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Antoine Levert, maître menuisier-ébéniste

Opnamedatum: 2012-06-07 SK-L-5512

Introducing his magisterial catalogue of the Fragonard exhibition in 1987, Pierre Rosenberg borrowed the injunction “Gens, Honorez Fragonard” from a letter of the artist’s grandson written at a time (1847) when the great rococo painter had sunk into obscurity. But while everyone now knows the important painters of the dix-huitième, almost no one pays any attention to the framemakers of Paris whose extraordinary skill embellished and enhanced the productions of artists from Fragonard to Vigée Le Brun. In part that is because we rarely look behind the frames of pictures on the wall, and in part it is because even when we do, so few of the frames bear the maker’s mark. This article is about one who is known – and indeed has caught my eye because a disproportionate number of the original stamped eighteenth century pastel frames are by him: and because hitherto virtually nothing is known about his life. As I shall show, the full name of the frame-maker whose stamp is shown above was Honoré-Antoine Levert, and he was born around 1710 and died in 1785. Honorez Enfin Levert!

You won’t find those dates in reference books. Indeed in Mitchell & Roberts’s excellent History of European Picture Frames, or Paul Mitchell’s original 1985 article (helpfully reproduced on The Frame Blog) all you get is a list of the 14 Paris framemakers known from their stamps, among them “Abraham or Antoine Levert”. A subsequent article by Edgar Harden, also now available online at the NPG website, extended this list to 22, and (correctly) narrowed Levert to Antoine; it also provided excellent background to the distinctions between menuisiers, ébénistes and sculpteurs and outlined the training and hierarchies in the related professions. As Harden observed, the battles between the guilds were complicated and confusing. (The much needed longer study promised in the article has however not materialised.) Harden noted too that the Paris framemakers all worked in the faubourg Saint-Antoine district.

As for our “A Levert”, Mitchell’s uncertainty stemmed from two entries in the still essential reference, Henri Vial & al.’s Les Artistes décorateurs du bois (Paris, 1912) which appear thus:


Before you get too excited in assuming Abraham Levert must have been Maurice-Quentin de La Tour’s framemaker, have a look at the 1779 document referred to (you can find it on my La Tour chronological table of documents, currently at p. 54): there are a dozen artisans listed from various trades. We can in fact trace this Abraham Levert quite easily from the parish registers at Saint-Quentin (at Notre-Dame, later Sainte-Pécine): he was born in 1719 or 1720, outlived two wives, Marie-Louise Douet and Catherine Gobron, and died 17 septembre 1783. There is no evidence that he ever worked outside Saint-Quentin or that he ever made a picture frame. And anyway La Tour’s pastels were made and framed in Paris, not Saint-Quentin.

We should also dispose of another possible homonym (Levert is as common a name in France as Green is in England): an Alexandre Levert, maître menuisier (although omitted from Vial) was recorded in Paris, rue de la Clef, paroisse Saint-Médard in 1731, when he was witness to one of those “miracles” so elaborately documented for the purposes of canonisation. However, he was probably the Alexandre Levert from that parish who died aged 39 at Les Invalides.

But what of our Antoine Levert? Vial’s references add nothing to the bare facts of his maîtrise in 1774, when he lived in Saint-Jean-de-Latran. Based on the examples known when I first encountered a frame with his stamp (Edgar Harden, private communication, 2008), Levert’s output was confined to fewer than ten frames, all oval, and it was thought that he died soon after his maîtrise, perhaps c.1779. The date sparked my interest as some of the pastels seemed a little later (well into the 1780s), and while framers might have some frames for stock which were not used immediately, the date of his death seemed an important clue in dating several pastels I was researching. (Many pastels remain in their cadres d’origine – although one has to be careful with bigger names: works by La Tour and Perronneau were routinely reframed by dealers in the early twentieth century to make them look more important and justify higher prices for what were then fashionable. Subsequently good frames became more valuable than the pastels they housed.)

Armed only with this information you might conclude that Levert had been born around 1750, had been apprenticed at the normal age and served his nine years before his mastery, and must then have died very young.

It is also worth noting that the enclos de Saint-Jean-de-Latran is a different part of Paris than the faubourg Saint-Antoine. It was where the place Marcelin-Berthelot currently stands. But, as you can read in Vial’s introduction or in more recent studies such as Alain Thillay’s La Faubourg Saint-Antoine et ses “faux ouvriers”: la liberté du travail à Paris aux XVIIe et au XVIIIe siècles (2002), both areas enjoyed special protection from the guild system that otherwise would have made it impossible for many of these workers to survive. These rights were granted by a king anxious to find something to do with soldiers returning from wars. Saint-Jean-de-Latran was of course far smaller than the faubourg Saint-Antoine: only a handful of menuisiers operated there.

The document I have now unearthed that allows us to identify Levert is another precious find in the Registres de tutelles at the Archives nationales (AN Y5065A). Dated 5 février 1780, it concerns the guardianship of the four minor children of Levert’s recently deceased cousin, who bore the unusual name of Wanang-Crispin Levert [sic], and had been a maître perruquier in the rue Saint-Honoré. His widow, Margueritte-Gabrielle Bécüe, was the sister of Antoine-Martin Bécüe (1732–1793), marchand de tableaux, rue des Grands Augustins, and the other “parents et amis” included more perruquiers, a marchand de vin and a maître tailleur. None of this will come as a surprise to readers of this blog: the families of many eighteenth century pastellists often included artisans in these luxury trades.

We know from a further document in the same registres de tutelles (Y5139A) dated 4 mars 1786 that Marguerite-Gabrielle was remarried after Wanang-Crispin’s death, to Jean-Antoine de Melun, another maître perruquier, a document necessitated by her own death. We shall see why Antoine Levert does not appear in it. Her brother Antoine-Martin Bécüe had by then abandoned picture dealing, and was described as an “officier au Charbon”; when his carte de sécurité was issued, 22 juillet 1793, just a few months before his death, he was a “journalier”.

But let us return to the 1780 document, where Antoine Levert is described as “S Honoré Antoine Le Vert mtre menuisier a Paris y demeurant enclos et paroisse de St Jean De Latran oncle paternal a la mode de Bretagne” to the children, i.e. their first cousin once removed.

LevertV enfants tutelles 1780i

That suggests that he was considerably older than we thought. Indeed the full name makes it pretty certain that he is the Honoré-Antoine Levert, menuisier, who was married in Dijon in 1734:

LevertHonoreAntoine mariafe DijonND16ix1734

His bride was Jeanne Breton, daughter of a local maître menuisier, Jean Breton (surely the “Breton” mentioned in Vial, p. 68, without prénom as in Dijon in 1718, when he signed a document concerning the rights of apprentices) and his wife, née Jeanne Gage (they had married in the same church, Notre-Dame de Dijon, in 1712). Levert, whose name appears in the register with the “Honoré” inserted later suggesting that he was habitually known as Antoine, is described as “natif de Am en Picardie”, his parents being Furent [?; illegible] Antoine Levert, menuisier and Marie-Gabriel [sic] Cohardy. Sadly the parish records for Saint-Martin in Ham (Somme) are not available, but the Cohardy family records overlap with nearby parishes, and Levert’s mother was surely related to Charles Cohardy (1692–1757), a butcher from Ham, whose brother was also called Vaneng (the more usual spelling of this seventh-century saint).

So in all likelihood the framemaker was born in this village, about 13 miles from Saint-Quentin, probably about 1710. He had no doubt completed his apprenticeship and was travelling around France as a journeyman when he probably worked for Jean Breton in Dijon, and married the patron’s daughter. The witnesses included several compagnons menuisiers, doubtless colleagues. There is then a forty year interval before his maîtrise in Paris: but given the exemptions enjoyed by the enclos Saint-Jean-de-Latran, it seems quite possible that he traded in Paris from much earlier than 1774, as work of his quality has nothing provincial to it.

One cannot completely exclude the possibility that he had a son with exactly the same name, but Occam’s razor dissuades us from inventing such an unnecessary hypothesis. And while the differences between his signature on the 1780 document (above) and the marriage register entry (below) are considerable, they are consistent with some infirmity at this much greater age:

Levert sigs 1780 1734

What then of his death? An entry in the notary’s records for 1 août 1785 records a “renonciation à la succession” to an Antoine Levert of unspecified trade or age by his heirs, two daughters, Jeanne, wife of Jacques-François Noël (who I think is the son of a vitrier) and Claudine, wife of an Yves Le Valois (whom I have not traced).

Levert renonciation 1785

I speculated previously that this was our framemaker, consistent with the absence of his name from the 1786 entry in the registres de tutelles. One further document surely confirms this: an entry in the table alphabétique des scellés (AN Z2 3675) showing that the seals were applied to the premises of a menuisier named “Leverre” [sic], first name unknown, on 10 mai 1785. Two months later the daughters went through the formalities of renouncing the estate, presumably encumbered with debts exceeding the assets. Who pays their framemaker when he’s dead?

Fortunately Levert’s stamp means that he has left a rather different legacy, which increasingly careful cataloguing at auction is bringing more and more to our attention. Not all of it were picture frames: as an ébéniste, his stamp appears on a number of items of furniture such as these commodes which have appeared at auction in recent years:

Nor were all his frames oval: here is a rectangular example (Binoche & Giquello, 15.x.2015, Lot 157):

Levert cadre rect Par15x2015 L157

Despite the quality and no doubt expense of his frames, they appear on works by artists of varying quality. Here are two on the pastels which originally caught my attention (both in a private collection), by Ducreux:

Levert Cadre ducreux fill

and Mosnier:

Levert Cadre Mosnier

Click on the links for essays on the pastels concerned, and a discussion of the dating of the two works.

Another stamped frame recently seen at auction (Doullens, Herbette, 24.vii.2011, Lot 65) is from an oil portrait of a woman signed and dated 1775 by the 22-year-old Lié-Louis Perin-Salbreux:

Perin JF hst Cadre Levert

It is an oval adaptation of the standard French flat seen so widely in the Louis XVI era, including on many pastels. This is one of the earliest stamped Levert frames, from the year after his maîtrise (perhaps only weeks later).

Two pendants which will shortly be auctioned in Bruges (Carlo Bonte, 20–21.iii.2018, Lot 497), described as of the marquis de Corberon and his wife (but rather of his brother, Marie-Daniel Bourrée, chevalier de Corberon (1748–1810), the diplomat and writer, and his wife, née Charlotte-Marie-Christine de Behmer) are in frames by Levert that have lost much of their delicate ribbon superstructure, revealing mouldings very similar to the 1775 example above (swapping the pearl and leaf decorations):

An. ms de Corberon Bruges29iii2018 L497

They are probably marriage portraits, and the date of the union (1781) sets a terminus post quem for Levert’s activity (assuming, as seems most probable, that these are cadres d’origine).

A simpler model appears on this anonymous pastel (J.48.114: Vendôme, Rouillac, 20.ii.2017, Lot 67) copied from a 1776 print by Helman after Leprince:

ar Leprince Astronome Vendome20ii2017 L67 fr

Another more elaborate example, closer to the frame on the Mosnier, is found on an oil of a lady whose costume seems to belong to the mid-1780s. The unsigned painting could belong to the circle of Labille-Guiard, but it is not inconceivable that it is a copy of a lost Vigée Le Brun: a particularly interesting possibility since this moulding is very close to those by an unidentified framemaker that I discussed in my blog post on Vigée Le Brun’s frames.

An. D cadre Levert o

Lastly I turn to the Levert frame most widely cited in the literature (see, for example, Henry Heydenryk, The art and history of frames, London, 1963, pp. 80–81, fig. 3; Claus Grimm, The book of picture frames, New York, 1981, p. 229, no. 307): the oil of the marquis de Saint-Paul in the Rijksmuseum traditionally attributed to Greuze and dated c.1760:

Greuze Saint-Paul rijksmuseum

The traditional attribution of this painting has recently been questioned, and Joseph Baillio (private communication, 2016) sees it as an early work by Vigée Le Brun (c.1776: he compares it with her portrait of Jacques-Louis-Guillaume Bouret de Vézelay exhibited in the recent Vigée Le Brun show, no. 24).

