearest example I could find was two months before. Since 84% of burials were exempt from tax it hardly seems likely that V&RdL’s construction of the words was correct. Could it mean that the body wasn’t buried at all, but reclaimed – perhaps by Martin de Mondonville, to be buried elsewhere? If so I have found no trace of it in any Amsterdam church or cemetery, under any misspelling of the artist’s name; and this seems very unlikely.
Another question concerns the use of a cemetery rather than a church. D’Arnoult wonders whether his being Catholic in a Protestant city restricted his choice, but in fact there were plenty of Catholic churches available; there was even a French Catholic chapel (as opposed to the Walloon church for French Huguenots) where Mondonville’s children had been baptised. A rather different suggestion occurs in the biographies of the famous bookseller and publisher of Rousseau, Marc-Michel Rey, who was also buried in the Leydse Kerkhof, five days after his death (incidentally Gaarders Archief and history agree that this was due to a chest complaint, “borstziekte”, long before Laki had erupted), on 13 June 1780, “met vier Koetzen” – with four coaches, evidently an ostentatious display. One source suggests that his choice of cemetery rather than church meant that he was suspected of atheism – something of which no one accuses Perronneau.
We should also consider the basic geography. Perronneau – as d’Arnoult notes – was staying in a wealthy area of town, on the Herengracht. You can see his lodgings marked in green in the contemporary map of the city (confusingly north is about 7 o’clock) at the top of this post; they stood on the spot occupied by the modern corner house as seen in this photograph of the Herengracht, looking roughly northwards (probably in a house very similar to the old one, bearing the date 1665, still standing two doors away). The map also shows the residence of Dr Martens (in blue) and the location of the cemetery (in red). As the documents attest, Perronneau was ill enough to confide in Mondonville, so he probably was able to consult Martens, as a local doctor, before his death. And from his lodgings to the cemetery was but a short distance, by canal.
So what about the cause of death? Again the vital document is the Gaarders Archief: but not just the entry for Perronneau alone (where I confess the handwriting is unclear, and “koorts” looks more like a number of other possible words), but all the adjacent entries. I have tried to reconcile these with burial records in the various churches, although I confess I ran out of patience fairly soon. But one salient fact was that while Perronneau was buried the day after he died, in all the other cases I matched up the delay was between 2 and 5 days.
Armed with the Gaarders Archief figures, I found that there was indeed a significant increase in deaths in Amsterdam immediately after the eruption. Taking just the pro deo monthly totals, July 1783 showed a 66% increase on the average of the previous ten months, so this looked very plausible.
I turned not only to the paper about the Laki eruption d’Arnoult cites (Thordarson & Self 2003), but also some other studies – notably one specifically addressing mortality attributable to it. This sets out to apply the work of Thordarson & Self to England, where detailed county-based mortality figures allow a sophisticated statistical analysis of the epidemiology. No one doubts that the effect of the disaster on Iceland was devastating, with up to 20% of the population dying (but more from hunger than the direct effects of inhalation), but were there more deaths in total in more populous countries like England?
The paper contains some useful cautions: “it is important not to confuse coincidence with cause”, although the evidence for the Laki eruption causing the dry fogs throughout northern Europe in June–July 1783 was strong. However “adverse health effects from exposure to volcanic gases are generally acute in nature, so any impacts would be expected to occur and be noticed during the period of contact with the gas.” In other words Perronneau would have suffered more when he was in Bordeaux that summer and during the journey to Amsterdam (although of course, following his trips to Poland etc. he could have been expected to be weakened generally). But Witham & Oppenheimer note that many other causes – epidemics, the extreme weather conditions of a very hot summer in 1783 followed by a very cold winter – are as likely to explain any increases in mortality figures in countries like England. Specifically they note that the lack of uniformity in different counties’ figures suggest local, rather than global, explanations are required.
One of the difficulties Witham & Oppenheimer faced was that the English figures gave no individual cause of death. The Amsterdam tax registers however do – most (but not all) of the entries contain some cause, however accurate the diagnoses may be. Perronneau’s “koorts” (for that is I now think how the word must be read) was in fact fairly constant as a proportion: about 11-14% in each of the months I counted. I found few instances of “borstziekte” or anything that looked closely related to inhaling sulphurous particles. But what I did find, rather to my surprise, was a sudden epidemic of measles (“Masel” for mazelen) coinciding with (rather than I think being caused by) the eruption: in July 1783 34% of the deaths were from this cause. But by November, the numbers were back to normal (513 pro deo deaths recorded in the full month: Amsterdam had had to cope with more than a thousand in a single week during some seventeenth century plague epidemics), so there was no likelihood of disorder at the cemeteries.
Amsterdam as a busy seaport was of course vulnerable to infectious diseases, and it seems to me that a more plausible explanation of Perronneau’s death and burial was that he had a contagious fever which caused sufficient concern, perhaps even alarm, for the state surgeon to be called in, and for him to order the immediate burial in the nearest possible location. In the absence of any family to certify income and pay the tax, a pro deo burial was inevitable. That notwithstanding the fact that Perronneau had with him in Amsterdam possessions (including 20 pictures) worth over 4000 livres, which alone would have taken him into the chargeable bracket if regarded as taxable capital.
But there is another aspect of all this which strikes me as more interesting and in a way sad. It is the statement in the 1791 liquidation that
Il faut observer que ledit Inventaire [the posthumous inventory taken in 1784] ne contient aucun effet à l’usage personnel de feu S. Peronneau. Ces effets avoient eté par lui emportés à Amsterdam….
All his personal possessions removed? Taken together with the fact that his widow remarried – or tried to remarry, as I discussed before – less than two months later, with Gertrudian alacrity, one can only wonder whether there is not a very simple explanation for the profound melancholy expressed in so much of his work.
Aschenbach? Not really; more Rameau than Mahler. And certainly not Agatha Christie, if that is what you wanted.
 Paul van den Boogaard, “An unknown portrait of Isabelle de Charrière (1773)”, Cahiers Isabelle de Charrière, 6, 2011, pp. 62-66.
 This is from Roberte Marchand’s biography of his uncle.
 “Atmospheric and environmental effects of the 1783–1784 Laki eruption: A review and reassessment”, Journal of geophysical research, cviii, 2003
 P.-J. Kapteyn: see Karl Rudolf Gallas, “Autour de Marc-Michel Rey et de Rousseau”, Annales de la Société Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1922, p. 76.
 C. S. Witham & C. Oppenheimer, “Mortality in England during the 1783-4 Laki Craters eruption”, Bull. Volcanol., 2005, 67:15–26.
For anyone reading this blog, the name of Mme de Graffigny will immediately suggest an image of an Enlightenment blue-stocking – a woman writer with connections to Rousseau, Voltaire and other such figures. Perhaps you conjure up a portrait of a lady with a book – rather like Mademoiselle Ferrand. You might recall that Graffigny was the author of the fictional Lettres d’une Péruvienne (1747), but have you ever read it – or indeed any of the 2518 real letters which have, over the course of more than 30 years, been published by team of scholars in a project between the Voltaire Foundation and the University of Toronto? The final volume of the letters appeared last year, while a comprehensive index is planned for next year. There is in the meantime an extremely useful working index online, as well as a wealth of explanatory material about the project which obviates the need for me to explain its overall aims or scope. These are freely available: the books themselves however are understandably rather pricey, and perhaps – with library cutbacks and so on – less available, and less consulted, than they should be.
You will of course have read the extract from her letter about Mme Supiot which I included in my last post. But while I was trying to find a copy of the volume that contained it, I noticed that the British Library (which had a copyright copy) hadn’t got round to cataloguing it (that has now been rectified), while the London Library only had some earlier volumes in the set (that too has now been rectified). However the reason for this post is my astonishment at discovering some key passages about one of my favourite subjects – Maurice-Quentin de La Tour – which have been (please do correct me if I’m wrong – I welcome any opportunity to update my bibliographies) completely overlooked by art historians.
Mme de Graffigny wasn’t perhaps as intensely interested in art as say Diderot, but she attended the Louvre salons and usually had something of interest to say in her letters (albeit they do not appear in standard bibliographies of salon criticism). But the artist who interested her most – and whom she knew personally – was La Tour. I’ve included their encounters in my chronological table of La Tour documents, and won’t repeat all of this here (just search Graffigny in the linked pdf). There are of course several references to Graffigny’s own projected portrait, possibly to be engraved to enhance her publications, and those have set off many fantasies. The pastel from the Marcille collection (J.46.1855; left), once thought to be of the dancer Mlle Sallé, was reidentified by André Michel in 1884 with no logic beyond enthusiasm, and subsequently included without qualification as of her in B&W, Adrian Bury’s monograph and the Paris 1927 exhibition (even the reference to that in the 2004 La Tour exhibition expresses no reservation).
It was however judiciously rejected by Colin Harrison in his 2004 SVEC article on the iconography of Mme de Graffigny. Excellent though that article was at debunking the ridiculous claims of a number of similar inconnues, it fell into exactly the same trap of wishful thinking by promoting, to the much wanted position of the lost La Tour, a rather modest pastel connected with a minor artist called Garand which it was suggested was a copy after the great master. In fact (as you can see in vol. XIV of the Correspondance, reproduced above, at the top of this post) the source of this image is the signed oval oil in Lunéville by the actor/painter Augustin Clavareau. (He was not only a protégé of Mme de Graffigny, but the father of the pastellist Victoire Clavareau.)
But it’s time to turn to a couple of extracts from the correspondence which are of far greater interest, and which illustrate just how significant Graffigny’s testimony is. Remember that, unlike the other biographies of La Tour (see here), these passages are immediate reportage, not the repetition of others’ stories with the propagation of error that I set out in my analysis.
The first comes in a letter to her friend Devaux (as almost all the letters are) of 14 September 1742. She has been two days before to the salon, noting that there was nothing there so extraordinary as the La Tour pastels, all masterpieces,
surtout le sien, peint avec un chapeau a point d’Espagne, detrous
sé d’un coté, qui lui fait un ombre sur le visage. C’est un morceau parfait: je ne pouvois m’en arracher.
We’ll come back to that: it’s the famous autoportrait au chapeau de clabaud, now known only from the Schmidt print (right).
Three years later, she again reports to Devaux after a visit to the salon, in a letter of 7 September 1745. She is disappointed, particularly as the artists have had two years since the last salon (they had previously been held annually). Once again however it is the La Tour portraits that captivate her: “La Tour empeche de regarder les autres.” She picks out two in particular: one the famous, and much written about, Duval de l’Épinoy (here is my essay on this masterpiece of Western art, now in the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon), of which she thinks “rien n’est si admirable”.
But she then picks out another:
Disenteuil y est de sa façon, si singulièrement ressemblant que je pensai lui aler parler.