We have no firm evidence as yet that Vigée Le Brun’s mystery framer was Antoine Levert, but certainly a number of his frames were very similar to those she used in the early part of her career. Perhaps the most striking thing that emerges from this brief survey is the range of his work: by no means was he restricted to turning out identical mouldings.

In any case we are perhaps a little closer to the social circle in which Levert developed his remarkable skills, even if the full biographies of craftsmen of his day will never be known for certain.


Pastels in Lausanne

COVERWhen I first became interested in pastel, one of the books that I bought had just recently (1984) been published: Geneviève Monnier’s Pastels. From the 16th to the 20th century, a Skira production which, although that’s a long time ago, still to me looks wonderfully attractive. (According to Abebooks, you can buy a second-hand copy for just £1.07; one in perfect condition isn’t that much more expensive.) Apart from the contents, it was properly sewn (so it opened flat), had a handsome cloth cover and beautiful dust wrapper with a detail from the great La Tour Mme de Pompadour. Inside the 98 colour reproductions on satin-textured uncoated paper brought out, to a far higher standard than many books today, the extraordinary luminous but matt effect shared by pastels of all eras. I hadn’t until this morning realised that the printing and binding had both been undertaken by firms in Lausanne. All the other pastel surveys that I read at the time, including Monnier’s own catalogue of the Louvre pastels, differed in one or two important respects: most concentrated on a single national school; but more glaringly still, they rarely continued after 1800. And indeed when I go back to Monnier, I find it was up to page 43 (where the 18th century ends), and after page 107 (where the technical section starts), that I read closely.

Since then there have been several similar attempts to survey pastels over long periods. Perhaps the largest pastel exhibition ever held (Mistrzowie pastelu: od Marteau do Witkacego) was in Warsaw in 2015. A small, and not terribly well produced (despite the eminence of its contributors), volume entitled L’Art du pastel (covering pastels from Coypel to Skira) appeared in 2008. A completely different, lavishly produced volume with exactly the same title appeared in 2014 (an English translation appeared the following year, at a more affordable price). Written by Thea Burns and Philippe Saunier, it too fell naturally into two halves, before and after 1800, each contributed by the different authors. It also, like most of these before/after surveys, had a strong materials content: the paper conservator cannot afford to neglect half their business. Indeed a technical section featured in the beautiful November 2017 Dossier de l’art devoted to pastel, issued to coincide with the Petit-Palais exhibition De Degas à Redon, but adding a series of separate articles on the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

That transition between the dix-huitième and dix-neuvième nevertheless seems somehow fundamental in so many ways. It’s more than just the change in sound that you get at the “crossover point” on a piano, where the strings switch from copper-coiled pairs lying in one direction to steel triples stretched underneath: generations of piano makers have laboured ingeniously to conceal the inevitable change in tonal colour. In the world of pastel, there has been no attempt at such concealment: by the nineteenth century artists no longer wanted to use pastel as it had been used in the ancien régime (if they wanted to use it at all). They didn’t even want to make portraits, certainly not exclusively. They didn’t want to use pastel to emulate oil painting, covering areas with smooth, blended colour. Peinture au pastel was dead, replaced – after a hesitant start, admittedly, particularly in those countries where traditional pastel had died the quickest death – by a return to graphic uses and an exploration of the vibrant tones of the medium in an almost abstract setting. (It is surprising to find one of the essays in the catalogue suggesting that the gap in interest in pastel at this “crossover point” was attributable to the fact that untrained amateurs could succeed in producing a decent result in pastel: the visible gap between the technical accomplishment of the best professional and “what ladies did for amusement”, in Reynolds’s famous phrase, was never higher than in the eighteenth century; and the factors leading to the medium’s demise after the French Revolution were far more complicated. For the pejorative attacks on pastel, see this previous post.)

So does it makes sense to consider pre- and post-1800 pastels together? Is the medium a sufficient binder to bring these disparate art forms together? Will the orthogonal objectives of artists in the two periods collide, or miss altogether? That is the question raised by the new show Pastels du 16e au 21e siècle at the Fondation de l’Hermitage in Lausanne, which runs until 21 May. Of course it isn’t a question to which there is a “right”, or even a single, answer; we each bring our different prejudices to it.

I can see that from many perspectives the breadth and range of the show is exemplary, and that it offers a remarkable demonstration of the range of the medium. I don’t normally review exhibitions I haven’t attended myself, but I wanted to draw your attention to it while there is still time for you to go, and I fear for various reasons I may not be able to get there until quite late. I have however seen almost all the eighteenth century pastels in the show, and I have before me the catalogue edited by Sylvie Wuhrmann and Aurélie Couvreur. Incidentally, production has now moved to Italy, the signatures are glued (so it doesn’t open flat), the paper is “demi-mat” (and has resulted in some reproduction problems of which the Liotard on p. 41 is the worst example). A more serious problem is the cover price: 52.68 Swiss francs (who ever doubted that the Swiss had an eye for detail?), which together with postage for those who can’t make it to Lausanne amounted to £67. This is hardly a level that will attract the casual reader, which is a shame since it seems to me that that is the audience most likely to be won over to the cause by this show.

There’s a useful Swiss television report on the exhibition here, and I’ve posted a few stills from it below to give you some idea of how the hang looks:

Is this a show that has something for everyone, or one that has an element that will grate with each visitor?

First the basics. Conscious of the dangers of transporting pastel, the organisers have confined themselves to what was available in Switzerland. There are 151 numbered exhibits, running from c.1561 to 2017; the catalogue has 224 pages. The “crossover point” is at cat. no. 31 on p. 61 (a sketch by Louis Aubert formerly in the Goncourt collection, related to a 1755 engraving by Duflos); on the other side of this page is an 1862 rural scene by Jean-François Millet which surely involves a change of every conceivable gear.

csm_PASTELS_Barocci_ld_96065d8f50There is a smaller divide earlier on: while the gorgeous Barocci (cat. 1; left) does use a significant quantity of manufactured pastel applied in a painterly fashion (it’s from the collection of Jean Bonna, who has generously lent five sheets to the show), and the Bassano study shows areas of light falling on drapery, the coloured chalk drawings by Ippolito Leoni and Giovanni Martinelli are not really pastels as narrowly defined in say my Dictionary. Of course in the context of a broad exhibition they help define the boundaries of the medium – as arguably do the two charcoal studies with touches of pastel by Lorenzo Tiepolo using a technique quite different from his Madrid series.

Perronneau Mme d'Arche copyThe effect of the laudable policy on borrowing has had unequal results. Of the 24 eighteenth century pastels, nine come from just one private collection: of these the star is the wonderful Perronneau girl (right), which I picked out in this blog when it was lent to Orléans. Geneva (musée d’Art et d’Histoire), which has one of the most important and extensive collections in the world, but also a prudent approach to lending pastel, nevertheless did lend two works – the Liotard Jeu de loto and their version of the La Tour autoportrait: curious choices for the 65 km journey. But the simple problem for the organisers was that, while seven of the 24 were by Liotard, there were no pastels by Nanteuil, Vivien, Coypel, Mengs, Mme Roslin, Labille-Guiard, Cotes or Russell etc. to fill the gaps needed if a comprehensive account were to be given of pastel in Europe in the eighteenth century.

Degas_DanseusesThat is perhaps less of a problem for the later periods (nos 32-151): there are stand-out works by Degas (the Hermitage’s own Danseuses, which the organizers explain inspired the show) and Manet (the cover girl), and for dix-neuviémistes and contemporary specialists, as well as paper conservators, the exhibition will have much to interest. I’m curious to know where the organizers positioned the La Tour self-portrait, and whether his finger is pointing at the series of goose pictures by Alfred Sisley or some similar incongruity. But although hardly the most recent work in the show (it dates from 1972), I can’t resist including Sam Szafran’s L’Atelier, rue de Crussol avec boîtes de pastels:


But it is the catalogue that I have before me. There are nearly 20 essays, of varying quality, but they seem mostly unconnected to the exhibits except that the latter are reproduced passim throughout the volume. There is in fact not really a catalogue as such, in terms that one would normally expect: nothing beyond a checklist repeating the captions, no biographies of the artists, and no information on provenance, literature or exhibition history. That of course explains why there is no discussion about attributions or identifications (four of which are due to me, but uncredited). Pastel research remains at an early stage: readers deserve to know when information is firm or based only on the opinion of one specialist. Just to take a few examples, the portraits of the Lemoyne sisters (nos. 24, 25), which are signed on the back “Peinte par St Aubin…”, were traditionally attributed to Gabriel de Saint-Aubin, but it was only in 2012 that I was shown the signature and was able to publish them in the Dictionary as by Claude Pougin de Saint-Aubin. Similarly the pastel (no. 9) given as by Celeste Tanfani had previously been attributed, by another expert, to Tempesti, but I recognised it in 2006 as a version of the only surviving signed pastel by this extremely obscure, later artist. Incidentally the charming anonyme little boy (no. 27) can I think (although I hadn’t until now noticed this) be attributed to Jacques-Samuel-Louis Piot, the local pastellist in Lausanne.

The strength of the exhibition undoubtedly lies in its exploration of the technical aspects of the medium. Of the essays those with the narrowest topics are the most rewarding, notably the study on Stoupan, the famous pastel maker from Lausanne (incidentally it is still not completely clear how Stoupan and François Michod, whose trade card is delightfully included in the show, were uncle and nephew: see my article). Since exhibitions on pastel now have to show visitors the materials, it is interesting to compare the relative success of various exhibitions in obtaining these extremely rare survivors. Of course in an exhibition of oil paintings one wouldn’t expect to be shown a palette, brushes and tubes of paint, and I look forward to the day when exhibition organizers are sufficiently comfortable to put on a pastel show that doesn’t require these heuristic supports; but I recognize that that day is in the future. The Liotard exhibition in London in 2015 included the V&A’s box that came from John Russell’s family, but it was simply a small wooden box with a few remnants he might have used before his death in the early nineteenth century. The important new item here is the 1772 box of pastels by Vernezobre (for more details see my Prolegomena).


I’m quite sure this exhibition will draw in many visitors and will open their eyes to the possibilities of the medium. Pastel has for too long, and from too many directions, received a negative press from those who regard it as an inferior medium, to be practised by amateurs and (like hair painting or wax modelling) excluded from professional consideration – attitudes this show should help refute. But a little more focus on each work for its own sake rather than simply because of its material might have helped make the case more effectively.

For those who want more information on the pre-1800 pastels, here is a concordance with the Dictionary entries (just Google the J numbers, in “ ”):

1 J.127.27
2 J.127.2701
3 J.13.126
4 omitted
5 omitted
6 box
7 J.716.124
8 J.716.1241
9 J.7042.105
10 J.21.0998
11 J.21.2713
12 J.46.3382
13 J.46.1007
14 J.46.1379
15 J.582.1022
16 J.285.819
17 J.49.1448
18 J.49.1809
19 J.49.16
20 J.49.2126
21 J.49.2125
22 J.49.2605
23 J.49.2641
24 J.6.153
25 J.6.154
26 J.377.13
27 J.594.115
28 J.665.1074
29 J.76.557
30 trade card
31 J.1142.159



Christian Michel’s L’Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture

Michel cover

No one who reads this blog is likely to take issue with the last sentence in this book:

But we can assert that any serious study of these arts [of painting and sculpture] must acknowledge the fundamental role played by the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture.

(except perhaps for the curious choice of capitalisation). Yet the inspiration for Christian Michel’s magnum opus – and magnum it is in every way – arises from the vast amount of literature which has grown up around this institution, much of it hostile. His concept is to present the unvarnished facts, rigorously drawn from primary sources, adopting strict impartiality, and remaining free of polemic – and he succeeds in doing so agreeably free from the jargon of the art history industry that has built so much on the foundations of this institution. (The same cannot be said even of the reviews which greeted the book’s first appearance in 2012: one lengthy discussion included words like “instantiation”.)

I first consulted the book when it came out, and you will find a few references to “Michel 2012” on my website: but (for reasons that will emerge below) rather fewer than I expected. I promised myself that I would read the book “properly” when I had time: but before that happened, a “revised and enlarged” translation has appeared, from Getty, which is handsomely produced and very well translated. The most obvious difference between the versions is the addition of a generous 73 colour plates to the 75 black and white figures within the text (there were just 77 figures, all black and white, in the original). This alone will make the 2018 version the edition of choice for most of us.

I’m not going to rehearse Michel’s themes for you: I shall leave that to proper reviews. But in essence the book – and indeed the author – is steeped in the voluminous writings about the Académie which are analysed here (and accompanied by the six volumes of Conférences which he has co-edited with Jacqueline Lichtenstein). They tell the story of an institution with which many of you will think you are already familiar, but the sheer volume even of primary sources, let alone the overwhelming expanse of secondary literature, creates a level of confusion which requires great skill to navigate. We all know that the Académie was founded by a group of artists gaining Louis XIV’s support with a view to proclaiming gloire for France. We probably know about the hierarchical structure – of directeurs, recteurs, professeurs, conseillers and ordinary members, and of the mechanisms of agrément and reception – but we have probably missed some obvious oddities. For example, unlike other academies (French or foreign) the ordinary members had no vote in many of the decisions: this created the tensions that are analysed with such precision throughout the book. We will know too about the hierarchies of genre – with history painting not merely at the top, but effectively dominating the whole structure in a way that was impossible say in England. Fundamentally the story is driven by the original founders’ requirement to put the Académie on a level above the craft practised by the much older rival trade guild (the Académie de Saint-Luc), and the key to this was turning painting into a liberal art. Practitioners had to be literate (indeed reading classical poetry was considered a better foundation than more obvious requirements) – hence the lengthy conférences.

At the heart of the book Michel considers several different topics: the hostile criticism the institution provoked; its monopolies, on teaching in particular; its role in defining “art”; how academicians made money (not, directly at least, from their membership); and how it fitted with similar institutions elsewhere. Emulation, the close cousin of rivalry, is seen as the driving force of progress, and Michel clearly (and in my view correctly) sees the product – the French School, if you like – as being the result of the very complicated machinery the Académie developed rather than the manifestation of a handful of individual talents. But prefacing all these sections is a part one, which sets out the history of the institution, its statutes and their evolution etc: this part occupies nearly half the book.

You might (and I suspect many of its new readers will) imagine that this is the definitive book on the Académie royale – as the Getty’s blurb on the back puts it, this is “the single most authoritative account” (correct), from which you might infer that it is a kind of handbook of the Académie. It is not (although it is indispensable, particularly to anyone doing a Ph.D. in a part of art history that includes the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries). But if you are tempted to buy it not to read through, but as a reference tool or source of basic facts, look at the author’s preface first to avoid disappointment:

My object is not social but art historical: I have tried to elucidate the relations between the Académie and artistic production. I have deliberately set aside anything that did not come within the ambit of the questions that I wished to ask. I have not attempted to retrace the careers of the academicians—their places of origin, the ages at which they were recruited, their longevity, and their political or financial success. Instead, I have simply cited examples where it seemed necessary.

The author means exactly what he says. Absent are the simple reference tools you might expect in a handbook: no lists of academicians, or even officers, nor their dates. (The separation of these names into different indices in the 2012 edition was quite useful, although the Getty obviously decided it was too complicated. But a chronological table of officers, members and amateurs and their dates would be a sensible addition to the next edition.) Although these can usually be found elsewhere, one is never quite sure where to turn for completely reliable information, and it is disappointing that the initial section entitled “sources” refers only to the author’s inputs rather than alternative sources for further information. The table to the Procès-verbaux is hardly an up-to-date source, and one recent publication has been criticised for relying on such older sources for its extensive data (it is also in German and difficult to obtain, in English libraries at least). So when Michel continues his severe declaration–

Some readers may be surprised that I have given so little attention to the fourteen or fifteen women accepted members.[footnote] Though their talents (or kinship with academicians) afforded them the right to appear on the lists of members, they were not allowed to take part in meetings or to teach; until the Revolution, they played no role whatsoever in the functioning of the Académie.

we turn eagerly to his footnote (one of the widespread myths propagated on poor websites and books of similar intellectual rigour is that there were only four académiciennes), to find the perfectly correct explanation that Margaret Haverkamp was the “fifteenth” (although not of course chronologically) but was stripped of her membership when it was discovered that her morceau de réception had been painted by her teacher. But we are not given the names of the fourteen – indeed only I think four (Haverkamp the fifth) of them are actually named anywhere in the book (I told you the author meant what he said). One might turn perhaps to another recent account of the Académie by an author more interested in this subject (Hannah Williams: incidentally her book is much more accessible to the general reader, despite occasional lapses into academic jargon): there we do find a table with fourteen women artists. But Haverkamp is among them, leaving one scratching one’s head to find who is missing. (The answer I think is Dorothée Massé, veuve Godequin: see the Procès-verbaux for 23 novembre 1680.) Williams of course has Rosalba Carriera, but with the wrong date of birth; Michel gets that right, but gives the wrong year for her reception (1720, not 1721). Williams is excused from repeating “Marie”-Suzanne Giroust’s incorrect first name (it appears to be wrong everywhere: see the Dictionary), but Michel escapes this by not mentioning Giroust at all. In his terms that is the correct decision: but some readers will wonder why a book about the Académie has nothing to say about one of the most gifted portraitists of either sex in any medium.

All this of course follows from Michel’s project. History painting dominated not only the hierarchies – intellectual, of genres, as well as governmental, of rank and control – but also the literature, primary and secondary, and all academic research on the institution is inevitably dominated by it. There is after all more to be written about story pictures than about, say, portraits or still lifes: this is why there is so little about pastel in the book, and why the 150 or so illustrations include something that is far short of a representative cross-section of the art for whose creation the Académie royale can claim credit (just five of the 73 colour plates are portraits; I won’t even start a “nothing by …” list).

But even within the narrative Michel has set himself there are inevitably some omissions, perhaps because of the decision not to probe the social positions of those associated with the Académie, including the honorary members (who, I think we are not told, started as associés libres before progressing, more or less automatically, to honoraires amateurs). We are told they were all either wealthy financiers or persons from high society, which is not completely accurate, an exception being the abbé Pommyer. There is much discussion about the rivalry between the Académie royale and the Académie de Saint-Luc which as everyone knows led finally to the dissolution of the older body: the correspondence between Marigny and Cochin leading up to the selection of Pommyer was discussed in my article in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts in 2001, and provides a fascinating insight into their tactics in the battle against the Saint-Luc: in short, Pommyer was appointed against stiff competition because they needed a magistrate at the Grand’chambre in the parlement de Paris to represent the interests of the Académie royale in this battle. That story surely belongs in the book.

What is less clear is whether the structure Michel has adopted (and which I sense evolved over many years) is an optimal framework for handling so much material. Apart from anything else, it leads to much repetition – some avoidable (for example two sections list the academies formed elsewhere in Europe, on pp. 107 and 319ff, where a cross reference would have sufficed – and including Dresden or Copenhagen in the index would have saved this reviewer’s time in locating the earlier occurrence), some I suspect not. Perhaps a few examples are in order, particularly since some relate to my struggle to extract from the book the facts I know are there. We have, to take a simple one, the interesting story told by Miger of Alexis Loir’s embarrassment at finding the portraits he’d promised a client rejected from the salon. It’s told on p. 90 and again on p. 304 (this by the way is of Alexis III, not the homonym to which the indexer assigned the second version of the story): the respective footnotes (on pp. 364 and 380) are absolutely identical, suggesting a cut-and-paste at some gestation that one might hope had been picked up in this new edition. I mention it because it is quickly fixed for the next edition, which I hope will follow soon – perhaps with a little more liberality in the appendices.

While we’re on Loir, another minute error should be noted: one of the very few references to – indeed the only real discussion of – pastel occurs on p. 91 (“strictures on pastellists” is a good example of a legend that is only indirectly pinned down in the official documents), where it is noted that Loir had to wait 33 years after his agrément before he was reçu. This could helpfully be expanded to reconcile with the various discussions on what happened when agréés failed to deliver reception pieces within the allotted time: the very long period allowed in this case seems completely at variance with the other discussions. (Partly this is because an institution like the Académie doesn’t in fact obey the neat rules that art historians, or even lexicographers, would like to describe.) But it is not correct (p. 91) that Loir “had to present an oil portrait as his reception piece.” In fact, true to his passion he was allowed to deliver the wonderful pastel of Clément Belle now in the Louvre, while two sculptures he has delivered in 1746 were also taken into account in lieu of the second reception piece.

The question of which artists were admitted and which were not, and why, is of course one of the areas to which the lexicographer is going to give considerable attention. The discussion of Liotard (who, despite never being admitted, receives more references than any pastellist but Loir, La Tour and Coypel – the last of these being there for a different reason) is not entirely satisfactory: the Académie, we are told, “rejected Liotard despite his court patronage (in or around 1748) because it considered his work mediocre”. True, but there is no mention of the fact that Liotard had been in Paris before (alloué, not apprenti, to Jean-Baptiste Massé) and had competed for the Grand Prix in 1732. No candidate was deemed worthy of the first prize that year; Parrocel was awarded a second, but Liotard got nothing (and so was not recorded in the Procès-verbaux, which is why no one had noticed before my new research here). For the Académie, 16 years later, to accept a painter it had so comprehensively rejected (when he had then left Paris in resentment instead of showing his commitment to the French School by trying again) would have represented an additional hurdle.

Liotard’s admission also crops up in relation to two other questions to which one might want a handbook to turn to for definitive accounts. One of these is the discussion of whether Protestants could join. This is split between several locations, none of which appears to be indexed (pp. 2, 13, 49, 284, 350, I think, although I may have missed some). The general message is that there was no religious issue, unlike at the Catholic Académie de Saint-Luc. But there is no mention of the case of Lundberg, where his admission was blocked for this reason (or at least Largillierre felt the need for instruction from the contrôleur général – letter read 28 janvier 1741 – and admission only took place after royal directive: “le Roi étant informé du mérite du sr Lundberg…quoique de la Religion prétendue réformée”. In fact Michel doesn’t mention Lundberg at all. Other sources (e.g. Vitet) take the opposite position on this: like Lundberg, the Protestants Boit, Schmidt, Rouquet and Roslin all required specific royal command for admission.

Another of the vexed questions for which art historians crave a clear answer concerns the use of the term peintre du roi (this is indexed, under painter/sculptor to the king, but a cross-reference from peintre, where I had looked, would be helpful). Again the discussion is conducted in several un-cross-referenced sections, none giving the complete picture. Michel cites as evidence that this had been relaxed the statement by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin (not indexed; it’s on p. 99) that “Je pris alors le titre de Dessinateur du Roi, que personne ne me contesta” but doesn’t provide a date. I think this is noted in Saint-Aubin’s memoirs and refers to the time of his marriage, in 1751, although the title does not appear in the Minutier central version of the marriage contract. (By contrast the first time Liotard used the title peintre du roi was as witness to a marriage, before he had it printed in the livret of the Académie de Saint-Luc, where he appeared as “Peintre ordinaire du Roi” in 1751; as “peintre du roi” in 1752; but dropped the title from the 1753 livret.) And indeed the range of practices in these documents d’état civil, as well as in court cases (mostly prosecuted by the Académie de Saint-Luc) reveal a range of practices and inconsistencies which I suspect can’t be resolved by looking at the sources to which Michel has restricted himself. No doubt in informal contexts abuses occurred; but a search of the documents indexed in the Minutier central suggests otherwise: the unfamiliar names are largely those of employees at the Bâtimens du roi, the Gobelins and similar institutions which carried on an old tradition of royal warrants.

Another theme which baffles many of us is how to reconcile the Académie’s monopoly on painting and teaching with the situation of artists who hadn’t yet or never made it to membership. As Michel reminds us the Académie itself expected its applicants to come with a developed competence. The topic is central to the book, and covered in numerous places which I won’t attempt to summarise. But I’m not sure there is a complete answer to these mysteries. For so many artists we know virtually nothing about how they earned their living between the end of their apprentissage and their joining either Académie. And I’m not sure that we will find the answer by study, however attentive, of written sources such as those on which this formidable book is based. Facts in the real world were often untidier than statutes would have us believe.