“Disenteuil” is her pet name for Henri-Ignace de Chaumont, abbé de La Galaizière (1706–1784), a particular friend, and brother of the intendant who was, as it happens, married to the sister of Philibert Orry, whose portrait La Tour also exhibited that year (no. 166; below left). As far as I am aware, art history has not yet recorded this mention of a new, if lost, La Tour portrait, evidently one of the “Plusieurs autres portraits, sous le même numéro”  at the salon. But it may also unsolve another mystery: when the abbé’s nephew (and Orry’s) emigrated, his goods were seized by the state in 1798 including “un grand portrait d’Argenson, fait au pastel par Latour, monté sous glace, hauteur 3 pieds 6 pouces sur 2 pieds 7 pouces environ.” It was apparently deposited in the Muséum central, and it has for long been regarded as the portrait of Orry now in the Louvre (the known La Tour portraits of d’Argenson are smaller, and done when he had abandoned the larger format): the Orry pastel measures 116.7×89.5, near enough to the 114×84 of the saisie de l’émigré; but could the latter not equally well be of the abbé (unless we believe that its entry to the Muséum central was definitive)?
We must now move on to the most important encounter between Graffigny and La Tour, which took place on 7 July 1748 at Passy in the home of the famous fermier général La Pouplinière, in the company of Rameau and Vaucanson. The next day she wrote a second letter about this to Devaux, in which she included “deux anecdoctes toute fraiche de ce maitre peintre et plus, maitre fol.”
The first goes back to the autoportrait au chapeau de clabaud which she wrote about above. (The editors helpfully cite Trévoux’s Dictionnaire to explain that “on dit qu’un homme secoue les oreilles, quand il se moque, quand il ne soucie pas de ce qu’on lui dit”.)
Tu m’as peut-etre entendu parler d’un portrait qu’il avoit fait de lui, qui reellement me ravit en admiration quand il l’exposa au Louvre il y a quelques années. Je lui en demandai hier des nouvelles. Il secoua l’oreille et me dit qu’il etoit perdu. Je voulus en savoir l’histoire. La voici. Il avoit d’abort fait cette tete pour la galerie de Florence, où sa place est marquée. Il trouva qu’il avoit si bien reussit qu’un sentiment de patricien l’engagea a faire voir cette piece au roi, comptant comme il le dit, que son excelence le fraperoit et qu’il le metroit dans sa chambre. Le roi dit : « Cela est beau, » et le rendit. Ce fou, ce archifou, le mit en piece. Il s’en repend mais le mal est fait. Je l’ai bien flatée en ne lui parlant presque de cette piece, ou du moins en lui donnant la preferance sur ses autres ouvrages. Il ne l’a pas moins eté de mon entousiasme pour elle, que je rendois comme je l’ai sentie, car jamais rien ne m’a fait une plus vive impression ; mais il a bien flaté mon dissernement en m’avouant qu’il n’avoit jamais rien fait d’aussi bon, et qu’avec ce morceau il ne craignoit ny la posterité antecedente ny la subsequente. Aussi etoit-ce en verité un chef-d’œuvre. Il n’y avoit que la tete, coeffée d’une peruque et d’un chapeau clabot avec un vieuxpoint d’Espagne. C’etoit une espece de prix. Ah, la belle chose !
The lost pastel has been discussed many times, including in the La Tour 2004 exhibition catalogue, but this fascinating story has never (as far as I am aware) been cited in the art historical literature. It provides I think the only evidence that he was asked to send his portrait to the grand-ducal collection at the Uffizi (the pastel there purporting to be La Tour’s self-portrait seems in my opinion neither to be of nor by him). It again reinforces his proximity to the king and his patriotism (“patricien” has however been correctly read; Mme de Graffigny used it to mean “haughty”) that are picked up in other stories in his hagiography. Of course it reinforces the trope of the fastidious artist willing to destroy anything which was less than perfect.
So does this final story, continuing the same letter . Having extracted an invitation to dinner from the painter (a rare privilege), she continued:
Je lui dis que j’etois fort curieuse de voir un portrait de Mde de Pompadour, dont j’ai beaucoup entendu parler, comme d’une merveille non achevée. Le boureau secoua encore l’oreille, baissa les yeux, et dit: « Il n’est plus. » Il l’a encore brulé parce qu’il avoit donné un faux trait. Il etoit en grand. C’etoit un tableau de la taille de ceux dont il prend jusqu’à dix mille francs. Il est brulé. Avez-vous une idée d’une tete aussi folle ? Je lui chantai pouille. Il me dit que j’avois bien aise de peindre a l’ancre, que j’en etois quitte pour une feuille de papier quand il me faloit retoucher une phrase, mais qu’il lui faloit des mois pour raccomoder un faux trait, et qu’il aimoit meux reccommencer. Voila l’homme; au demeurant, de l’esprit et des sentimens.
Indeed. Again this passage is not mentioned in Jean-François Méjanès’s monograph devoted entirely to the portrait of Mme de Pompadour, which was finally exhibited in 1755 and is now in the Louvre. As you can see if you look closely, the head has been done on a new sheet of paper pasted over the rest of the work. Apart from the claim to have destroyed the picture (which we can neither prove nor disprove, although it is more likely that he relented and effected the correction on the new sheet), we find what La Tour had in mind for its price (his later demand for 48,000 livres, nearly five times as much, was famously rejected). And we have evidence that the work was not merely well under way, but already destroyed before the date when we thought it had been commenced – even to the point that Mme de Graffingy had already heard so much about it.
Brava Mme de Graffigny for telling us so much. Bravi Oxford, Toronto and all those involved in this important project.
Just when you think you have understood an artist, something comes along that reminds you how impossible that task is 250 years later. Readers of this blog will be aware of my interest in Jean-Baptiste Perronneau (c.1716–1783), of the research you can find in the Dictionary of pastellists and in Dominique d’Arnoult’s 2014 monograph, and in my various minor subsequent trouvailles posted on this blog (e.g. here, here, here and here – or just type Perronneau into the search box for more). But I confess the latest discovery (above) made me wonder if there weren’t an as yet unidentified homonym at work: not just because the reproduction I first saw (the woodcut from Morand, below) was so bad, but also because I could at first see no reason why Perronneau would have undertaken such a commission.
In 1752, Perronneau was at the height of his powers. Six years before he had been agréé to the Académie royale, and his exhibits to the subsequent salons had revealed him to be the true competitor to La Tour. He would be reçu just the following year (1753). But at the moment when you would have expected him to be focused on completing his morceaux de réception (canvases of Adam l’aîné and Oudry) for the Académie, he wrote to Caroline Luise expressing a “grande envie de voyager en Allemagne” (17 August 1752). All of this of course is generally known.
What isn’t is that that very same month he had been commissioned to document a bizarre medical condition, the unfortunate case of Anne Supiot who was dying from a monstrous disease. I found this from the book about her condition by Morand, Histoire de la maladie singulière, et de l’examen du cadavre d’une femme devenue en peu de tems toute contrefaite par un ramollissement général des os, Paris, 1752, where, on p. 38, we read–
Evidently suspecting that many would not buy the print, the book itself included a wretched fold-out woodcut taken from it:
Anne-Élisabeth Queriot or Queriau (1716–1752) was the wife of Pierre Supiot, a cardeur de laine in the parish of Saint-Roch. For several years, following each confinement, she had suffered from a hideously painful condition resulting in deformation of the bones. We would recognize it today as an extreme case of osteomalacia (the adult form of rickets), caused by malnutrition (vitamin D deficiency) and exacerbated during pregnancy (the overwhelming number of cases are among women). Needless to say its cause and cure were not understood fully at the time, and there were joined to a general distaste for such things a suspected (false) link with insanity and (in this case) a ghoulish interest in the spectacle of deformity.
Morand called in all the leading doctors of the day, and conducted a meticulous autopsy. His very full investigation and documentation was printed in full in December 1752, signaled at the time in various periodicals, including the Journal des sçavans, and cited in medical texts for centuries. This elicited a few years later a response from Dr Pierre Toussaint Navier (1712–1779) who correctly identified the link with rickets in his Observations théoriques et pratiques, sur l’amollissement des os, en général, & particulièrement sur celui qui a été observé dans la femme Supiot, dont l’histoire a été communiquée à la Faculté de médecine de Paris, en 1752, Paris, 1755.
Even outside medical circles the case attracted much attention – it was for example taken up by Mme de Graffigny. She interested herself in it long before the medical reports were published. On 2 August 1752 she wrote to her friend François-Antoine Devaux:
Il y a ici une femme dont les os se sont fondus, en comensant par les pieds et les jambes. Quand cette maladie plus que singuliere n’etoit qu’au genoux, elle a encore fait un enfant. A present les bras, les cotes, et les clavicules du col sont fondues. Elle paroit grasse parce que son corps s’est ratatiné, n’ayant plus de soutien. Elle etoit d’une grandeur ordinaire. On la couvre a present toute entire d’un mouchoir. Elle boit, mange et digere. Tu pense bien qu’elle ne sort pas du lit et qu’elle n’a aucun movement. L’Accademie de chirurgie la visitent tous les jours et font leur remarques. Elle jase et n’a point du tout l’air triste. …Voila, je crois, une maladie unique et dont ny encien ny moderne n’avoit jamais eu de connoissance d’une telle folie de la nature. Eh mon Dieu, elle n’avoit pas besoin d’inventer de nouveaux moiens de nous tuer; il y en avoit assés.
Evidently many people were suspicious that this was a freak or a hoax: Mme de Graffigny reassured Devaux in a letter the next month that he should tell sceptics to go and see for themselves: “la femme fondue” lived in the “rue et but Saint-Roch” (near Sireul).
Unsurprisingly however the patient died shortly afterwards, in November, as reported even in the Affiches announces et avis divers, 16 November 1751:
But as noted above Perronneau’s role took place while the patient was still alive, in August. The legend is quite specific: “Dessiné sur le Sujet vivant agé de 35 ans en Aoust 1752 par Peronneau“. We don’t know what medium he used: dessin might just mean black chalk, or it could possibly have involved pastel. Unlike the genre of anatomical drawing which was well developed in the eighteenth century (among pastellists, see Gautier-Dagoty, Wandelaar, Gamelin, Rymsdyck, Blakey etc.), working from a patient who was still alive (albeit in great pain) was a very different process. Nor can it have been easy for Perronneau to handle a naked rather than nude female subject, with a physician who required maximum exposure. This was not what he was taught at the Académie.
What can have induced him to take on the job?
I wondered at first whether there was any family connection: Pierre Supiot after all was a cardeur de laine, and Perronneau’s family were tapissiers back in Tours (at his parents’ wedding in Paris in 1708, the guests included a Tapissier et Brodeur du roi – but he had died in 1712, and in any case occupied a far grander position in the fabric business than M. Supiot, whom Mme de Graffigny described as a matelassier). I wondered then if Dr Morand might have had an interest in portraiture: but an engraved portrait said to be of him is in fact of this grandfather, and the Ambroise Tardieu who engraved it was from a much later period.
There is I think a clue in what may seem even more puzzling: the choice of engraver, the virtually unknown Anton Schlechter. I have pieced together some information on him. He was in Paris as a pensionnaire of the Austrian empress Maria Theresia. In a letter (Archives nationales) of 26.ii.1752 to Johann Georg Wille in Paris from Martin van Meytens (1695–1770), Hofmaler und Direktor der Kunstakademie in Wien, he adds a postscript sending his greetings to Massé and “Beiliegend Schreiben für Schlechter”. (This would not have been difficult, as the address given on the plate, quay des Augustins, was Wille’s: it appears in almost exactly this form on his engraving of Daniel Klein’s portrait of Marie-Josèphe de Saxe.) There is a drawing by Schlechter in the Albertina, a full-length pen and ink portrait en pied of his protector copied from the Meytens painting in the Schönbrunn of about 1752–53.