Technical note to publisher

The Getty are to be congratulated in the production values in issuing this book at the same price (more or less) as the original Swiss publication. The translation is fluent and accurate, and the decisions on how to handle titles, capitals etc. generally wise (I would personally prefer to use French capitalisation for French institutions, so Académie royale etc.). But the author has expanded his introductory note to justify two changes with which I disagree, and both I submit are based on category confusions as I have discussed in my recent post. I don’t know whether Michel saw that, but he obviously embraces his new choices with the zeal of a convert. Thus he now prints Delatour throughout instead of the standard de La Tour (with which he was content in 2012), on the basis that the painter signed his name Delatour. Actually how he signed is best rendered in print as De_la_Tour, invariably with a capital T; and how we now print that is purely a matter of publisher’s convention. It matters (a bit more than other choices, like Boullongne, which I like) because D and L are far apart in the index and library, and most of the La Tour research is under L. I note also that Michel doesn’t apply his dictum say to “Adélaïde Labille-Guyard” who always (as far as I know, and certainly on all her signed pastels) spelt her first husband’s name with an i, as do the standard monographs on her. Or to “Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun” who, as Joseph Baillio constantly reminds us, never used a hyphen and always spelt her husband’s name in two words. Indeed Vigée Le Brun’s preferred forename was Louise, not Élisabeth; and her husband is easier found and distinguished from homonyms as Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun, not Jean-Baptiste Lebrun.

That takes us to the second part of Michel’s conversion, regarding the hyphenation of forenames, also discussed in my blog post. In 2012 he adopted the perfectly sensible option of not hyphenating any (except Jean-Baptiste), just as you will find in contemporary manuscript sources (equally simple is the option of hyphenating all forenames, just as you will find in standard printed genealogies of the day). Now he has been converted to the policy of hyphenating what he identifies as prénoms composés: so Charles-Nicolas Cochin but Charles Antoine Coypel. The danger is, as I have written, this is imposing modern French legislative concepts (e.g. imposing a limit of one hyphen for each person) to a period where there is no basis for ascertaining the right answer. If you disagree, close Michel and write down the names of 20 académiciens with more than one forename (not Jean-Baptiste, but names like Jacques-Antoine Beaufort). Make your own choice of hyphenation. Do it again tomorrow, and compare. Do it once more, allowing reference to all sources you like (Getty ULAN, Bénézit, recent volumes in Arthéna etc.), and compare the results with Michel’s choices (for they are nothing more than that). This exercise will have consumed dozens of hours of the desk editor’s time (I know because I used to be one), although the Getty staff are to be congratulated on achieving a pretty good level of internal consistency (but I don’t know, and have no means of finding out, whether Jean Guillaume Moitte is correct on p. 274 or should be hyphenated, as on p. 105, and the index entry for Le Tellier on p. 408 contains both versions).


As for the practicalities of obtaining consensus to specific choices of forenames as prénoms composés, here are some examples taken from the new Michel and two recent monographs issued by Arthéna:

Prenoms c

Nattier’s portraits of M. et Mme Royer

Nattier M. Royer

It’s hard to believe that it’s nearly 20 years since Xavier Salmon’s wonderful Nattier exhibition at Versailles. Those were the days before it had become popular to borrow pastels for temporary shows (see my piece), and with conservation-minded curators in control, the decision was reluctantly taken not to include any of Nattier’s pastels in the exhibition. Instead Salmon wrote a much-needed separate article in L’Objet d’art (1999) setting out Nattier’s claims as pastellist. Formidable though those are, and despite the discovery since of another half dozen autograph pastels in the online Dictionary, it remains fair to say that “Nattier pastelliste” has not received the same recognition as has been accorded to La Tour, Perronneau, Carriera or Liotard. And in part that is due to the fact that his best work has not been seen together – which isn’t going to happen; but we can go part of the way, in relation to two magnificent pastels which represent the high point of his art in this medium, by offering a colour image of one hitherto only glimpsed through the fog of a 100-year-old plate.

The portraits of the composer Jean-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer (J.554.177) and his wife, Louise-Geneviève Le Blond (J.554.179), were last seen together in public in 1908 in the famous exhibition of Cent pastels. (As always you can find full details in the Nattier article in the Dictionary.) They then belonged to the collector Sigismond Bardac; sadly we know nothing of their earlier provenance. The Royers’ identities were confused with those of the magistrate Le Royer and his wife in the catalogue, but immediately rescued by Adolphe Jullien, although the name of the composer’s wife was not given even in Salmon’s article. I published it online (with the date of her burial, noted in the Annonces, affiches et avis divers…) in time to get into the catalogue of the 2011 New York exhibition at the Met., where the portrait of Mme Royer was for me one of the triumphs in a brilliant show: I reproduced her in my review of the exhibition in the Burlington Magazine, commenting

Reproducing pastels is tricky: glossy paper and hyped colour values flatter some but diminish better works, one of which is the superb Jean-Marc Nattier (no.11; Fig.74). Here ‘le peintre du beau sexe’, who normally reserves his traitement psychologique for male sitters, breaks his rule. Amid what initially appears as beribboned frippery is a face of penetrating intellect and composure, achieved by the subtlest of touches around the eyes and mouth: they vanish in the camera lens.

But at least we had her in colour. Of M. Royer, until now, only the dreadful 1908 image has been seen. After the 1908 exhibition, René Gimpel acquired the pair (in 1920 he described them as “mes deux merveilleux pastels de Nattier que j’ai achetés à Sigismond Bardac”), and by 1930 they were with the wealthy collector Antenor Patiño. Madame, but not Monsieur, went into the New York sale (at Sotheby’s, 22 May 1992) of his nephew, Jaime Ortiz-Patiño, where she sold against reserve for $270,000, and since then she has been in a private collection in New York. But Monsieur’s whereabouts since 1930 remain a mystery.

Seeing these marvels together for the first time, albeit in reproduction, prompts some reflections beyond mere admiration their beauty. They are certainly Nattier’s masterpieces in the medium, and have a fair claim to match the best of any of his rivals’ work. The technique is entirely personal to Nattier: it represents the pastel-as-painting tradition he inherited from his parents’ friend and portraitist Joseph Vivien, diametrically opposed to Perronneau’s graphic approach and noticeably separated from La Tour by extreme refinement. The two portraits are conceived as pendants: and while that is not in itself unusual in portraiture, the frequency of pendants among pastel portraitists varies enormously. Nattier made very few, and no others in pastel are known. They are rare too in La Tour’s œuvre, but far commoner with Perronneau. And among the minor itinerant pastellists, or those working in Germany, the frequency is even higher: the pendants as marriage portraits seem to carry a particularly bourgeois connotation. But among artistic subjects such as these, there is a slightly different message: these are portraits of status, reflecting an equality between the sexes that was possible in the world of music but which would have been awkward for the nobility of sword or robe (of course there are plenty of exceptions). Just how and why Nattier came to devote his greatest pastels to this couple is an intriguing question.

Perhaps the most visually striking thing that emerges from the new image is the complementarity of the colour schemes of the pendants. Her tones are of cold blue, yet she leans forward as if to compensate: his are of warm earth colours, yet he retreats from us. He epitomises introversion; she, extroversion. The pastels are on a large enough scale (81×64 cm) to require several sheets of paper (the idea of pastels in pieces is the ingenious theme of Emily Beeny’s current show at the Getty), with joins in unexpected places. Yet they retain their intimacy through clever spatial tricks: the ledge, foreshortened arms; here the guillotine has fallen on the neck not of the sitter, but of his violin. There is intimacy (if not perhaps eroticism) too in the gants à doigts ouverts, as described in the Encyclopédie: the function was to allow wearers to sew or play cards without removing the entire garment.

Of course for the many contemporary viewers who knew the aria, the real intimacy was on the sheet he writes: Zaïde is alone (Acte I, scène iv from Royer’s ballet héroïque) as she sings

Témoins de mon indifference,
Lieux charmans, apprenez mon secret en ce jour…

In the 1739 first performance (for the wedding of Madame Infante), Zaïde was performed by Marie Pélissier, and Pierre Jélyotte and Marie Sallé also starred. All are well known from portraits of the day. It was revived in 1745 for the festivities at Versailles marking the wedding of the dauphin, and again in 1770 for Marie-Antoinette’s wedding. We don’t know when the pastels were made: Salmon conjectures c.1750, but it might well be just after the 1745 revival.

Royer is the subject of many studies (there is even an informative entry on the French Wikipédia which is a useful starting point), so I shan’t rehearse his musical achievements. There is also a useful iconographical study of these pastels in Gétreau & Herlin’s 1997 paper on portraits of French clavecinistes (tantalisingly, but erroneously, it states that the portrait of Royer was sold in 1988). But it is worth reviewing his social position, if only to understand why Nattier lavished upon this couple the attention of by far his most ambitious works in the medium. There’s a genealogy here which has been surprisingly stubborn to produce.

Royer was born in Turin on 12 May 1703 (the “c. 1705” in most sources comes from a misprint in Fétis; in his burial entry, he was “agé de 54 ans ou environ”). What we know of Royer’s family background comes from Jean-Benjamin Laborde: he was the “fils d’un bon gentilhomme de Bourgogne, capitaine d’artillerie & Intendant des jardins de son Altesse Madame Royale Régente de Savoie”. (That must be Maria Giovanna Battista di Savoia-Nemours (1644–1724), herself the subject of portrait by Nanteuil and Tempesti; she was the mother of Vittorio Amedeo II, whose mistress was Mme de Verrue, and whose daughter Marie-Adélaïde married Louis, duc de Bourgogne; both died in 1712, but indicate just how close the links between the two courts were.)

The summary of Royer’s career in Titon du Tillet is the basis of most subsequent biographies:


Royer’s first major success was his opera Pyrrhus, performed in 1730. A few years later he became maître de musique des Enfans de France, with the much older Jean-Baptiste Matho remaining titular holder until his death in 1746. Although he was granted a lodgement at Versailles (“numéroté 9 derrière l’hôtel de Mademoiselle”), he continued to live in Paris (rue Sainte-Anne, paroisse Saint-Roch, where he died). But it was as director of the Concert spiritual, which promoted popular public concerts held at the Tuileries palace, that he is best remembered.


Royer and his associate Gabriel Caperan ran what was effectively an entrepreneurial business. It employed many of the leading musicians of the day, including Cassanéa de Mondonville whose portrait, with a pendant of his wife, represent the closest examples to the Nattier pendants in the œuvre of Maurice-Quentin de La Tour (these are the pair in Chicago; there are other versions):

When Royer became inspecteur général of the Opéra (the duc de Luynes gives a lengthy account of the financial transaction involved in his memoirs, 23 September 1753), shortly before his death, it was rumoured that he had an affair with La Camargo, again the subject of a La Tour pastel.

After Royer’s death Caperan was appointed guardian to his children, and his widow acquired Royer’s interest in the enterprise. She was also granted an immediate royal pension of 1200 livres:

Le feu sieur Royer, avait acheté la survivance de cette charge du sieur Matho et en a fait les fonctions et tous les voyages de Versailles, Fontainebleau et Compiègne sans en retire que des gratifications. Il a commencé à en jouir en 1746 jusqu’en 1755 qu’il est mort. Le roi a bien voulu accorder à sa veuve qui était chargé de famille cette pension de 1200 livres

We don’t know when Royer married (before 1736), but we can learn a bit more about the couple’s position in society from researching their children. Three daughters are known from the glorious Carmontelle watercolour in the musée Carnavalet:

Carmontelle Filles Royer Carnavalet

Made in 1760, the girls’ dresses alone place them socially. They play of course from the score of their deceased father’s most famous composition, the opéra-ballet Zaïde, although you can’t tell from Carmontelle’s portrait which page they have reached. In contrast Nattier notates precisely the opening of the most famous aria in the work, which you can check for accuracy against the score printed in 1739 (the latter includes several of the suave tirades, or ornamental sweeps up the scale, for which his music was distinguished, and which somehow seem to be echoed in the velvety technique of Nattier’s pastel):

To the three girls in the Carmontelle I can add two more children. One, a boy named Louis-Marie-Thimoléon, was still alive (he was born in 1747, much later than his sisters) when his father died in 1755, but is recorded only in the registre de clôture d’inventaire, although he lived until 1768. (Curiously the inventaire was conducted more than 18 months after Royer’s death rather than immediately after, suggesting a possible dispute among the widow and her children or their tuteur.) His name suggests that his parents might have been close to the Cossé-Brissac family (but I cannot trace a link with the Jacques-Thimoléon Royer born 1765 who became peintre-décorateur to Monsieur under the restoration). A fourth girl, in fact the eldest, Louise-Charlotte, was born in September 1736, and sent out to nurse in Saint-Nom-la-Breteche, where as so often happened her burial, aged four months, was recorded only by the local school master:

Royer L Ch deces2

Of the remaining girls, Marie-Anne-Charlotte (born 1739) married a Claude-Nicolas Famin, intéressé dans les affaires du roi, from a Rouen family of négociants, while the youngest, Marie-Jeanne (born 1740), became femme de chambre du dauphin. She married a Pierre Belliard, receveur de tailles, whose mother, née Geneviève-Françoise-Anne Clement, was nourrice du duc d’Anjou (Philippe-Louis (1730–1733), a younger brother of Louis le dauphin) – a position of considerable importance and commensurate remuneration, as indicated in the État de la France for 1736:

Clement Beliard 1736edf

But it is their eldest surviving sister of whom we are best informed (from documents recording a pension sur le trésor awarded to her after the death of her husband in 1786). Marie-Sophie-Armande was baptised in Paris, Saint-Roch, 7 April 1738; her godparents were Armand de Rohan Ventadour and Marie-Sophie de Courcillon. To understand this, we must recall that the princesse de Rohan (1713–1756; she was the subject of the pastel by La Tour which I discovered, now in Stockholm) was the second wife of Hercule de Rohan; his first wife was Anne-Geneviève de Lévis-Ventadour, daughter of the celebrated duchesse de Ventadour, gouvernante des Enfants de France, through whom the office of gouvernante passed into the Rohan family, and to Hercule’s granddaughter, Mme de Marsan – sister of the parrain, Armand de Rohan-Soubise, abbé de Ventadour (1717–1756), later Cardinal de Soubise and grand aumônier de France 1745. In other words these were very grand people indeed to hold your daughter over the font: they illustrate the exalted social status of higher royal servants. Marie-Sophie-Armande went on to marry Alexandre-Jean-Baptiste-Michel Boutet d’Egvilly (1735–1786), écuyer, maître d’hôtel du roi, a position inherited by their son Armand-Henry Boutet (1769–1856), who became a baron and chevalier de la Légion d’honneur under the restoration.

We should remember also that Nattier himself was closely interested in music, and numerous portraits, including those of the royal family, show their subjects with musical instruments. It has been noted that, like Royer, Beaumarchais taught the royal children music; but Nattier’s splendid portrait of the playwright dates from 1755 and was surely later. It is Nattier’s own family self-portrait which perhaps most closely testifies to his love of music: commenced in 1730, it was not finished until 1762, with his wife (by then dead for some 20 years) turning the pages of a score as yet unidentified; nor do we know from whom she or her musical daughter received lessons.

Nattier famille

While the Nattier pastels were never exhibited at the time, a curiosity is the appearance in the 1751 Salon de Saint-Luc of two pastels by Nattier’s follower Pierre Mérelle of  “Les Portraits de Monsieur & Madame Roger en Pastel, l’un dans son Cabinet, l’autre en Habit de Bal” (no. 136; J.532.129, J.532.13). It seems highly probable that the g is a misprint (in Guiffrey’s edition of the livret: Deloynes’s transcription has “Royer”), and that these lost works are copies of the Nattier pastels. Their function, and who commissioned them, is for now as much of a mystery as those of the originals; but at least they provide a terminus ante quem for the Nattier pair.

Another footnote to this essay concerns the two rather weak pastels which seem to be inspired by the Nattier. They will be found among the anonymes, at J.9.128 and J.9.1282, although whether they portray André Cardinal des Touches or Antoine Dauvergne as has been suggested seems unlikely. That at least spares us the irony of seeing Dauvergne in Royer’s shoes, as he is reported to have forced Royer’s widow out of the Concert spirituel in 1764.

One further document that has so far eluded most commentaries on Royer is his 1754 exchange with Voltaire concerning Royer’s proposal to set to music a Voltaire piece adapted by Royer’s friend Jean-Claude-Gaspard Sireul, ancien valet de chambre du roi, best known for his connection with Boucher. I have discussed this incident in my essay on Sireul: the matter was only resolved by Royer’s unexpected death, on 11 January 1755. That in turn led to a string of unpleasant letters from Voltaire to his friends (from which we learn that Royer died from “indigestion”); to abbé Cideville (23 January 1755) he wrote:

La seule chose dont je puisse bénir Dieu, est la mort de Royer. Dieu veuille avoir son âme et sa musique: cette musique n’était point de ce monde. Le traître m’avait immolé à ses doubles croches, et avait choisi pour m’égorger un ancien Porte-manteau du Roy nommé Sireuil. Dieu est juste; il a retiré Royer à lui, et je crains à présent beaucoup pour le Porte-manteau. Si on s’obstine à jouer ce funèste Opéra de Promethée que Sireuil et Royer ont défiguré à qui mieux mieux, il faudra me mettre dans la liste des proscripts de ce vieux fou de Crebillon: j’y serais bien sans cela.

Whatever the literary skills of Sireul (and setting aside Voltaire’s evident prejudice), the project illustrates again the close connections between these higher royal servants whose exquisite and informed taste was so important in the commissioning of portraiture and patronage of the arts generally in ancien régime France.


I have checked the posthumous inventories of both Royer (1756) and his wife (1770), both in the Archives nationales; the former is heavily abbreviated, the later more descriptive (particularly of the dozens of wonderful dresses she owned). Although a number of pictures are listed, there is nothing in the 1770 inventory to correspond with the pastels. However the 1756 inventory did include this memorandum entry (which might cover both the Nattier and Mérelle pendants) using the formula applied to portraits de famille:

a legard de quatre tableaux representant ladite Vve…et du defft dans leurs bordures de bois dores et sculptes n’y a este fait aucune prise a la presente…tire pour…Memoire

Sources and acknowledgments

I am most grateful to Joseph Baillio for sharing the colour image of Royer. I have benefited from private communications also with Aileen Ribeiro (gloves); Óli Þorvaldsson (livret de l’Académie de Saint-Luc); and William Ritchie-Newton (whose 2006 publication contains some of the archival material cited above). Published sources will be found in the online Dictionary where the J numbers cited above will take you to the entries for each pastel. There are also useful genealogies for many of the families discussed above, including of course the Royers. Early notices on Royer include Jean-Benjamin Laborde’s Essai sur la musique ancienne et modern, 1780, tome iii, p. 483f and Titon du Tillet, Second supplement du Parnasse françois, 1743–55, pp. 78f. I failed to find any recording of Zaïde’s aria to put up (there is a samizdat recording of the 2005 London performance at St John’s Smith Square, using a new score edited by Lionel Sawkins: apparently the audience was “deplorably small”), but Royer produced a keyboard piece with her name which might give you some flavour.

Venice and Paris at the dawn of the Enlightenment; or Rosalba in Paris

DPteHPaW4AAOVS3A new book by Valentine Toutain-Quittelier, Le Carnaval, la Fortune et la Folie, with a subtitle which translates roughly as the first part of the title of this post, has just arrived. It represents the fruit of many years’ work on this theme (the author’s doctorate was awarded in 2011, and several published articles present material revisited here). And it comes equipped with a preface from Pierre Rosenberg who knows more than anyone about the artistic relations between Paris and Venice. Thus for so many reasons the volume is to be welcomed. Much of it will delight and inform, and I shan’t attempt to summarise the book since you would be far better advised to read it for yourself.

At the centre of the work however is the theme in my subtitle: the seminal visit which Rosalba Carriera made to Paris in 1720–21, and the records (notably in her diaries) which provide crucial evidence of the artistic milieu of the time. Indeed her role could not be better described than by Louis Réau, who called her “le trait d’union entre l’art ascendant de la France et l’art déclinant de l’Italie.” The Paris journal in particular has been studied many times since its publication in 1793, notably by Alfred Sensier in 1865 (with notes expanding a text of a few thousand words into nearly 600 pages) and again in the critical edition of the artist’s writings published by Bernardina Sani in 1985 (not to mention the two editions of her catalogue raisonné – although Sani didn’t include lost “œuvres mentionnées” in the catalogues). Nevertheless mysteries remain – not least arising from Rosalba’s bizarre, but phonetic, spellings of proper names which requires a knowledge of Venetian orthography and orthoepy to disentangle. Valérie Toutain-Quittelier (“TQ” in what follows) brings exactly the right linguistic skills to this (to take an example, Rosalba writes “di Tre” for “d’Estrées” – although as this is preceded by maréchale, the problem is not so difficult as some others).

Sorting out these confusions is worthwhile, as I have tried to do in my annotated English translation of the journal (the current version is available here – I am always grateful for additions or corrections). And it is illuminating to do this for all her contacts, not just the sitters in her portraits that she lists. A couple of examples, not in TQ: Sani and Sensier leave us to understand that the Rollands belonged to the magistracy; but proper analysis shows that they were a different family, of bankers and agents de change. A similar case is the “Dervest” family who appear repeatedly in the diaries: Sani makes no attempt to identify them. Sensier did however connect them to Du Revest, contrôleur of Law’s bank – his name appeared on the bills. (Although TQ has a chapter on the bank I can find no reference to the contrôleur.) But the precise genealogy in fact reveals that he was Scipion de Vétéris du Revest and his wife, Mitilde Priuli, of a noble Venetian family. No wonder Rosalba was so keen to talk to her in a language she understood.

The modes of Venetian–Parisian connection were not merely artistic. But even within the arts the connections were not merely visual.  Anyone familiar with Watteau’s art is aware of the importance of the Comédie-Italienne, reintroduced to Paris in 1716 by Luigi Riccoboni. Yet neither Riccoboni nor his wife’s family, the Ballettis, are even mentioned as far as I could see – although they are connected in so many ways to the book’s theme. It is not widely known that Rosalba did a miniature of Riccoboni (it belonged to his daughter-in-law in 1773). Riccoboni’s niece Manon would in a later generation take us into the worlds of Casanova and Nattier, and would marry the great architect Blondel; La Tour would exhibit a portrait of Zanetta Balletti in the salon of 1751. At the period where TQ’s book is focused, Riccoboni’s sister-in-law, Margherita Balletti, had written to Rosalba seeking advice on painting in miniature, while her husband, the celebrated composer Giovanni Bononcini, met Rosalba several times in Paris in September 1720; she records going with him to see Law.

It is only by working through a similar level of detail in TQ that questions surface. I’m afraid most of the rest of this post is for specialists – or those who consult the Dictionary in future and wonder why I haven’t followed TQ. Some of the puzzles have more than one solution, and a discussion of recent literature would help identify these even when the author’s proposal is better than those already offered. It can sometimes be hard to tell when the information presented is already known and accepted, or new; and if new, whether it is certain, probable, possible or (as I suspect in a few places) wrong. Unfortunately (despite copious notes) this is not assisted by the often inadequate references that make it hard to follow which picture TQ is discussing: one of my criticisms of Sani was her decision not to include details of auction sales etc., but TQ routinely omits museum inventory numbers, catalogue raisonné references and dimensions (the discussion about Rosalba’s size system on p. 174 is confused by misplaced endnote indicators). Of one pastel she discloses merely that it “appeared once on the art market”. A concordance with Sani would help: at least for the pastels she discusses you can now find the equivalence by searching “Toutain-Quittelier 2017b, fig. x” in the online Dictionary where I give both the Sani reference (if there is one) and my J number (these unique, Googleable identifiers by far the easiest and shortest way to cite the dimensions, location, provenance, exhibition history and literature of any pastel).