It is unclear if Schlechter completed his study before his arrival in Paris, or after his return, which presumably happened after 1754 when he engraved his best known work, the large-scale ceremonial (and politically significant) Entrée publique de son Excellence M. le Comte de Kaunitz-Rittberg, ambassadeur de l’Empereur et de l’Impératrice, Reine de Hongrie et de Bohême faite à Paris le 17 septembre 1752, after Eyssen (presumably Charles-Dominique-Joseph Eisen). We can probably infer how unsuccessful he was at selling prints in Paris by the fact that the only copy of the Mme Supiot print I can find anywhere in the world is that in the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow (and I am extremely grateful to the staff there and at the University of Glasgow Library for making the image available).
After his return to Vienna his name appears fairly rarely: he engraved the maps for Hell’s map of Hungary (1771) and in 1770 he worked for Adam František Kollár, the historian and ethnologist, in the production of an edition known as Die Wiener Genesis. His dates are otherwise unknown.
But there is one other crucial piece of evidence, the print Schlechter made after Chardin’s portrait of the celebrated gynaecologist André Levret (1703–1780), de l’Académie royale de chirurgerie. Chardin had exhibited the portrait in the salon of 1746; its critical reception led to his withdrawing from portraiture until the wonderful pastels he made in the 1770s. Schlechter’s print (right)
has been rather badly documented in the literature: in Bocher’s catalogue of Chardin engravings (no. 32) it is mentioned as a first state, but as with the legend “Gravé à Paris par Ant. Schlehter Pens. De S. M. Imple. 1758” [sic]; in the second state these words are replaced by “Louis le Grand 1760”. The normally reliable Rosenberg & Temperini (122a) simply give Louis le Grand as the engraver’s name (Roland Michel does the same), while the Chardin 1999 exhibition catalogue (p. 23) gives the year 1758 for the appearance of the engraving.
Rosenberg & Temperini do not know what connection there may have been between Chardin and Levret to lead to the 1746 commission: I can offer a hint. Mme Chardin was Françoise-Marguerite Pouget (1707–1791), while Levret’s father, also André, had been “valet de chambre du sieur Pouget, secrétaire du roi”. This was Honoré Pouget, of the parlement de Montpellier, or perhaps his brother André (both held the title). Mme Chardin’s family remains somewhat complicated: I have pieced together a Pouget genealogy which identifies her father and several other close relatives as procureurs au Châtelet, but the link with the Montpellier branch remains obscure.
Schlechter’s print was actually dated 1753, and he was presumably safely back in Vienna before his name was removed from the plate. But it is Legrand’s name that appears very widely: Louis-Claude Legrand (1723–1807) made other engravings after Eisen, and so presumably took over Schlechter’s plates on his departure. Legrand (and possibly Schlechter, although I have no evidence of this) worked on La Fontaine’s Fables with Perronneau’s teacher Laurent Cars. But any such connection post-dated the Supiot print and cannot explain the circumstances of its commission.
In any case a comparison of the Chardin oil with Schlechter’s print allows us to form some idea of the engraver’s accuracy, and thus to work back to what Perronneau’s original drawing might have looked like (at least to a far greater extent than we can with the woodcut in Morand or the later reproductive engravings in other sources).
Levret in fact was the consultant gynaecologist for poor Mme Supiot. (How did her husband afford all the fees? As my piece on Citoyen Coiffier demonstrated, a single visit from a physician would cost a month’s wages for the lower orders. Presumably these visits were pro bono, or rather for the benefit of the mystified professionals themselves.) Of all the physicians Morand mentions it was Levret who carried out the detailed physical examination while the woman was living. It is surely too much of a coincidence for him to be involved in two pieces of work for this obscure engraver. And yet the engraving of the Chardin was made after the print of Mme Supiot had been issued.
While we will never know for certain (unless more documents turn up) it seems plausible that Levret was the instigator of the medical drawing, and that he turned to his own portraitist, Chardin, who presumably declined the commission but passed it on to Perronneau. Schlechter may have had some previous contact with Chardin, but it would seem that Levret was sufficiently satisfied with his Supiot plate to ask him to engrave his own portrait. Of course this is speculative, but it doesn’t seem to require the facts to be contorted as far as this poor woman’s body.
However hard you try, occasionally the penny drops just after you upload a blog. And since I know some of you shared my reaction to the improbability of this story, the mental wheels remained in action. Niggling was, of all things, the name of the publisher of Morand’s book: veuve Quillau, but I couldn’t work out why this seemed familiar, and dismissed it.
But then I finally recalled that Perronneau’s great teacher and friend was Laurent Cars, at whose funeral in 1771 three nephews of this name were in attendance. And rapidly I established that Cars’s sister Agathe (1701-1764) was indeed married to Gabriel-François Quillau, imprimeur du roi, imprimeur libraire de l’Université, and that after his death (the month before the Supiot print, in August 1752), she continued as imprimeur-libraire.
Not only does Agathe Cars’s involvement point strongly to a more direct link in how the commission was given to Perronneau, but it surely provides assurance that the reference to Perronneau in the book, without qualification or distinction from the artist well known to the printer, must indeed be to him rather than a homonym.
As everyone knows Cars was the subject of a magnificent pastel by Perronneau now in the Louvre. He left it in his will, together with a pastel of his mother (whose name was Marie Barbery, not Babuty – it was one of Laurent Cars’s sisters who married Greuze’s brother-in-law), to the wife of a nephew. (For more on these family relationships, see Babuty, Cars, Pigalle. Babuty fils also used the quay des Augustins address.) Mme Divry, née Michelle-Élisabeth Mocquin (1735– ), went to live in Stockholm around 1777, and hadn’t been heard of for 25 years when her husband died in Paris. While the pastel of Cars was with the Académie by 1782, that of Marie Barbery was lost: was it taken to Stockholm, and might it one day turn up there?
 Jean-François-Clément Morand (1726–1784), docteur régent de la faculté du medicine; confused with his father in the BnF catalogue.
 An alternative diagnosis, of Gorham–Stout Disease, has however been suggested, in La Correspondance de Madame de Graffigny, cited below, volume 12, p. 444n.
 La Correspondance de Madame de Graffigny, ed. J. A. Dainard, English Showalter, Dorothy P. Arthur, D. W. Smith & al., Oxford, 1985–2016; vol. 12, pp. xx, 441, 443n- 444n; vol. 13, pp. 36, 38n. I am extremely grateful to Penny Arthur at the Graffingy Project for making these texts available when it seems that the British Library and all others in London have failed to take volume 12 of this important publication.
 I found the parish register extract in 2014, too late to make it into Arnoult, but you can find it and other pieces in my table of Perronneau documents. (It is interesting because the artist’s mother was far younger than one would expect, but that is another story.) Pierre Lefort Duplessis had supplied luxury furnishings to the gouverneur of Béthune in 1704.
 MS Hunter HF246. Dr Mayet in 1909 (see note below) had seen one, but in so damaged a state that he was unable to reproduce it. The wretched woodcut and other reproductions have supplanted the Schlechter almost completely.
 Sold most recently in New York, Christie’s, 25.i.2012, Lot 122.
 AN Y5383, registre de clôtures d’inventaires, 28.viii.1728.
 Notably P. K. Stanski, Du Ramollissement des os…, Paris, 1839; Lucien Mayet, “Un cas d’ostéomalacie: Anne-Elisabeth Supiot”, La Province médicale, 2.i.1909, pp.4ff.
A few weeks ago a kind reader in Spain alerted me to a once-in-a-generation opportunity to view the great collection of extraordinary pastels by Lorenzo Tiepolo which are currently on show in Madrid, and yesterday I went to see them. Although the full significance of pictures like these can often take some time to digest, I thought it best to put this post up now so that you too can see them before the end of March when the exhibition closes.
I wish I could say that flying to a European capital was a pleasure. That you can do it and back in a day seems from an eighteenth century perspective a miracle; but when it was actually easier and quicker thirty years ago when I regularly flew for business, it seems that progress has lost the inevitability about which the Enlightenment fantasised. And when, having walked for miles across Terminal 5 (with a child’s “are we there yet?” sense at every step), we are finally strapped into a seat designed for the present rather than the previous mayor of our city (if they measured the average human frame, did they forget that the femur is connected to both the pelvis and the patella? – there was no room for either), we come to the realisation: Saint-Simon did not have to endure this. While he might have escaped the seat problem by going business class, the poisoning from aero chemicals, stale air-conditioning and other travellers’ respiratory illnesses are inescapable. And thoughts of “would it really be worthwhile?” began to take hold.
For if you only know Tiepolo’s pastels from reproduction you could understandably reach the conclusion that they are flat, inert images, almost naïve – certainly by comparison with the sophisticated nuance of a Perronneau. A sort of not-quite-Liotard, with some of the autistic signs you find in autodidacts (although of course Lorenzo was taught by his famous father and brother). Even if you’ve seen the work that has passed through London sales, you will perhaps still harbour some of these concerns: there have been one or two masterpieces, but also several that don’t contradict the doubt.
Any such idea is immediately extinguished by seeing the Madrid pastels.
You should logically first go to the Prado (of course itself more than a reason to go to Madrid – it is one of the great picture galleries of the world – but it may not be a good idea to immerse yourself too deeply in Rubens, Velázquez or Rogier van der Weyden before going to Room 20), where for a temporary period (to coincide with the main exhibition – they are very rarely displayed) you can see the six pastels of the Spanish royal children which Tiepolo made in 1763. You can of course (as always) find all the pastels (with history, literature etc.) in the Dictionary in the Lorenzo Tiepolo article, and the Prado website has excellent articles on them here. For a general introduction to Tiepolo’s pastels, there is a fascinating talk by the great specialist Andrés Úbeda de los Cobos on YouTube. So I needn’t repeat the factual content of those sources here.
These princes and princesses are of course the children of Carlos III – or at least six of his thirteen children: five died in infancy, the eldest son was an imbecile and the next but one was left behind to rule Naples and the Two Sicilies when his father vacated that throne to take up that of Spain following his own brother’s death. (Don’t expect me to give an account of the Bourbons and their inbreeding.) The boys range in age from a youthful-looking 15 down to the youngest, 5, who is given legs so as to match the size of the others (the legs don’t really fit anatomically). Their sisters are older, 18 and 19.
Viewed in reproduction they seem curiously static, doll-like figures. De visu, however, they are brought to life by the incredibly fresh colours clearly visible in the unobtrusive lighting in the Prado. They are for the most part in excellent condition (Carlos, the heir, has suffered some damage along the riband of the San Genaro), with the fleur of the pastel and the sharpness particularly of the black chalk used in the lace and hair a particular delight. The technique is highly finished.
It is however the faces that seem to have caused Tiepolo the most difficulty: on a purely technical level, he sets himself a challenge with very delicate tonalities, surrounding the faces with a very slightly pink tint to the wigs, requiring a contrasting pale blue underpainting in the faces. This is dominated by the bravura treatment of the accessories: the lace, hats, birds and gun, and most emphatically the ribands and jewels of the chivalric orders with which these young boys had been showered. You wonder whether this blankness of facial expression was a failure of Tiepolo as portraitist – whether through an over-ambitious tonal balance (reversing the rule of emphasising the face over all else), or simply the age-old problem of royal portraitists in obtaining long enough sittings with his subjects. You wonder too if the formulaic expressions arise simply because the children are so young: there are no characters to be expressed and individuated – but that cannot be right, because the girls and eldest boy seem to have less personality than the youngest. And then perhaps you wonder whether in fact these are not really portraits at all: they are dynastic displays of attributes. Josefa is dressed up à l’antique (her sister’s dress is modern, but the ermine mantle and jewelled cap have the air of fancy dress too), but it is her dog that seems the more lifelike. Or was it that Tiepolo, so much more the courtier than Goya, was gently anticipating his message: the eldest may have been excluded from the succession, but were his siblings that much brighter?
Now go to the Palacio Real for the main event: the room in the temporary exhibition Carlos III: majestad y ornato en lose scenarios del rey illustrado devoted to the series of twelve of Tiepolo’s so-called Tipos populares. (The exhibition also has some interesting paintings by Mengs and some decorative things that I won’t discuss.) You can of course exhaust yourself first by going round the palace: I would leave that to another visit. But before I went in I took this snap of the courtyard in the palace:
This was on a February day. Look at the sky. That’s where Tiepolo’s concept of colour comes from. And if you’re used to London or even Paris, this is something you need to adjust for.
Full marks again to the Patrimonio Nacional for the display of these extraordinary works. They are given a room to themselves, and the wall colour and lighting work extremely well. They attracted considerable interest, but the room was not overcrowded. Here’s a terrible screenshot from the video to give you some idea:
The website seems only to have this essay, but it is worth mentioning the persuasive argument of Andrés Úbeda de los Cobos in favour of a revised chronology based on a progressive increase in the number of figures included. They start of course a decade later than the royal portraits, and continue for a couple of years before the illness that led to the artist’s death aged barely 40. They seem however to have that end-of-life maturity that one can find in a Schubert or a Mozart as well as in a Rembrandt or a Chardin.
But what is that Tiepolo is exploring here? Without repeating Úbeda’s analysis, several points must be noted. First, the subtlety of the colour and exquisiteness of the finish have to be experienced directly, not through reproduction: perhaps the most delicate is the Guitarrista y mujer joven (shown at the top of this post).
Second as I have argued (less obviously) with the princes, they are not really portraits. As Úbeda points out, even the narrative element of the earlier tipos, viewed as “genre”, effectively breaks down in the later, more complex pieces.
While it is trite to talk about eyes in portraiture (John Russell argued instead that it was the nose that mattered), what emerged for me in viewing this group was a hypnotic study of eyes abstracted from personality, from persons or even from faces. There are eyes of every colour: browns from hazel to chestnut, all shades of grey, and blues from azure to periwinkle. They are seen full on, or fully diverted as in the girl below. They are shown mostly in faces, but sometimes isolated with carnival masks, or peeping out behind other figures, in pairs, or singly, like a mourning ring. They pop out at all levels in the picture plane, as dizzying as the placement of hands in a Largillierre study. They seem to be expressive – and then not so. One is shocked by the blind man’s dead eyes:
but perhaps even more so by the profile in the foreground of a man whose eyes are covered by his hat: is he not us, the innocent (or not so innocent) viewer?
These images are profoundly unsettling in many ways. At the risk of projecting too much from our own times, they seem to express a kind of existential angst – a dissociation of society expressed by the compression of space noted by Úbeda, but degenerating into exclusion of the individual (just as the princes had been omitted from their own portraits). There is also a curious parallel between the tipos populares – this for example
and a pastel by Vigilius Eriksen from 1768, although it is difficult to see how Tiepolo could have known this work:
Eriksen was a Danish artist working in Russia when he made this picture of a 108-year-old peasant from Tsarskoye Selo with her children; Catherine the Great liked it enough to commission an oil replica. Is it entirely coincidental that both these works were created in environments where essentially feudal societies were colliding with Enlightenment ideas embraced by élites? Or that they were both made by foreign visitors to those societies, bringing a different, perhaps alien, perspective?
The portrait of the actress and star of the Comédie-Italienne, Mme Dugazon (above, private collection; Jeffares 124), was one of those mentioned in the 1796 livret. The unprecedented recognition accorded to this artist’s supplier (“colourman” hardly seems le mot juste for a purveyor of black) suggested that he merited further examination, but his name was absent from all the reference books I consulted. He is for example still not in the Guide Labreuche. And when very recently Marie-Anne Dupuy-Vachey published an article about Lemoine’s portrait of Fragonard (Jeffares 139), she reasonably speculated that it too, although dated the following year, was probably made with these velvet crayons. But no further information about Coiffier was offered.
A wider search however produces a few examples of made-up sketchbooks that he supplied, all with a distinctive label:
Owners of these books include artists ranging from Jacques-Louis David (examples in the Louvre and the Fogg) to J. M. W. Turner (Tate, above), as well as diarists such as the English traveller Bertie Greatheed. All seem to date to around 1800. And finally there is a reference in the memoirs of the duchesse d’Abrantès to a letter which she received from one of her friends, “très soignée dans tout ce qui l’approchait”, who had chosen to write it “sur du papier vélin satiné venant de chez Coiffier, alors le Susse de la papeterie élégante de Paris.” (Susse, for today’s readers, was the most up-market of Paris stationers at the later period when the duchesse was writing; just the sort of place Gilberte Swann would have patronised much later still.)
There are of course a handful of references in the trade almanachs of the period. These give a succession of different numbers in the street, which itself undergoes changes of name, from rue du Coq-Saint-Honoré to rue du Coq-Honoré and even rue du Coq. It is now known as the rue de Marengo, a short street running north from the north entrance to the Cour Carré of the Louvre. Back in the eighteenth century however, before the construction of the rue de Rivoli, the buildings were closer to the Louvre, as you can see from this print by Louis-Pierre Baltard:
The neighbouring shops included printsellers such as Aaron Martinet, a few doors away. The adjacent property was occupied by another papetier, Giroux, of whom more below. Lemoine himself was not far away, in the rue des Bons-Enfants (and in 1810 would move even closer, to the rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, just a few yards away). While Coiffier was based at no. 133 in 1796 (from the Salon livret), the labels and almanachs have no. 121 around 1800–5, while by 1809 he was at no. 9. In fact these were all the same building.
We can only establish this by consulting the original property agreements, for which you will search in vain in the Archives nationales if you don’t know the notary and date. As always in this type of biographical research the key document is the inventaire après décès, from which so much information about the individual, his family, his business and his contracts emerges. Coiffier’s 82-page inventaire (on normal notarial paper rather than its subject’s luxury product) contains a good deal of this, and is the basis for this note.
René Coiffier died on 16 January 1810. The notary initially spelt his name Coeffier, a commonly found version, but corrected this, in the inventory which was carried out nine days later. Although the rue du Coq-Saint-Honoré was his normal dwelling, Coiffier had actually died in the other house he had, in France Nouvelle, a hamlet in the Montmartre district: we will return to this below.
I have not been able to locate any evidence of his date of birth, but he was probably born around 1750. We do know a good deal more about his wife, Marie-Antoinette Muret (c.1753–1817); he was her second husband. She was the daughter of a maître bourrelier; one of her brothers was Pierre-François Muret, an émailleur. Her first husband was Jacques Mézeray, limonadier de la Comédie-Française, after whom the Café Mézeray is named. She had divorced Mézeray by the time (9 August 1795) of her marriage to Coiffier, but a daughter of that first marriage is a significant part of the story. She was the actress Marie-Antoinette-Joséphine Mézeray (1774–1823) de la Comédie-Française. Perhaps surprisingly we have no drawing of her by Lemoine, who did most of her co-sociétaires, but there is in the collections of the Comédie-Française a painting of her by Ansiaux said to be the one exhibited in 1800 (left: although not strictly en pied), where it elicited this barbed response from the critic in the Mercure:
There is more detail about Joséphine Mézeray and her roles in the Galerie historique des comédiens… which provides an account of her miserable death in a state of raving insanity. The duchesse d’Abrantès called her an “actrice très et toujours mauvaise”, and the multiplicity of her wealthy lovers (the Comédie-Française holds some three dozen letters from one of them, the famous gastronome Alexandre-Balthazar-Laurent Grimod de La Reynière (1758–1837), son of the amateur pastellist) suggests that her theatrical career was based on skills broader than the attentive study of Molière’s texts (Ansiaux depicts her studying the role of Célimène in Le Misanthrope). It does seem that she developed a taste for luxury (the Goncourts commented on her “paresse et goût du plaisir”), and one wonders whether this placed a drain on the stationery business’s cashflow.
We can trace this also through the documents, starting with the Coiffier–Murat marriage in 1795, when Coiffier brought 50,000 francs against his wife’s 80,000. The property transactions throw more light, as well as confirming that the apparent changes of address were merely questions of numbering. It turns out that the building belonged to the painter Jacques-Louis David, as confirmed in this minute of the lease renewal:
In fact, turning to David’s own inventaire après décès and his marriage contracts (he married the same woman twice, with a divorce in between), we can see that 133 rue du Coq-Saint-Honoré was first acquired by David’s father-in-law, Charles-Pierre Pécoul, entrepreneur des bâtiments du roi. Part of the confusion over the numbering may have arisen because Pécoul actually bought several properties, in a series of contracts over two years, the earliest dated 29 March 1776. We know from David’s remarriage contract (22 Brumaire an V) that the property was valued at 40,000 francs, while from the Coiffier papers we know the rent was 3000 francs a year (the lease was for 9 years). Of this some 2400 francs was due at the time of Coiffier’s death.
A further transaction of some interest concerns Coiffier’s other house at Nouvelle France, then a rural hamlet near Montmartre, now the urban district known as La Poissonnière. It seems that Coiffier initially owned this outright, but just three months before his death he entered into a sale and leaseback, selling the property to an investor for 12,000 francs while taking a lease to continue to occupy it for some 900 francs a year. (Both these transactions confirm that property yields at the time were 7½% .)
All the evidence is that the business was failing. The enormous inventory was valued at over 8000 francs. There were vast stocks of literally hundreds of different kinds of paper, each described minutely in the inventaire, ranging from “cinq mains de papier Grand Raisin de couleur bleu de Pale” (2 francs) to the same quantity of “papier petit aigle d’hollande” (22 francs 50), although most types were stocked in reams. Fragonard could have chosen the porte-crayon Lemoine depicts him with from more than a hundred in stock, in a dozen different models. Lemoine himself could have bought one of the seven dozen leather stumps (the notary’s first attempt at the spelling was “estampe”). There were thousands of made-up toiles, a great many frames, and even 107 oval sheets of glass ready cut for the frames. But all this was financed almost entirely by creditors. Even the domestique was owed eight months’ wages (her annual pay was 200 livres), while the “argent comptant” in the business was a mere 31 francs 50. Cash had been run down, stocks were high, creditors were stretched. Much of his stock was evidently bought in: just considering the pastels, for example, he held “quatres boïtes de Pastels de differentes Grandeurs”, value 10 francs; various “étuis à pastels”, one holding 50 crayons (4 francs), one 25 and three a dozen each: but these were financed by the supplier “Mme Giraud pour fourniture de pastels”, to whom he owed 19 francs 75.