But within the visual arts the book explores widely, including less well known figures such as Nicolas Vleughels who had travelled to Venice in 1707. It is perhaps worth emphasizing that his use of pastel (as studies for his paintings) predated Rosalba’s Paris trip by some years: a case in point is the study of a female arm (J.771.127 in the Dictionary, Fig. 201 in TQ; left below): Hercenberg, in his 1975 monograph on the artist, no. 310, regarded it as a study for Loth’s daughter in the 1718 painting Loth et ses filles, 1718; TQ instead captions it as a study for the arm of Campaspe’s servant in the 1716 Louvre painting of Apelle peignant Campaspe, 1716 (detail, middle below). To my eye however the correspondence is much closer with the servant on the far left of another painting, L’Enlèvement d’Hélène, c.1710–12, which is actually reproduced in TQ (fig. 183: detail, right below):

Vleughels comp

Vleughels also made a pastel copy of a lost work, quite possibly by Rosalba Carriera. One puzzle concerns another copy of it by an anonymous hand (J.9.6063): to this TQ offers an intelligent suggestion, with the name of Madeleine Basseporte. I think it’s an interesting idea, although I would hesitate about making an attribution to an artist whose accepted œuvre consists of a single work unless the technique were absolutely similar (it is not: the treatment of the shadows is especially telling; detail from Basseporte in Rijksmuseum, J.1304.11, left; from J.9.6063 right below):


TQ does not mention two further copies which can be found in the Dictionary, nor does she discuss the relationship with work by Boucher suggested by Alastair Laing, apparently later than the period to which Basseporte’s pastels belong (see Nathalie Strasser’s catalogue of the Collection Jean Bonna, Dessins français du xvie au xviiie siècle, 2016, which is not referenced). But TQ’s argument is given less authority by imprecision: the Rijksmuseum pastel is captioned “vers 1730” (p. 291), but “vers 1727” (p. 289): there is no mention of the fact that it is actually signed and dated on an old label “Peinte par Madeleine Basseporte 1727”. You have to believe the label (there is no other reason to assign the work to Basseporte). But it’s not at all obvious why TQ infers that the portrait is a self-portrait. There was a self-portrait (unlocated) in her posthumous inventory, to which TQ makes no reference, although it also includes two copies expressly after Rosalba “avec mains” – evidence which surely supports TQ’s proposed attribution more firmly than the somewhat hackneyed remark “Elle peignoit le pastel et fut bientôt connue par des portraits qu’on mit à côté de ceux de Rosalba” from the 1780 obituary I also cite. (These two pastels are surely the ones by “Mlle Belleporte” in the Mesnard de Clesle sale, 1804, evidently misreading their labels; they again are not mentioned by TQ. However neither their dimensions nor aspect ratio fit J.9.6063, which is significantly longer also than the Rijksmuseum ratio.) The Rijksmuseum pastel (of which incidentally there is a second version, J.1304.112, once attributed to Rosalba) is not described as a self-portrait in any reliable source I know (Ann Sutherland Harris’s uncontentious remark in 1976 that “it seems possible that it is a self-portrait” has conspicuously not been taken up): if TQ makes the claim on objective evidence, it would have been helpful to cite this; if merely because it “looks like a self-portrait”, we can retain an open mind.

There are other examples where TQ may well have a good point but has not always presented the best evidence with the clearest argument to support it. There is a temptation to employ Holmesian deduction (when you eliminate the impossible, whatever is left, however improbable, etc.): but this is rarely a safe approach in art history, where the mysteries and confusions are not of the closed-box, detective story character, which is all the more reason why we should work together to pool thinking on these questions. The logic may not be mathematical, but common sense can help.

Rosalba Dsse de ChevreuseAnother case is illustrative: the pastel last seen in 1926 when it belonged to the duc de Doudeauville and was described simply as of the duchesse de Chevreuse (J.21.05021; fig. 129) is named in my Dictionary as probably Louise-Léontine-Jacqueline de Bourbon-Soissons-Neuchâtel (1696–1721), as the right duchesse de Chevreuse of that generation. TQ, examining the 1926 owner’s genealogy, finds it impossible to see any connection between the duc de Doudeauville and this duchesse de Chevreuse, and so goes on to propose a different identity – that of the maréchale d’Estrées whose name is so garbled in the Diari. But seven generations of the owner’s pedigree would provide 64 ladies of the highest nobility to choose from, a warning in itself about the probabilities. However it is TQ’s premise that is wrong: the owner in 1926, Armand de La Rochefoucauld, 5e duc de Doudeauville (1870–1963) (not his son, Sosthène, as TQ states) was connected with the ducs de Chevreuse: he was in fact the great-great-great-great-grandson of the very same duchesse de Chevreuse (his father’s father’s mother was Pauline-Hortense d’Albert de Luynes, and you can make the connection by consulting just two files in my iconographic genealogies, Albert de Luynes and Montmorency).

TQ does cite my work in connection with my reidentification of the Charolais/Clermont sisters (J.21.0382 and J.21.0411 had been switched).


The princess in the Chantilly pastel wears a white muslin dress; her sister is in brown. Curiously TQ mentions twice, on p. 150 with its note 16 on p. 186 and on p. 165 with note 70 on p. 188 (do these repetitions reflect the genesis of the book as a thesis?), a phrase in Rosalba’s diary, referring to Mlle de Charolais, “vestita di ganzo d’argento”. If you think silver might mean white this would indeed reinforce the identification. But the entry is for 10 March 1721, after the pastel was finished, and so doesn’t imply that this was the same costume as in the pastel. Moreover the words immediately following “d’argento”, “con gli ornamenti di fiori da Vicenza” (omitted in the first discussion, although given in the note to the second discussion) surely confirm that this was a heavily decorated court dress of the kind the princesse would have worn at that time, rather than the diaphanous, quasi-allegorical confection in the pastel. The point is worth considering at least as it suggests that the princesses may have worn quite different costumes from those shown in their portraits. Dresses in this type of fabric abound in contemporary portraits, for example by Largillierre: that Rosalba substituted something simpler (perhaps using the 2½ ells of “Mussolino” she records asking her sister to buy on 21 December 1720?) tells perhaps something more about her working methods (and pressure of work), as the patience required to depict such woven patterns is vastly greater that the broad sweeps with which Rosalba often enveloped her women.

There’s a short paragraph on p. 167 which raises another issue. In it TQ considers two of the names of English (or more precisely British) sitters. She notes that the Duchess of Richmond commissioned her portrait in miniature on 1 October 1720, and wonders what happened to that of the Duke; an endnote describes his expression in a Kneller portrait of him in the NPG. I think a far longer discussion would be required to deal with the issues this cryptic entry throws up: to take just one, might not Rosalba (who had the greatest difficulty with names of any kind, let alone the titles of English aristocracy) have confused the Duke of Richmond with his son, recte the Earl of March, if the Duchess (whom TQ correctly identifies as born Anne Brudenell) were travelling with Lord March (for it was the son who was on the grand tour at that date, and of whom Rosalba made several further images not mentioned by TQ, perhaps from the miniature she made in Paris then)? But there is an even simpler explanation when one examines the manuscript: what appears to be a second entry for “D di Richend” looks as though it is just the marginal summary referring to the portrait of the duchess mentioned in the main text rather than a second portrait.

In the same paragraph, TQ addresses the entry for “Molgneux” (commenced 7 October 1720, finished and paid for within the week), whom she identifies as Richard, 5th Viscount Molyneux. This apparently is on the strength of a passport for a three-week journey issued to the “vicomtesse de Molineux” with her femme de chambre – on 7 January 1721. The identification sounds reasonable (and would have been reinforced, as also would the logic of combining this discussion within the same paragraph as the Richmonds, had TQ revealed that this Mary Brudenell was Anne’s sister) – except that it is far from certain. If Lady Molyneux was travelling with her maid, that surely suggests she was not travelling with her husband, and so offers no evidence that he was in Paris some months earlier. In fact the reference is at least as likely to refer to her mother-in-law, the young and recently widowed dowager Viscountess Molyneux (who continued to use that title until her death, despite remarriage). But more to the point, TQ makes no mention of the Dictionary identification (first suggested by Francis Russell in his 1989 Burlington Magazine review of Sani and found also in Ingamells), with a (at most distantly related) Pooley Molyneux (1696–1772) who was in Padua in March 1721 and probably passed through Paris at exactly the right time. Until the portrait is located such questions cannot be definitively resolved (unlikely: litigation about Pooley’s will reached the House of Lords half a century after it was written): but a modern in-depth study needs to refer to the identification previously published in three serious sources, if only to present reasons why they might be wrong.

A rather different problem arises with the lost self-portrait (J.21.0101) known from an engraving by Lépicié (left, below). Sani 2007 reproduces a weak copy (J.21.0104) as the original; TQ correctly ignores that, and analyses the Crozat correspondence to show that the engraving was made at Crozat’s behest in 1736, from a self-portrait in his collection (incidentally not one which found its way to the Hermitage). But TQ then goes on to argue that this pastel is the problematic work in the Bowes Museum (J.21.0107; below, right) which is related to the Uffizi portrait of the artist with a drawing of her sister (J.21.0106); she argues that the Bowes pastel is the self-portrait which she believes belonged successively to Crozat (my J.21.0101), the Erzbischof von Köln and Jullienne (my J.21.0108) and then Mariette (I think she refers to J.21.0117, the second part of lot 7 in the Mariette sale: this however was sold to Lempereur, not Paillet, who bought the other part of lot 7; further it is a small head which has nothing to do with the Bowes pastel; Saint-Aubin’s sketch will be found in the Dictionary). Leaving aside the conflations of what I think are different works (and which would require proper detail, such as lot numbers, to follow what TQ is suggesting: the only note refers to Isabelle Tillerot’s thesis where the Washington Allégorie de Peinture, J.21.2, is invoked), I’m afraid I don’t follow this at all. Engravers don’t make the changes of orientation TQ requires for there to be any connection between the Lépicié engraving and the Bowes pastel (and if they were following the portrait of Rosalba’s sister for the three-quarters angle, could this be regarded as a self-portrait?). But the discussion also ignores the obvious questions about the status of the Bowes pastel, for which no provenance is established before the late nineteenth century: it is an almost exact reversal of the Uffizi pastel, suggesting that it was a pastiche derived from an unknown engraving (with some minor adjustments, such as the implausible braided hair at the back of the sister’s head which the pasticheur has had to invent): this however renders the conspicuously right handed artist left handed, and also uniquely among Rosalba’s œuvre (setting aside the half-dozen colour reproductions in Sani which were printed back to front) has lighting from the right. There seems to be another confusion in these records: the Uffizi pastel is dated 1709, when the artist was 36 (if anything the subject of the Lépicié engraving is younger), while the archbishop’s pastel was “dans un âge avancé”. The Bowes pastel won’t illuminate the source of the Lépicié engraving.


Mariette refers to “une teste d’une brune qui revient ou qui va au bal” (my J.21.026, described in Mariette’s sale as “Une joli Vénitienne, ayant sur la tête un petit chapeau où sont attachées des fleurs, & tenant de la main droite un masque noir”), and TQ illustrates (fig. 121: below, left), as by Rosalba, the pastel I reproduce as J.21.0254, which again I consider to be a weak, probably non-autograph copy of a pastel of which at least three other versions exist (one is implausibly described as of La Barbarina, which is why they are gathered under that headline in the Dictionary; but the J numbers will take you there). TQ does not mention the other versions, and while she cites the Mariette sale catalogue she doesn’t illustrate or seem to mention the fact that it is sketched by Saint-Aubin in the 1777 sale catalogue (apparently with a little more space around the work, reinforcing my belief that J.21.0254 is a copy of the original: below, right).

Rosalba D au chapeau

As we all know Rosalba studies are dogged by the plethora of copies and pastiches. Sani’s approach is to omit them altogether (except by mistake). I take the opposite view, regarding it as within the scope of the Dictionary to identify works I consider to be copies by other hands, even of later periods (with indicators of my opinion of their status). Much of this classification can only be done by eye. TQ has a curious discussion (on p. 172, inexplicably separated from the discussion of the Dresden version, p. 153) of the terribly bad copy of Louis XV in the Forsyth Wickes collection at Boston (J.21.0702). According to the Dictionary, this is simple a copy (i.e. not autograph), while noting that Sani includes it as autograph. As far as I am aware there is no provenance before Paul Cailleux sold it to Forsyth Wickes in 1937. TQ makes no reference to my description, and seems tentative in her classification, describing it in the caption (fig. 123) as “Rosalba Carriera et atelier”, while in the text hesitates between blaming Rosalba’s sister or subsequent restoration but without considering the possibility of a non-workshop copy. Incidentally, regarding the real pastel of Louis XV, TQ simply follows Sani when she mentions (p. 172) “un certain ‘abbé Peroz’ s’engage avec enthousiasme à payer la bordure” for the king’s portrait: he was in fact (as you will find from my note in my annotated translation of the Paris journal) abbé Robert Perot (1661–1742), lecteur et garde de la bibliothèque du cabinet du roi – a position which suddenly makes sense of his enthusiasm, for he presided over where the pastel was to be hung.