Among the creditors we find further evidence of what might have caused or contributed to this problem (not all perhaps attributable to his step-daughter’s extravagance): Coiffier owed 96 francs to “M. Reif médecin” (no doubt the eminent physician from Strasbourg) for six visits, and an equal sum for medicine supplied by “M. Deschamps, pharmacien” (he was listed as apothicaire suivant la Cour, grande rue du fauxbourg Montmartre). Of course we don’t know what was wrong with Coiffier now, but they probably didn’t know then either.
Why have a country house within walking distance, and hang onto it when capital is so short ? You might think that Coiffier was in need of fresh air…and that that was in short supply in the house in the rue du Coq-Saint-Honoré? For, in addition to the hundreds of boxes of different types of luxury writing paper, sketch books, crayons of every conceivable kind as well as other types of artists’ materials (notably hundreds of ready made frames and canvases), there was also evidence of his scientific research into his artificial crayons. Might it be that the dust or chemicals from these processes were toxic? He would not be the first colourman so afflicted. (I discuss the matter of toxicity in Chap. IV of my Prolegomena: that the problem was real is evidenced by a 1775 application for the invention of a safe “moulin à broyer les couleurs”, supported by hospital reports of 272 admissions in the preceding 21 months from unsafe grinding.)
This was a time when there was intense focus into the question of black chalks, a coalescence of the science of manufacturing them (spurred by wars which made importation of natural graphite from the Lake District in England more difficult) with the aesthetic demand for softer chalks which were nevertheless less friable than charcoal, but could give the intensity and richness of ivory black. The effects of mezzotint engravings were seen as highly desirable, and were emulated in drawings “à la manière noire”. Lemoine was certainly a pioneer but so too were artists such as Isabey. Some of the antecedents include the pupils of Francis West in Dublin who used a soft black chalk that is often referred to as grisaille pastel (but may or may not be a natural mineral), a technique also employed to spectacular effect by Joseph Wright of Derby. And the inventions of this period would lead into the nineteenth century, as reflected in the Getty’s recent exhibition Noir: the romance of black in 19th-Century French drawings and prints.
Among the inventors of artificial crayons the name that survives today is that of Nicolas-Jacques Conté (1755–1806) – soldier, aeronaut and inventor, granted a patent in 1795 for his idea of compressing a mixture of graphite and clay. The basic Conté principle results in materials that are harder than traditional pastels, and it is likely that Coiffier and Lemoine’s inventions were adaptations of Conté’s theme, resulting in softer material with more painterly qualities.
But how can we tell? Unfortunately the inventaire does not include any recipes, and the lengthy list of glass vessels etc. equipping the “laboratoire du défunt” could as easily be devoted to alchemy as to the invention of artificial crayons. But in addition to the laboratoire, and separate from the “attelier des toiles”, there was a “Piece dite l’attelier aux Crayons” where among other tools and stocks there was a “Presse à crayons”. That does indeed suggest that Coiffier was pursuing an idea similar to Conté’s. But these experiments and the rooms devoted to them were not in David’s house in the rue du Coq, but in the country house in Nouvelle France. So he didn’t keep on the property to escape from noxious fumes, but to immerse himself in them.
What seems to have happened is that Mme Coiffier moved quickly to dispose of the business after her husband’s death – probably spurred by the need to pay David’s rent. (She also married a third time, her third husband being a marchand de perruques who supplied the Comédie-Française.) As mentioned above, the immediate neighbour was Alphonse Giroux, a picture restorer who is said to have been a pupil of David and who had run a more modest shop on the Pont Neuf before establishing a restoration business Au Coq Héron, at 7 rue du Coq-Saint-Honoré. It is clear from the series of advertisements which appeared within months in the Journal de Paris that Giroux’s business suddenly expanded in scope and scale, and it seems most likely that he took over the Coiffier business or at least much of its stock. (I even wondered whether there had been yet another change of numbers, but I don’t think so; no. 9 was still no. 9 at the time of David’s inventaire après décès.) Giroux continued to broaden the firm’s activities (selling toys, furniture and pictures as well as stationery and artists’ materials), and it remained for many years a fashionable shop in Paris, later moving to larger premises at 43, boulevard des Capucines. His story has been told elsewhere.
But there is one other intriguing possibility. Lemoine himself went on to make his own crayons, modifying the recipe from Coiffier’s which he found was too greasy to use satisfactorily with stump; his “crayons dit de Sauce” were continued to be made after his death, winning praise at the Exposition of 1834. Much of our knowledge about Lemoine came from an interesting letter written just after his death in 1824 by one of his daughters (Agathe-Jeanne-Thérèse (1784–p.1825), who the following year married a Joseph Rey; the other sister was Antoinette-Félicité-Virginie Lemoine (1791–1850), who, also in 1825, married Aimé-Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Bleve: the two girls are shown in this moving exhibit from the Salon de 1795 of “une miniature, représentant les deux filles de l’Auteur, brûlant des fleurs sur le tombeau de leur mère morte, qui leur apparoît”). In the letter, Agathe states-
En 1811 [Lemoine] établit pour nous deux ma soeur une petite manufacture de crayons à dessiner qui ont acquis une reputation méritée d’après le dire des artistes, et le débit que nous en avons.
The timing seems so specific: just after Coiffier’s death. Is it just possible that Lemoine took over some of his equipment?
 My catalogue raisonné appeared in the Gazette des beaux-arts in 1999.
 Marie-Anne Dupuy-Vachey, “The portrait of Fragonard by Jacques-Antoine-Marie Lemoine”, Master drawings, liv/4, 2016, pp. 491–500. A minute point in this otherwise exemplary article, arising from the translation: a fourbisseur du roi supplies swords, not outfits.
 Tony Halliday, “Academic outsiders at the Paris salons of the Revolution: the case of drawings ‘à la manière noire'”, Oxford art journal, XXI/1, 1998, pp. 71-86; the article does not however mention either Lemoine or Coiffier.
While the National Gallery is embarked on one of its most ambitious rehangs, to make space for next month’s blockbuster exhibition in the Northern rooms, there is a temporary safe haven of tranquillity, in Room 1. The space here is remarkably versatile, accommodating a couple of dozen paintings in recent shows such as the brilliant Dutch Flowers last year, or, as here, concentrating our attention on a single picture – admittedly one of some size (2.3×2.6 m). The intensely beautiful Repentant Magdalene by Guido Cagnacci normally hangs in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, where it has been since 1982, but is with us until May. And as the publicity tells us, the only other Cagnacci in Britain is in the Royal Collection. The texts displayed on the walls in Room 1 draw on the excellent monograph by Xavier F. Salomon, now at the Frick, where the painting has recently been on loan before arriving in London. (Salomon also wrote a short introductory article for Apollo recently.)
As the book tells us everything we need to know about Cagnacci – how original he is, and how important he was once considered, even if he is less well known today – I shall not attempt to do so, being no specialist in seventeenth century Italian religious painting. It’s worth however looking at some of the x-ray imaging on the panels, as they demonstrate some of the artist’s changes of mind in the positioning of the figures in this very ambitious composition. I’m not sure that he ultimately resolved all the problems he set himself: niggling doubts about the perspective and direction of lighting weren’t quite banished by the bravura painting of the flesh – the quality for which Cagnacci was most celebrated.
Indeed I wondered whether this painting was, as we are encouraged to think, an exercise in eroticism, or whether in fact the painting was at heart a far more conventional morality tale? Because for me the really beautiful piece of painting was not the Magdalene’s semi-naked body, but the play of light on her sister’s face. This stood out from the picture almost as Leonardo’s angel stands out from Verrocchio’s Baptism. Although perhaps there is an even more convoluted reading: Martha’s face with its half-open mouth radiates more than mere sanctity.
I’m not however the first to notice this. And the point I wanted to make in this post – which I think is absent from Salomon’s book, but which seems to me both of real interest and of some importance – is that (even if we don’t have any record of the contemporary critical response) we do have the fascinating testimony of a response from the next generation: that of the copy made by Rosalba Carriera of the head of Martha, in pastel.
As the exhibition literature explains, the Cagnacci painting was in the collection of the last duke of Mantua until his death in 1708. The Gonzaga paintings collection was then sent to Venice where it would be dispersed over the next few years. The Cagnacci was acquired by Rosalba’s friend Christian Cole (with a view to selling it to the Earl of Dartmouth, although in the end it was the Duke of Portland who bought it), but what isn’t mentioned in the exhibition is that Rosalba had been independently involved (together with the painter Niccolò Cassana) in an attempt to sell the pictures to Elector Palatine Johann Wilhelm. She prepared a report on the pictures which she sent to the court at Düsseldorf (the Elector’s payment to her of 3200 ducats was sent by Baron Wiser on 5 January 1712 with a charming letter which survives). But the copy of the head of Martha seems to have been made for her own pleasure. She probably gave it to Crozat, for it was from his collection that it entered the Hermitage where it now belongs (see J.21.2421 in the Dictionary for further details): it was no. 133 in the 1772 sale contract with Catherine the Great:
The pastel would not have been allowed to travel to London, but perhaps a small reproduction of it might have been admitted to the wall texts of this otherwise excellent show.
Several years ago I unravelled the identity of the elusive “Constant de Massoul”, author of an important treatise which included a section on pastel, and included an article on him in my Dictionary of pastellists to supplement the very interesting discussion of the treatise itself in the chapter in Sarah Lowengard’s Creation of color in eighteenth century Europe (2008): she notes that nothing is known about the author, although the treatise was widely used at the time, including by artists such as John Constable. As references continue to appear treating “Constant” as a forename (for example, the Liotard exhibition catalogue; see also the British Library catalogue, which makes no connection between the author in the printed catalogue and the “unspecified” baron de Constant in the manuscript catalogue), and as new documents have come to light on his rather colourful career, I thought I would post the contents of my article here, accompanied by some visuals (such as this portrait from a private collection) that don’t comfortably fit in the Dictionary.
Pierre-Barthélemy-Marie-Reine-Joseph-Alexandre de Constant was baptised at Lyon, paroisse Saint-Paul (contrary to some sources, which incorrectly cite Sainte-Foy-lès-Lyon, whose illegible registers will occupy several hours of fruitless searching), 2.vii.1755, the day after his birth:
The son of Pierre Constant de Massoul (1721–1796), chevalier de Saint-Louis, capitaine au regiment d’infanterie de Provence, lieutenant du roi de Neuville, from a family long established in Lyon (an échevin in 1697), and his wife, Marie-Louise-Éléonore de Béhague, he was admitted to the École militaire in 1766 on production of the necessary proofs of nobility. (For a brief genealogy see Constant.) He joined the régiment de Dauphin-dragons in 1772, becoming capitaine 1779. Between 1781 and 1786 he served in Martinique as concierge des prisons du Fort-Royal (a file in the AN d’outre-mer relates to his attempt to recover expenditure of some 15,000 livres on improvements to the military hospital). He became chevalier of both the orders of Saint-Louis and of Saint-Lazare. Father and son were living at place Saint-Michel, Lyon, when they took part in the assembly of the nobility at Lyon in 1789:
Unlike his father, the son seems almost never to have used the Massoul surname: the only exception I can find, apart from the London period discussed below, is his appearance in this list of pensions:
Constant was appointed aide de camp to his uncle, général de Béhague, in 1791; they were sent to Martinique to deal with the growing tensions, with an army of 5000 men. Constant was acting maréchal des logis du corps de troupe de la Martinique. However Béhague’s mission was countermanded by Rochambeau, who sought to apply the 1792 revolutionary order extending citizenship to all: Béhague was dismissed (and joined the armée des émigrés in London). The slave-owners in Martinique however opposed the revolutionary measures, and would not let Rochambeau take charge. Constant made a detailed memorandum of the complicated events (AN d’outre-mer, 2.iv.1793; copies of Constant’s correspondence with Dundas and Hawkesbury are also attached in the file): on 19.xi.1792 he arrived in Dover to secure British support for the pro-slavery royalists, leading to the accord signed by Dubuc in London, 4.ii.1793, putting Martinique under temporary British jurisdiction.
Further correspondence with the British government can be found in the Liverpool papers in the British Library. It shows that baron de Constant, as he was styled, remained in London, initially residing at 15 Wells Street, off Oxford Street (letter of 15.x.1793 to Lord Hawkesbury, soon to be Earl of Liverpool, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and President of the Board of Trade). An undated memorial (c.1796) sent to Lord Liverpool contained an appeal from a group of émigrés concerning the “établissement du Bron de Constant dans New Bond Street” on which they apparently depended, complaining about the (unexplained) “absence forcée du Bron de Constant”: here are the signatures:
Two of the fourteen signatories were the comte de Montamy and the chevalier d’Arclais de Montamy, nephews of the learned Didier d’Arclais de Montamy whose Traité des couleurs pour la peinture en émail was published in 1765. (The eagle-eyed will also spot the example of the Breton K barré which I discussed recently in my Sireul essay.)
In a letter of 23.v.1798 to Liverpool, Constant (back at 136 New Bond Street) invited the minister to his impending wedding to the daughter of the last marquis de Lambertye (1748–1819), who, he reminded his correspondent, was a relation of George III. At St Marylebone, 8.vi.1798, the baron de Constant married Suzanne-Célénie-Zoé de Lambertye (1779–1843):
The marriage contract, signed in London two days before, was witnessed by among others the ducs de Bourbon and Harcourt, the marquis de Castellane and the bishop of Nantes:
Although there is no previous record of his artistic interests, in London 1795–98 Constant worked as a colourman with a shop and factory at 136 New Bond Street, London, premises he shared with the apothecary Thomas Paytherus (Constant’s name does not appear in the Westminster rate books, but the address is that used in his correspondence with Lord Liverpool). Initially he advertised (Morning chronicle, 16.v.1795 and later dates), using the name Massoul alone rather than baron de Constant (presumably with the motive of concealing his involvement in trade while he was also working as a diplomat on behalf of the royalist government in exile):
This advertisement shows him in partnership with a miniaturist called La Tour (possibly Louis Brion de La Tour, but there were several unidentified homonyms; “Mr Latour, Miniature Painter” had previously announced the “Phisygraph” [sic] invention in the Times, 3.iv.1794, from his house at 72 New Bond Street; the royal patronage (of Princess Sophia of Gloucester) and address suggest a connection with Francis Tatton Latour of Bond Street, pianist to the Prince of Wales).
A further notice in the Times, 19.xi.1795, refers to the “Manufactory of Superfine Colours, established last year by Messrs Massoul and Co. at 136 New Bond Street.” By 1796 the firm of “Massoul & Co.” was offering Belanger’s views of Jamaica by subscription, from the same premises. By 1797 it was advertising perfectly prepared oil colours. The artist William Wood recorded his use of “Massoul’s vermilion and lake” in a miniature he finished in 1797.
In 1797 A treatise on the art of painting, and the composition of colours was published in London (from 136 New Bond Street), “translated from the French of M. Constant de Massoul” (no French edition seems to have been printed). (The death of Constant’s father in Lyon in 1796 (état civil) removed any ambiguity about Constant de Massoul’s identity.) Although it draws on numerous sources, it integrates them and is more than a mere compilation. It described a wide range of techniques in painting and drawing, including a section on pastel. Constant reviewed pastels available commercially, in Lausanne, Vevay, Nürnberg and Paris, and described supports of paper, vellum and prepared cloth, mentioning the need for keyed stretchers for the last of these (still fairly rare). A fixing method is presented based on information supplied by the pastellist Longastre. Constant also acknowledges observations from Danloux, Arlaud and Bélanger.
The author stated that he had had “little practice [himself] in Crayon Painting”: but it seems likely that he had at least an amateur competence in a number of the fields he describes.
As Sarah Lowengard noted, the book did not meet with immediate applause: here is part of Samuel Rose’s reaction, in the Monthly Review (xxix, 1798, p. 108):
Here is the more balanced assessment Lowengard herself offers:
How can we understand this treatise? Because it is one of a few publications that can be connected to an eighteenth-century colorman and the only one that offers to bring French technique to a London clientele, we need to consider seriously its claims and its contents. De Massoul hints at his own ideas (whether formed through personal experience or through the employment of skilled artists) about the consumption of painting techniques, and his beliefs depend on certain assumptions about the appeal that French style might have to British artists and amateurs. Who might need or want to own this, and how does it supplement other sources of information? A Treatise on the Art of Painting offers more-varied information than do other manuals of painting practice organized by or for painters and colormen, for example William Williams’s An Essay on the Mechanic of Oil Colours. It has a breadth of topics but no depth to its presentation of them; the treatise may have been as interesting to read and as difficult to use as the Encyclopédie méthodique. Above all, de Massoul assumes the need for personal demonstrations, suggesting a similarity between this book and those issued to accompany lecture series. Clearly, the book was designed to instruct and to expand its subject matter and its author to new levels of importance. De Massoul’s success in this is unclear; and his anonymity and lack of connection to the community of English painters in London suggest he had little. His work, then, is important to us for its inferences and its choices of information, but there are no certainties of its meaning in Constant de Massoul’s own time.
Constant remained in exile in London until at least 1799 (when a passport was issued allowing him to travel to Hamburg, although it is unclear whether he went).
It has not hitherto been noticed that Constant was associated with the firm of P. C. Lambertye of 5 rue d’Orléans-au-Marais (rue Charlot today), said to have been established in 1788, although the earliest references date from after his return to Paris; the firm was later taken over by Lambertye’s pupil Joseph Panier in 1822, and, in 1850, by Jacques-Michel Paillard. It offered “couleurs en tablettes et en poudre, très-bien préparées; coffrets en carton, décorés d’une manière agréable; papiers vélins d’une grande beauté…”. The initials P.-C. do not correspond to any recorded member of the Lambertye family, and may be a reference to Constant himself (again to avoid open derogation).
He died in Paris, at this same address, 5 rue d’Orléans-au-Marais (he is described in his estate inventory as a négociant). The house was the subject of a sale by Constant and his wife (AN MC/RE/vi/23, 22.xi.1811–11.i.1812), evidently not completed by the time of his death. His widow moved to Poitiers with other members of her family in 1814 (Guilhermy 1886, p. 351: her son Barthélemy, baron de Constant died in Poitiers in 1867); she was given a pension of 1200 livres (Liste générale des pensionnaires…, 1833).
I am most grateful to Constant’s descendants for making available certain unpublished material. Other sources include AN mc xcix/8, 20.viii.18013; AN d’outre-mer, various files; British Artists’ Suppliers at npg.org.uk; British Library, correspondence of Lord Liverpool, Add. ms 38229–38232, 38254; Chaix d’Est-Ange; baron de Guilhermy, Papiers d’un émigré, 1789–1829, Paris, 1886; Henri de Jouvencel, L’Assemblée de la noblesse de la sénéchaussée de Lyon en 1789, Lyon, 1907; Kosek 1998; Georges de Lhomel, Jean-Pierre-Antoine, comte de Béhague, lieutenant général des armées du roi, 1727–1813, Paris, 1907; Lowengard 2008; G. C. Williamson, The miniature collector, 1921, p. 157 (signaled by Jacob Simon; see also RA Winter Exh. cat. 1951-52, p. 219); Wœlmont iii, s.v. Lambertye; État nominatif des pensions sur le Trésor royal, 1791, iii, p. 197; treatises
Ariane James-Sarazin, Hyacinthe Rigaud 1659–1743. 1: L’homme et son art; 2: Catalogue raisonné, Dijon (Faton), 2016, 2 vols (€320)
Stéphane Perreau, Hyacinthe Rigaud. Catalogue raisonné de l’œuvre , online [hyacinthe-rigaud.com] (free; registration required)
One day in the Portobello Road, nearly forty years ago, I came across some portrait engravings by the Drevet family, and, intrigued by their startling technical achievement, I started to collect them. That was then relatively easy, in flea markets whether in London or across France; but before I reached a complete set I was brought to my senses. A dealer, from whom I had bought one, asked me if I had any duplicate Drevets to part with: and it all unravelled, as he wanted them to sell on to another dealer whose client was … me. I never bought another one (nor for that matter have I been able to dispose of the solander boxes full of them which I now never open: if you know anyone who would like to make me an offer…).
I have however retained something of a faible for Rigaud: particularly once you add the missing ingredient of colour. The amazing self-confidence of his original work and its ability to express so much of what intrigues us of the reign of Louis XIV will hold our imagination far more securely than the prints (whatever their unsurpassed technical skills as engravings). And if you couple that with a taste for Saint-Simon you have an enthusiast for life.
But not of course an expert: that I do not claim. And so in this post I write about two new sources very much from the position of reader/user – and even then blinkered by my interests which won’t match those of others. But how do you review two enormous bodies of information fairly and objectively, without being H. W. Fowler’s mythical monster of omniscience? Worse still, how do evaluate either in less than the lifetime of use both promise? And how do you deal with the elephant in the room: namely the evident competition between the authors, of the background to which I know nothing and prefer to remain ignorant.
Of course any two catalogues are going to include a great deal of overlap, and in the case of Rigaud the detailed lists he left published by Roman in 1919 provide a solid corpus from which any account must build. Further Perreau’s website effectively follows the concise catalogue he published in 2013 which was fully known to AJS and cited throughout her work. But SP’s website does not (yet) include references to AJS: a surprising decision, particularly as anyone who wants to use the site quickly (and avoid a trip to the library) to provide a scholarly reference will need to know the AJS numbers.
What prompts me to write about these works, quite apart from any interest you or I may have in Rigaud’s œuvre, is the opportunity to discuss the medium of printed book versus that of the website. We are all aware of the issues facing publishers and authors with printed books (exacerbated in the case of art books by the cost of reproduction rights as well as of coated paper); while on the other hand, online publication remains, if not in its infancy, at the stage of unruly adolescence with concerns about common structures and longevity that haven’t properly been addressed. I’ve discussed these before in this blog, here and here. But I’m interested in how this works in a practical case.
AJS arrived on my desk two months ago. It’s in two volumes, 1408 pages in all, and weighs a colossal 8 kg. While only the second volume is technically the catalogue raisonné, you need the (magnificent) reproductions in the first to use it fully (those in the second volume are tiny). And I confess that, viewed purely from the point of view of physical convenience, this is a nuisance. The volumes in their box live underneath the great pile of books that accumulates in my library which long ran out of shelf space, and for that reason alone I am likely to prefer an online alternative. That is to say nothing of the price differential, an effective deterrent for all but the most enthusiastic. SP certainly deserves our applause for making his work freely available (although I am baffled as to why a registration is then required: this might surely deter some casual readers).