On the front cover of the second edition of Sani (2007) was the pastel of an unknown man (J.21.0433) which had once been tentatively identified as of Pierre Crozat. In an earlier article (2007), TQ justly questioned the basis of the identification, pointing out that “cet exemple plus mercantile que scientifique montre qu’une fois encore, le mythe a pris le pas sur la raison.” But the hunger for identifications is driven by many motives. Unaccountably Sani (also in 2007) proposed that it was of the prince de Conti – despite the fact that he wore no riband for the Saint-Esprit, which is pretty well inconceivable for this type of representation. TQ correctly rejects this (as I had done), noting this as a salutary example of “les limites de l’analyse morphologique”. One could wish that she had stuck to this principle elsewhere.

To take one example, on p. 181, fig. 130, she reproduces a pastel (J.21.0601; below, left) as of Louis-Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, comte d’Évreux, citing it as dated 1720 (although that I think is a deduction from her identification), and offering as evidence the similarity with a Rigaud portrait “présumé” of Évreux in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. To me they don’t look sufficiently similar to justify the connection. Further the Met portrait is dismissed by Ariane James-Sarrazin (it is no. P.1442 in her Rigaud catalogue) as not of Évreux (James-Sarazin simply doesn’t agree that he looks like him). TQ states that the Met portrait was engraved by “Johann-Georg Friedrich Schmidt” [sic]: this presumably is the engraving (FD 2155) by the father, Georg Friedrich, which is after a different, 1705 portrait by Rigaud (AJS P.917). But while one can dispute such niceties as whether the man in the Met portrait has the right baton for a maréchal (he doesn’t), the question could simply have been resolved by reference to the Dictionary: for, as I noticed a few years ago, Rosalba made a preparatory drawing (detail, below, right) of the sitter in J.21.0601 , including not only the exact composition but costume details down to the unusual braid on his shoulder. In that drawing he is identified as Henry, Lord Cornbury, later Baron Hyde, shown in a double study with Edward Walpole made when they were both on the Grand Tour in 1730/31. There is certainly room to argue that Rosalba used the same composition for two different sitters (that’s why I don’t conflate J.21.0601 fully with the diary entry for the pastel version of Hyde, J.21.0599), but even such a substitution would have happened at the same time, and there is every reason to believe that this portrait was not made in Paris at all, but in Venice ten years later.


The Walpole family takes me to positively the last case I shall discuss in this post: the proposed identification of a splendid pastel in a private collection as the lost portrait of John Law. (I note in passing that the identification of the Louvre’s girl with a monkey, J.21.0575, which TQ considered to be of John Law’s daughter in 2007 is now updated to Mlle Languet de Gergy, later marquise d’Havrincourt; however the girl was born in Regensburg on 6 June 1717, and when the pastel was done she was nearly 8, not 2, as TQ thought.) This is discussed at great length in the book, in much the same terms as in an earlier article which allowed me to draw the author’s attention to my objection back in June: perhaps the book went to print before it could be changed, but in any case the evidence has been visible in the online Dictionary for some years, and it is regrettable that this and the other points raised here were not at least discussed. (I am happy to respond to emails if the discussion in the Dictionary is too compact, and I am always happy to correct it when, as all too often, I’m wrong.)

There are in short three related works. The larger pastel (J.21.0863: detail below, left), in a private collection, has a smaller version, in Dresden (J.21.0867). When a corresponding drawing in the Biblioteca Marciana (fig. 133 in TQ) was discovered some years ago, the identity of this man was resolved to everyone’s satisfaction: he was the Paduan mathematician, marchese Giovanni Poleni (1683–1761), and the drawing was unsurprisingly in the Poleni family papers. Despite this, TQ has devised a theory which appears to rest on the fact that the lost portrait of John Law is known to have had a smaller version, and this is the only example where the Dresden version corresponds to a larger pastel…so it must be of Law. Thus the Dresden pastel appears as fig. 124, “Portrait de John Law”; the larger pastel as fig. 132 (once again the discussion is divided between two places for no obvious reason), also as “Portrait de John Law”, while the Marciana drawing, evidently of the same man, is fig. 133, “Portrait présumé de Giovanni Poleni”. To make TQ’s position even more surprising, she reproduces Schmidt’s print (detail below, right) after the lost Rigaud portrait of Law, which is not disputed (and broadly corresponds to the Schenk print and other Law iconography, all of which show his aquiline nose and fleshier jowls), and merely notes that “la confrontation morphologique entre le pastel et la gravure pose problème.”


Sandby ar Rosalba Law HWIndeed it does: to my eye they cannot possibly be of the same man. But such subjectivities aside, there is a further objection. The portrait of Law was acquired by Horace Walpole, and though it was subsequently lost, it has left a sufficient trace in the watercolour by Thomas Sandby, Paul Sandby and Edward Edwards of the gallery at Strawberry Hill, in 1781, where we can blow up a detail visible in the niche to the left of chimney (right).

Hardly a high resolution reproduction (the perspective has introduced some distortion), but sufficient surely to dispel any idea that the Poleni pastel is the lost Rosalba of John Law.

Identifying Russell’s other child with cherries


In a recent post I identified the delightful Petite fille aux cerises in the Louvre. By an extraordinary coincidence, the other great John Russell pastel in the Louvre (above) also has a small child holding cherries – this time shown with his mother and brother. The French are going to think that cherry-picking is a national habit – it’s perhaps just as well the Louvre doesn’t also own Russell’s The Cake in Danger, a fancy picture which was also engraved by William Nutter.

Nutter ar Russell Mrs Jeans

Nutter’s engraving of Mrs Jeans and her sons gives it a title, A Mother’s Holiday, whose significance will probably be lost on modern audiences. It refers to a passage in a play called Pizzaro in Peru, adapted from the German of August von Kotzebue by another of Russell’s subjects, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and performed at Drury Lane in 1799. I shan’t go into the intricacies of the various versions, but you get the drift rapidly from this extract:

Kotzebue Pizarro

Whether the idea was entirely Nutter’s or Russell’s intention all along is questionable: the pastel was signed and dated 1797 (Williamson says it was done in 1796, but he’s often unreliable, and his discussion seems to suggest he met the Jeans family in 1780, which we shall see cannot have been right) and exhibited in 1798, so possibly not. But it does neatly explain why there isn’t a pendant of Mr Jeans with his daughters as German portraiture of the time (Daniel Caffe et al.) would probably have done: he’s there in spirit as it were. It’s also possible to read Nutter’s conceit and thus Russell’s portrait as a subtle reinterpretation of Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi: the French art of this period would of course have done this as a history painting (you can see the result by Peyron in the National Gallery in London: many will consider it a trifle dry).

Williamson of course may well not have been wrong when he wrote that the pastel was “considered by Russell his chef d’œuvre”; we can easily share that view of this imposing work, over a metre in height, executed in the subtle, late summer colouring of the English cherry season. Its impact is enhanced by the spectacular Maratta frame by Benjamin Charpentier (1747–1818) of Titchfield Street, invoiced by Russell with the pastel for a total of £93 8s. (of which 77 gns for the pastel plus £12 9s. for the frame and glass).

But who are the subjects? Williamson tells us they are “Mrs Jeans and her sons Thomas and John Locke Jeans”. (“John Locke” must of course refer to the philosopher, or I’ll eat my hat – so one jumps to the conclusion that the Jeans family were intellectuals.) That at least is an improvement on the current entry in the Louvre’s Arts graphiques database, where the title is given as a portrait of “Mrs Jean [sic] et de ses deux fils Thomas et John”. When it was exhibited in 1994 in the Outre-Manche exhibition, Mrs Jeans was described as the wife of the “révérend G. E. Jeans, Pasteur à Shorwell” – he was the owner of the pastel listed in Williamson’s book in 1894. In my 2006 dictionary, I identified her husband as G. E. Jeans’s grandfather, Dr Thomas Jeans (1749–1835), rector of Witchington, Norfolk.

More recent editions of the online Dictionary have progressed a bit further with details readily found on the internet today, but all derived from a 1907 volume by Robert Sanderson Whitaker, Whitaker of Hesley Hall, Grayshott Hall, Pylewell Park, and Palermo, which contains a reasonably complete genealogy of the Jeans family (p. 59). From this we learn Mrs Jeans’s maiden name, Mary Springer (but no more), and the names of her children: but they are laid out so that John Locke Jeans appears as eldest, Thomas the next brother. Thomas died young, and so is ill documented, but John Locke Jeans reached maturity, as did some younger children.

For the complete solution, you can now consult my updated pedigree for the family. And as always, once you know the answers, they are easy to verify; but the internet is a more powerful tool for verification than for discovery (just as a discovery is a more rewarding pastime than verification for us art historians).

The key facts are that the boy on the left is indeed Thomas, and I can confirm from the parish registers that he was baptised in Norwich 5.i.1794 (20 months after his elder sister Caroline, who never married), not the “circa 1797” that internet genealogists have inferred from the misleading table in Whitaker. There is no further record of him, and he probably died shortly after this portrait. The boy on the right, known as John Locke Jeans, was baptised “John Lock” in his father’s parish of Great Witchingham in Norfolk, on 1.x.1795 (according to the Archbishop’s transcripts; the registers are not online), but had been born 1.viii.1795 (the delay is unexplained): in the late summer of 1797 he would have been 2 years old, his brother being 19 months older. J. L. Jeans was a scholar at Pembroke College, Oxford, and took orders, and became a chaplain to the British church in Rotterdam in 1825 but died two years later; that most of these records add the e to his middle name may indicate a personal preference or a prevailing presumption.

Of their father, the Rev. Dr Thomas Jeans (1749–1835), the usual progression of educational achievements and preferments can be extracted from ecclesiastical tomes. His family came from Christchurch in Hampshire; a cousin, also Thomas, was a well-known physician (the Rev. Thomas was a doctor of divinity, not medicine), but his father was an inn-keeper, a freemason, and closely connected with the local MP for Christchurch, James Harris, later Earl of Malmesbury (whose children were portrayed by Perronneau, as discussed here). Jeans travelled to France in the 1770s and became chaplain to the British ambassador, Lord Stormont; he was also a friend of Colonel Horace St Paul (1729–1812), secretary to the embassy in Paris, whose portrait Russell also exhibited at the Royal Academy (in 1797). The best source for information on Jeans [but see the postscript below] is his correspondence with Harris in Music and Theatre in Handel’s World: The Family Papers of James Harris, ed. Donald Burrows & Rosemary Dunhill, Oxford, 2002. (There is much too on the Wyndham and Knatchbull families, also important clients of Russell.) In these letters Jeans recounts his experiences at theatres and the opera in Paris in the 1770s, including a revival of Le Devin du village and a performance of Carlin: he would have been exposed to the world of pastel as well as the international theatre which would provide Nutter with his allegory.

Jeans never became a wealthy man, and in his will the only asset of any significance was his 37 shares in the Dudley Canal, an ill-fated infrastructure project of its day which was dogged permanently by subsidence caused by coal mining until it finally closed.