The SP website is relatively straightforward to use. The architecture appears to be rather basic: no bad thing in itself (one of my biggest terrors is investing in over-sophisticated databases which promise everything but end up failing completely, sucked into a need for ever more complex programming to make simple changes that ultimately lead to abandonment). That said, on launch (yesterday), there were plenty of minor glitches – links that take you back to the home page instead of to particular articles or external sites, but also some confusing design issues around the search page (where is it?). And the search function (surely the vital distinction between print and online), when you get to it, is very basic indeed: it does not seem possible to structure a search to retrieve only articles including a specific date: putting quotes around “12 mars 1934” will pick up anything with “12”, “mars” and “1934” in the same article. There is no possibility to search for items in specfic sales, for example.
AJS comes with the endorsement of introductory essays from Pierre Rosenberg and Dominique Brême – although Perreau’s 2004 monograph had a preface from Xavier Salmon. On bulk alone AJS appears considerably larger than SP, and has P numbers running up to 1531 (SP ends at 1445): but these ignore the density of lists of copies and related items which is the fabric of catalogues raisonnnés. Both have similar, possibly slightly confusing numbering systems, particularly when it comes to “œuvres mentionnées” (the plethora of sequences in AJS includes, in addition to the main “P.” run, “PM”, “PR”, “PI”, “NP”, “NPM”, “D”, “DM”, “DR”, “DI”, “E”, “EM”, “ER”, “EI”, “PS” and “PSI”, each with up to eight subdivisions). And for me one major weakness of AJS is that copies and related pictures are not numbered, making citation far more cumbersome; a curious decision.
But what of the content? Here is where I can only report, on little more than an anecdotal basis, my first few hours’ use of both, concentrated – as I have explained – on their coverage of topics which may seem peripheral. But in my experience books which look great when read linearly often fall apart when tested by an orthogonal approach.
Both have a fair number of typos, but SP will benefit from a thorough read throughout. Even headline names have errors (e.g. René-Françoise): an online searchable database won’t tolerate this.
With my enthusiasm for Saint-Simon and Drevet, my first search was for the abbé de “Rancé”. I applied this to the “all portraits” section (oddly labelled in the pull-down menu “Sous-catégories” or, when returning, “Level-up”), and got virtually the whole database. So I narrowed it to “Ecclésiastiques”, and got 24 prelates – but not the abbé. Was he as shy as Saint-Simon tells us? Only by calling him Bouthillier could he be called forth. (SP has the common “Le Bouthillier de Rancé”; AJS has the stricter “Bouthillier de Rancé”, and the index is cross-referenced accordingly.) I quickly gave up any attempt to collate the lists of copies and replicas in the two works: even for the primary version, AJS cites one exhibition (Paris 1878), while SP omits that and cites Paris 1976 and Rouen–Caen 1979. A proper reviewer would have tried to figure out why these don’t agree.
English titles are always a struggle for French writers (just as English writers haven’t a clue when it comes to the French shibboleths of aristocracy), so I thought I’d check “Sir Bourchier Wrey”. Sure enough AJS has “baron de Tawstock”, while SP makes no such error. But he curiously tells us that “Lorsqu’il vivait à Rome, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu parle de lui comme un amoureux de ce pays.” Biographical colour is the best way of bringing portrait catalogues to life: but what Lady Mary actually wrote (to Lady Pomfret, 22 October 1740) was much more amusing: she had tried to take the lodging Sir Bourchier Wrey had previously had, “but the landlord would not let it, for a very pleasant reason. It seems your gallant knight used to lie with his wife; and as he had no hopes I would do the same, he resolves to reserve his house for some young man.”
I next turned to Sireul’s portrait of Jean de La Fontaine, the work in his collection singled out for praise in Lebrun’s Almanach of 1777, when it was described as by Largillierre. I had had to research this problem picture recently when I was working on my article on Sireul (which you should look at for more details). I looked in vain for this in AJS in November, and again failed to find any reference to Sireul or Sireuil in SP. By the time of the liquidation of his estate, the attribution had been revised to Rigaud, and the valuation a mere 30 livres. Unlike most of the lots in his sale, however, this exceeded expectations, reaching 130 livres (Lot 15). It was there described as by Hyacinthe Rigaux [sic], but while my transcription of the liquidation is (I believe) the first to appear (online or in print), and therefore hard to find, several copies of the printed sale catalogue are freely Googleable.
When it comes to pastel versions of Rigaud portraits, considerable problems emerge. Neither work is complete: you will find, for example, no mention of R. E. Pine’s copy of Fleury in either. (SP’s entry on this most important of Rigaud’s lost portraits has as the main colour illustration a version labelled as P.1349-6, which hasn’t been seen since 1901; I presume it is actually the Goodwood version). We know that minor artists such as Graincourt made pastel copies after Rigaud, but he does not appear in the index of AJS, and only once in SP for a copy known to be in oil.
For the most part AJS’s descriptions of versions and copies make it clear which are autograph replicas or copies; one of the main weaknesses in SP is an inconsistent approach here. Is the pastel version of Jabach he lists to be regarded as autograph? And why when referring to La Tour’s copy of Vintimille du Luc does he describe it as: “suiveur de Rigaud (Quentin de La Tour)”, citing the last sale as in 1978 and the last appearance as in 1999. AJS isn’t entirely complete either, although she does reproduce the work, stating “Xavier Salmon a identifié en 2012 le modèle et considère qu’il s’agit d’une étude de La Tour d’apr. Rigaud.” This could have been corrected by reference to my 2006 Dictionary (online the number, or digital object identifier, is J.46.3761), where it is published with the correct identification – and a reference to Salmon’s 2004 exhibition. But the identification is due to Joseph Baillio, from long before then.
Similarly SP makes several references to Valade’s pastel of the comtesse de Sénozan which could have been clarified had he consulted (and preferably cited, as it allows readers to see a reproduction after a few keystrokes on their computer) my Dictionary: the reference is J.74.316. Instead he cites (under P.1360) the reproduction in a biography of Malesherbes which gives the location as the Nicolay-Lamoignon family; while in another article (P.1392) he gives the correct location (Detroit) but with the old attribution, to La Tour.
Of course citing modern literature is a matter of courtesy, and can easily be overlooked with the pressure of material involved in projects such as these. But it goes beyond mere courtesy when a new and tentative attribution is made in a single source, and that is used without acknowledgement and stripped of reservation. I think that may have happened where the lost portrait of “Mme Sandrier” is discussed. This name appears in Rigaud’s accounts for 1693, and Roman (followed by AJS, P.351) suggest she is probably Mme Jacques Sandrier, née Agnès Rillard; AJS adds that they were married in 1671, and links them to another Rigaud portrait: all perfectly plausible, if unverifiable. SP (P.317) misprints the name as “Billard” (all the more confusing since he uses only ladies’ maiden names in his headlines); nor can this be a correction since he says that this is Roman’s proposal. He then notes, without source, that “le pastelliste Joseph Vivien ayant portraituré Gilles-Jérôme Sandrier, maître charpentier, entrepreneur des bâtiments du roi et son épouse, il se peut que cette dernière ait à son tour sollicité Rigaud.” But as far as I know, I was the first to reattribute the pendant pastels of “M. Sandrier, entrepreneur des bâtimens du roi” from La Tour to Vivien (where you will find Madame at J.77.306), and tentatively to identify which Sandrier this was. What SP has not considered however is that Gilles-Jérôme was born in 1693.
As I said before, you can’t judge works like these in a few hours. Trivial errors don’t undermine the accumulated knowledge enshrined in these vast corpora, which will take years to unfold. The good thing about an online database is that it can be corrected, and the information made all the more accessible.
Bravo to both these authors for enriching our knowledge of this wonderful painter.
(With apologies to Kipling for my title.)
In these days where immigration is a hot topic, let us turn our minds back to a world where the focus was emigration. Everyone reading this post will be well aware that Mme Vigée Le Brun left France during the Revolution and spent many years in exile. Attentive students of her life will be aware that, in the early part of 1799, her husband (who had remained in Paris) organised a petition signed by 255 luminaries in the arts, letters and sciences which was presented to the Directoire to have her name removed from the list of émigrés (whose assets were forfeit). This ultimately paved the way for her return to Paris, although soon after her return she resumed her travels. That is a story which has been told repeatedly, and you can find excellent accounts for example in Geneviève Haroche-Bouzinac’s recent biography.
But little attention has been devoted to the signatories of that petition, which is now easily accessible from the Archives nationales. For on receipt of the petition (stamped 8 Thermidor an VII, i.e. 26 July 1799), the Directoire remitted the document and its supporting material to the police, where the file (of 136 pages) still remains (cote F/7/5651/9: demandes de radiation de la liste d’émigrés et de main-levée de séquestre). After an initial request (10 brumaire an II, i.e. 31 October 1793), which got nowhere, Le Brun waited until the climate was more propitious, and this time assembled a formidable dossier to support his application, carefully identifying a loophole in the regulations which permitted artists to travel (Art. Ier (VI), 2° Décret de l’Assemblée nationale, 30 mars–8 avril 1792, no. 1615 exempts “ceux qui ont été notoirement connus avant leur depart, pour s’être consacrés à ces études [des sciences, arts ou métiers], et ne s’être absente que pour acquérir de nouvelles connaissances dans leur état”).
The list of signatories of this 1799 petition itself is a fascinating document for a number of reasons. Apart from anything else it has the autograph signatures of a number of artists (see detail above), some famous (Fragonard, Greuze, Houdon, Pajou, Boze, Ducreux, Duplessis etc.), others quite obscure, specimens that can provide art historians with useful comparisons (e.g. to distinguish works signed by homonyms). But there will be far greater social interest in seeing who did sign – and who did not. While of course some artists may not have been in Paris at the time (Jacques-Antoine-Marie Lemoine, for example, had just been appointed to the école de marine, and was probably not present), others – most notably Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, and her famous group of female pupils (of whom Gabrielle Capet was the most talented) – may have chosen not to, either because they did not approve of Vigée Le Brun’s conduct, or because they judged the climate still too dangerous for open support. To gauge the latter however one need only take account of the presence of Vincent, Vien and – most surprisingly to those who reduce political complexities to caricature – David.
The broad parameters of a demographic analysis are easily summarised. Of the 255 signatories, 123 are painters, 28 sculptors and 31 engravers. (The painters comprise all genres, including portraitists, miniaturists etc.) Perhaps the surprising thing is the numbers of architects (32). There are 27 writers, 7 musicians and 11 scientists. Of these signatories, 37 were identified as members of the Institut. Astonishingly only seven of the signatories (under 3%) seem to have been female: I leave it to readers to debate the reasons for this (statistically however it cannot be explained by the general suppression of women artists: nearly a fifth of pastellists were female).
Helpfully Le Brun himself provided a list of signatories and their qualities, which I transcribe below. The original spelling is preserved (including inconsistent attempts at “Institut national” etc.), although capitalisation is often indeterminate; only the contraction Ptre has been spelt out, as “pintre”, since this is the spelling Le Brun employed when he wrote it out in full. There is little need for a gloss, as the identities of all but a few will be readily determined by consulting standard reference books (a good many of them even find entries in the Dictionary of pastellists).
Postscript, 9 January 2017
Nevertheless I have now posted a fully annotated list (that is the version of record, and may be cited as Neil Jeffares, “Vigée Le Brun’s petitioners”, Pastels & pastellists, http://www.pastellists.com/Essays/VigeeLeBrunPetition.pdf).
PPS: As helpfully signalled in Joseph Baillio’s 1982 Kimbell exhibition catalogue, pages of the document including the signatures (but not Le Brun’s list) are reproduced is reproduced in a surprising publication: André Girodie’s Un peintre de fêtes galantes: Jean-Frédéric Schall (Strasbourg, 1927), which is however no longer in print and not available online.
Andrieux (des 500) homme de lettres
Ansiaux pintre d’histoir
Antoine architecte de la monoye
Arnault homme de lettres
Aubry pintre de portrait
Audouin (P.) graveur, municipal
Augustin pintre en miniature
Auzou pintre en miniature
Bachelier pintre d’histoir, directeur de lecolle Central
Balhard pintre et architecte
Barbier (de Nimes) pintre d’histoir
Bazin pintre de portrait
Beauvallet sculpteur, et ad. du departement de la Seine
Belle pintre d’histoir
Belle (fils) pintre d’histoir
Belin pintre de portrait
Bellier pintre de portrait
Berjon pintre en miniature
Bertin pintre de paysages
Berthelemy pintre d’histoir, commissaire des monuments des arts en Italie
Bidault pintre de paysages
Boilly pintre de genre
Bonvoisin pintre d’histoir
Bonnemaison pintre d’histoir
Bounieu pintre d’histoir
Bourgois pintre de genre
Boquet pintre d’histoir
Boquet (jeune) sculpteur
Bouché pintre d’histoir, pentionair de La republic
Bouton pintre en miniature
Bouillard (Citoyenne) pintre d’histoir
Boze pintre de portrait
Bréa pintre en miniature et en emaille
Brun pintre de genre
Cailhava homme de lettres de linstitu natiaunal
Callet pintre d’histoir
Cazin pintre de marine
Chalgrin architete de linstitu natiaunal
Charles phisitien de linstitu natiaunal
Chatillon pintre en miniature
Chaudet (Citoyenne) pintre de portrait
Chenier des 500 homme de lettres de listutu natonal
Chenard musitien du theatre &
Colson pintre de portrait
Collin d’harville homme de lettres
Courteille pintre d’histoir
Cozette pintre chef de la manufacture des tapissery des Goblin
Cozette fils pintre
Cuvuvier anatomiste de linstitu natiaunal
Dardel sculpteur administrateur du museum de versailles
Davide pintre d’histoir de linstitu natiaunal
Davide Le Roy architecte de linstitu natiaunal
DeJoux sculpteur de linstitu natiaunal
Delafontaine pintre d’architecture
Demachy pintre idem
De Marne pintre de paysages et genre
Desrais pintre desinateur
Devouges pintre d’histoir
Devouges (jeune) pintre de portrait
Domergue homme de lettres de linstitu natiaunal
Drolling pintre de genre
DuCis homme de lettres de linstitu national
DuCreux pintre de portrait
Dufrenoy femme de lettres
Dumont pintre en miniature
Dunouy pintre de paysages
Duplessis pintre de portraits du museum de Versailles
Dupré graveur de la monoy
Duvivier graveur des medailles
Fajas naturaliste de Linstitu natiaunal
Fragonard pintre d’histoir du muse Central des arts
Fragonard (fils) pintre d’histoir
François de Neuf Chateau homme de lettres de linsitu national
Fourcroy chimiste de linstitut natiaunal
Garnier pintre d’histoir
Garnier pintre de genre
Gerard pintre d’histoir
Gerard (Citoyenne) pintre de genre
Girodet pintre d’histoir
Giblin pintre d’histoir du muse de Versailles correspondant de Linstitu national
Ginguené homme de lettres de linstitu national
Gois (fils) sculpteur pintre de la republic
Gossec musitien du conservatoire de musique, de linstitu national
Gounod pintre d’histoir
Guillaumont architecte administrateur de la manufacture de tapisserie des goblin
Houel pintre et graveur
Houdon sculpteur de Linstitu national
Hüe pintre des ports de la republic
Huvé architecte administrateur du muse de lecolle special a Versailles
Imbert delonne anatomiste inspecteur general du service de santé
Jollain pintre du muse Central des arts
Isabey pintre en miniature
Julien sculpteur, de linstitu national
La Cepede naturaliste de Linstitu national
Lafontaine pintre d’histoir
Lamarque naturaliste de linstitu natiaunal
Le Mercier homme de lettres
Le Monier pintre d’histoir
Landon pintre d’histoir pentionair de la republic
Laneuville pintre de portrait
Lavallee homme de lettres
La Grenné pintre d’histoir
La Grenné le Jeune pintre d’histoir
Le Barbier L’ainé pintre d’histoir
Le Brun homme de lettres de linstitu national
Le Brun pintre en miniature
Le Cler pintre electeur de l’an 7
Le Comte sculpteur
Le Doux architecte
Le Grand architecte
Le Guay pintre en email et mini
Le Gouvé homme de lettres de linstitu national
Le Thier pintre d’histoir
Le Sueur musitien du conservatoir de musique
Malet pintre de genre
Martiny musicitien du conservatoir de musique
Martin pintre d’histoir
Marschal pintre de genre
Massard (fils) graveur
Méhul musitien du conservatoir de musique
Mercier homme de lettres de Linstitu national
Merimée pintre distoir
Meynier pintre d’histoir
Merckelin mecanitien de linstitu natiaunal
Millin homme de lettres conservateur de la bibliotheque natio et de linstitu national
Milo (Citoyenne) sculpteur
Moitte sculpteur de linstitu natiaunal commaissaire des monuments des arts en Italie
Mongez antiquaire de linstitu natiaunal
Moreau graveur de lecol special
Morel homme de lettres
Monsiau pintre d’histoir
Monvelle homme de lettres de linstitu national
Monvelle (fils) homme de lettres
Naigion pintre d’histoir
Naudon pintre de paysages
Névéu pintre d’histoir de lecol politequenic
Palisot homme de lettres
Parmentier de linstitu national
Parny homme de lettres
Pajoux sculpteur de linstitu natiaunal
Pajoux (fils) pintre d’histoir
Perrin pintre d’histoir
Peyre architecte de linstitut natiaunal
Peyre (neveu) architecte
Peyron pintre d’histoir
Pipelet femme de lettres
Prevost pintre de fleurs
Prud’hon pintre d’hstoir
Portal anataomiste de linstitut natiaunal
Raymond architecte de linstutu national
Redoutté pintre d’histoir
Regnaul pintre d’histoir de Linstitu natiaunal
Renou pintre d’histoir
Robert pintre de genre du muse Central des arts
Robin pintre d’histoir
Roederer homme de lettres de Linstitu natiaunal
Roeser pintre de paysages
Romany (Citoyenne) pintre de portrait
Rousseau de la Roithier sculpteur
Sablet pintre de genre
Sarrette commissaire du Gouvernement pres le Conservatoir de musique
Schall pintre de genre
Senave pintre de genre
Sergent graveur et conventional
Serangeli pintre d’histoir
Sicardi pintre en miniature
Silvain Marechal homme de lettres
Simon pintre en miniature
Simon graveur sur pierre fines
St Aubain graveur
St Martin pintre de paysages
Solie musitien compositeur du theatres &
Spaendonck (Corneill van) pintre de fleur
Spaendonck (van) pintre de fleur de linstitu natiaunal
Suvee pintre d’histoir du muse Central des arts
Swagert pintre de paysages
Taillasson pintre d’histoir homme de lettres
Taunay pintre de genre de linstitu natiaunal
Taurel pintre de marine
Tibault architecte et pintre
Tinet pintre du museum de Versailles Commissaire des monuments des arts en Italie
Touzé pintre d’histoir
Valenciennes pintre de paysages
Valmont Bomare naturaliste de linstitu natiaunal
Vallayer Coster (Citoyenne) pintre de genre
Vanderburg pintre de paysages
Vandael pintre de fleurs
Vangorp pintre de genre
Vernet (Carle) pintre d’histoir
Vestier pintre de portrait
Vien pintre d’histoir de linstitu natiaunal et du muse central des arts
Vigée homme de lettres
Vincent pintre d’histoir de Linstitu national
Villar homme de lettres de Linsitut national et conventiaunel
Just as Gaul is divided in three parts, so now everyone also knows that the EU is founded on four pillars: freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and labour. Although “pillar” hardly seems le mot juste for such dynamic concepts. And one would require a lengthy gloss to discuss whether the fourth component is people or just workers. But while we are all focused on the tension between controlling immigration at the expense of suffering barriers to trade in goods and services, very little attention is being given to capital. That’s partly because virtually none of the UK electorate (and almost none of our MPs) understand the issues, and also because there are widely held misconceptions about capital to which even “experts” haven’t fully adjusted.
The Brexit issues for capital are indeed complicated, but there are some serious questions that are easy to grasp even if the answers aren’t knowable. The fundamental issue relates to how far flows of capital might be restricted. It is perhaps easiest to see this in the context of banking, and specifically the interbank trading which has come to dominate the London business. Essentially (unlike traditional lending or trade-related financial services) this is a zero-sum activity (less staff salaries and bonuses). Profitability depends on finding a loser. If that is a Japanese bank or a German Landesbank, then London benefits (and if the winner is the London branch of an American bank, UK taxpayers will still imagine they are ahead of the game through trickle-down from bonuses being spent or taxed in London). It’s a tradition that goes back to Sir Francis Drake. And when, as regularly happens, the loser is an incompetent UK bank, the UK taxpayer simply bails it out and (through the generosity of the Bank of England, labelled monetary policy) feeds it enough cheap money to stay at the table. Most people have only a dim idea of what is involved (how many understand the reason why savings earn nothing?), and the international dimension allows the picture to remain obscure. Mine was a lone voice in asking the various commissions and enquiries after 2008 to investigate the sources of profit in banking before rearranging the deckchairs with ring-fencing etc.
But suppose all interbank activity were restricted to UK banks trading among themselves, and you could see directly that every penny that Barclays made was paid for by RBS shareholders (that’s us, in case you had forgotten). Isn’t it possible that the penny might finally drop?
Or perhaps not. The stubbornness of stupidity in the face of the clearest evidence is of course the basis of populism – the cynical harnessing of prejudice, ignorance and superstition for the acquisition of power by a politician who should (and often does) know better. Like surfing on waves, it is what happens underneath that matters: and where contrary flows are overwhelmed, the resulting tsunami can have catastrophic effects.
There is a similar effect in stock-market bubbles: misdirection causes enough punters to pursue asset prices – be they equities, houses or tulips – to levels unrelated to fundamental value. That dissociation from reality is exactly what started with Brexit and with Trump. (The efficient markets hypothesis is flawed in exactly the same way as the process of democratic election – even if both ideas may be better than all the others.)
I have no predictions for 2017. There are too many moving parts.