Much more mysterious is Mrs Jeans herself, of whom we have hitherto known only the name, Mary Springer. One source (now widely propagated, such is the nature of internet based genealogy) gives her birth as 1770 – plausibly, if her two eldest children were very young in 1796 (although as we now know she had already had three daughters who do not appear in the pastel, one at least of whom had died at the same age as the younger boy when the portrait was made). Perhaps some obscurity is appropriate since Russell chose (unusually) to portray her in profile (according to Williamson, Russell said that he did so because he was incapable of giving a just expression to her exquisite full face); but I can now complete the story of this extraordinary portrait with her biography, after a chance encounter with this passage in the will of Benjamin Springer of St Augustine, East Florida, who had come to London where he died in 1786:

BS will

What are we to make of Mrs Jeans and her mother thus effectively disowning Springer? Fortunately there is a good deal of material concerning Benjamin Springer in East Florida. An article in The Florida Historical Quarterly in July 1981 (Carole Watterson Troxler, “Loyalist refugees and the British Evacuation of East Florida, 1783–1785”, pp. 1–28) is particularly informative: the garrison at St Augustine attracted loyalists fleeing the Revolution, but in the early 1780s had become a bargaining chip in British withdrawal negotiations. In the Treaty of Paris of 1783 it was ceded to Spain; the British subjects were given 18 months to leave, but all incurred massive losses on selling their assets for a fraction of their value. Appeals to the Crown for compensation invoked the terms of Magna Carta. One of the worst hit was Benjamin Springer, losing livestock of 50 horses, 40 cattle and 40 hogs. His slave “Bob” accompanied him to London and gave evidence to the British Commissioners for American Claims concerning these losses. But Springer’s practices in accumulating these assets were notorious (see Leslie Hall, Land & Allegiance in Revolutionary Georgia, Athens, 2001, pp. 143f): under the cloak of authority from the army to gather provisions, he and his associates had “Pillaged, Plunder’d and Carried off” rice, cattle, slaves, silver plate and household furniture, without giving receipts, and selling them for personal gain. We can assume that Mrs Jeans did not welcome this activity (she probably also disapproved of the charges of malversation brought against her husband much later, in connection with the school at Egham which he ran).

Despite the preamble to his will, Benjamin Springer was not from America, but from England. Parish records for his marriage in 1765 to Mary Short (1737–1819), of Breamore, Hampshire:

SpringerB Mary Short 1765

This shows that he came from “Nony” (Nunney) in Somerset, and it was there that Mary, the future Mrs Jeans, was born in 1766 – not in 1770, and not in America (although she must evidently have spent most of her life there):

SpringerMary dau of Benjamin 1766

Further investigation reveals that two years after Benjamin’s death in London in 1786, three years after the family’s return, his widow Mary (Mrs Jeans’s mother) remarried: to a James Lock, Esq of Lyndhurst, Hampshire:

Lock Springer marriageJames Lock, who had a brother John, may have been (or was otherwise related to) the renowned hatter of that name in St James’s, a firm which is still in business (and one of whose products is in my coat cupboard, awaiting my consumption – as his step-grandson was obviously named after this family, not the philosopher). The hatter James Lock (1732–1806) had previously been married to the daughter of Charles Davis, whose business he inherited; the records do not note a second marriage, but he was buried in Stalfleet, Hampshire and his son George James Lock also retired to Lyndhurst.

A few months before Benjamin’s death (and several years before internet genealogy suggested), the younger Mary was married to Thomas Jeans, at St James’s Piccadilly, 13.iv.1786:

JeansT Mary Springer 1786

Mary Jeans outlived her husband by 15 years, dying in 1850 in Tetney, Lincolnshire, where her son George had been living since at least 1842 (the Church of England database notes his curacy at Sunbury until 1827, but not a subsequent preferment). Her will is mainly devoted to a discussion of the Dudley Canal shares which her youngest son and residual legatee, George, did not want to receive; and although there was mention of a few items of low value (curtains, a mahogany clothes press etc.) the Russell pastel is not mentioned. George’s son George Edward Jeans (1848–1921) owned the pastel in 1894 (at Shorwell, Isle of Wight, very close to Stalfleet where the hatter died); he intended to leave it to a niece, but it was probably sold before his death. His estate was valued only at £2410 13s. 7d., so the Russell would have been a significant component (and would probably have appreciated significantly better than the Dudley Canal shares).

With the petite fille aux cerises, an important clue came from unravelling the identity of the donor to the Louvre. In this case the position was different, as the pastel had evidently been purchased, probably through a dealer, although the exact steps are unclear. The normally useful Donateurs du Louvre provided little information concerning the Mme Démogé who left the work to the Louvre in 1962, under a reserve of usufruct which expired the following year. Seeking a British connection one might have wondered if this was the Muriel Tomasson of Huguenot extraction who married a Léon Démogé in Kensington 1920; but in fact the donor was the widow of his uncle, also Léon Démogé; she was born Juliette Lucas (1873–1963). Her philanthropy included a major donation to the bibliothèque municipal de Tours. The Démogé fortune was made in retailing, founding the Société française des grands bazars et nouvelles galeries réunis in 1898. In buying a fine pastel by John Russell they were following the trend established by other retailers such as Jacques Doucet or François Coty.

Postscript (20.xii.2017)

I am very grateful to the comment below which has drawn my attention to the biographical material on Dr Jeans to be found in the numerous references in the diaries of his neighbour James Woodforde, and in particular in three articles by Robin Gibson, “More about Mr Jeans”; afterword; “Early career of Parson Jeans”; Parson Woodforde Society quarterly journal, 1996–98, xxix/3, pp. 5–21; xxx/1, pp. 19–20; xxxi/3, pp. 5–15. These confirm that the Russell pastel was still with G. E. Jeans in 1894, but was probably sold c.1900-1910 before his death. The copy retained by the family may well have been one of those offered by dealers to reluctant sellers of family portraits around that time. Gibson draws on Marion Ward’s Forth (1982) for information on Jeans’s early life in Paris. Through Nathaniel Parker Forth Jeans became acquainted with the duc de Chartres, and legend has it that Jeans located the Hampshire girl Nancy Syms who became known as Pamela and married Lord Edward Fitzgerald – at least in one version of the story (most sources believe that Pamela was the duc’s illegitimate daughter by Mme de Genlis). In any case Jeans’s close connections with France – Woodforde called him “Frenchified” – make this a particularly appropriate Russell to hang in the Louvre.


Nattier csse de Brac 1741In his magisterial catalogue of the Nattier exhibition held in 1999/2000, Xavier Salmon unravelled numerous confusions and misidentifications, including the painting (above) now in Detroit which had previously been called Mme de Vintimille. By reading the date correctly (1741, not 1744) and comparing the painting with the descriptions in the salon critiques of the day, Salmon established that the portrait was in fact of the “comtesse de Brac en Aurore” – but was unable to identify her for certain:

…nous n’avons pu determiner si elle était la dame d’honneur de Madame Louise, fille de Louis XV, que citent plusieurs documents d’archives, ou Élisabeth Lorimier, épouse de Paul-Émile de Braque, mort le 6 octobre 1744, et mère d’Élisabeth de Braque, née le 31 mai 1741, mariée en 1761 à François-Joseph, marquis de Choiseul-Meuse (peut-être ces deux dames n’en sont-elles d’ailleurs qu’une seule)

A visit to the Detroit Institute of Arts website adds nothing more: so, as the picture is in a public collection, it is perhaps time to resolve the question – particularly since the reason I came across the answer tells us about something quite different.

D’Hozier has an extremely long article (over 100 pages) on the genealogy of the de Braque family (tome iii, pp. 130–228): the comtesse de Braque is found on the penultimate page, as indeed Élisabeth Lorimier, daughter of a mPerronneau Lorimieraître de la Chambre de deniers, intendant et contôleur general des Écuries du roi; one of her brothers, who inherited the same office, was the subject of a lively Perronneau pastel (right) dating from the same period as the Nattier. You can easily persuade yourself of a family resemblance. Unlike the de Braques, her family was of recent nobility, having bought their nobility by purchasing offices (her grandfathers were a notary and a draper: the duc de Luynes noted the former with disgust when she was presented at court in March 1750). On 22.ix.1733, Élisabeth (at the age of 12 – she was born, and so was only 20 at the time of Nattier’s portrait) became the second wife of Paul-Émile de Braque, who, d’Hozier tells us, was “connu dans le monde sous le nom de Comte de Braque” (among his profusion of titles was also that of marquis de Braque). He was noble of the XII degree, and head of the fourth branch of the family.


As Salmon tells us, he did indeed die in 1744; what he does not tell us was that six years later, Élisabeth was remarried, to Joseph-François Damas d’Antigny, marquis de Ruffey (1706–1782), whom she outlived: fortunately on their marriage the king had provided Ruffey with a pension of 2000 livres of which she had the reversion, and she also received a further pension of 6000 livres awarded on the same basis in 1781 when Ruffey’s governorship of Dombes was suppressed. She was still drawing these pensions in 1793.

In 1741 no one but Élisabeth would have been titled the comtesse de Braque, and there is no reason to doubt that she was Nattier’s 20-year-old subject. But was she the dame d’honneur of Madame Louise?

In fact that lady appears some 25 pages earlier in d’Hozier, as the last in the line of the second branch of the family, noble of the XI degree and an extremely distant relation of the comtesse (in fact the fourth cousin, once removed, of her husband). She was Anne-Marguerite de Braque du Parc, born 20.i.1678. All d’Hozier tells us is that she was reçue at Saint-Cyr on 3.v.1687 – which of course may be one of the reasons why d’Hozier went to such trouble to establish the genealogy: proof of nobility was an essential requirement for admission to Mme de Maintenon’s school for poor girls. The Liste des Demoiselles de Saint-Cyr de 1686 à 1793 published in 1908 has a note against her name “cordelière à Gournay 1706” – a reference to the religious community at Gournay-en-Bray. By 1741, when Nattier’s portrait was exhibited, she was 63 years of age.

It was not until 1750, at the age of 72, that she was presented at court (just a few months after Élisabeth’s presentation) as a Dame de la suite de Mesdames les cadettes, and the archives Salmon refers to mention her as Dame de compagnie de Madame Louise or as Dame pour accompagner Mesdames les Cadettes: she is not however among the married ladies who appear under that title in the Almanachs royaux of the period. Fortunately the duc de Luynes records her appointment:

Du vendredi 11 [septembre 1750], Versailles : le Roi a déclaré aujourd’hui les deux demoiselles qui doivent être attachées à Mesdames les deux cadettes ; l’une est Mlle de Welderen : elle est Hollandoise et de grande condition ; elle a beaucoup de mérite, et est amie intime de Mlle de Tourbes, avec qui elle passe sa vie. La deuxième est Mlle de Braque : elle est fort pauvre ; elle est depuis vingt ans avec Mme du Tronc, veuve du lieutenant général des armées du Roi ; on dit qu’elle est fort aimable ; elle est amie de Mlle de Charleval.

(Mme du Tronc was Françoise-Angélique Sanguin du Rouillier (1673-1753), veuve de Nicolas-Alexandre Le Cordier, marquis du Troncq; Mlle de Charleval was another Dame de Mesdames; the following summer she married the marquis de Rouchechouart.) Madame Louise seems to have known Mlle de Braque from her days at Fontevrault, and presented her with a small three-volume set of Racine printed in 1750 with the following dedication (Bulletin du bibliophile…, 1899, p. 51; see also pp. 126ff):


Mlle de Braque lodged in the royal quarters at Versailles until her retirement in April 1756, when she was granted a pension of 10,000 livres. It is then that we become better informed about her, from a series of letters from Marigny preserved in the Archives nationales and mined by William Ritchey Newton in his useful study of La Petite Cour (2006), where my eye was caught by this sentence in a letter from Marigny to Mlle de Braque of 11.viii.1756 (AN O1 1828 384):

Madame Louise m’ayant aussi dit qu’elle voulait vous donner son portrait, fait par le sieur Dufrey, j’ai envoyé ordre pour que ce peintre le délive afin qu’il vous soit remis sans aucun retardement.

The “Dufrey” referred to is surely the Alsatian pastellist Franz Bernhard Frey (1716–1806) of whom there is an entry in the Dictionary of pastellists: he was employed by the Bâtiments du roi to make royal portraits in succession to Maurice-Quentin de La Tour whose patience was tested too far by the timekeeping of the princesses. One turns immediately to the accounts of the Bâtiments published by Engerand in 1901 to find the entry for the portrait: Frey did indeed make a portrait (which Engerand thought was in pastel) of “Madame Louise de France, en corps de robe richement orné, 2 pieds de haut sur 15 pouces de large” (a surprisingly narrow 65×40.6 cm), for which he charged 700 livres. The frame (no maker is named) must have been superb: it cost an additional 832 livres. But the accounts also show that the work was delivered in 1754 (and paid at the end of 1756). No copy was recorded in 1756: it was either an omission, or possibly a confusion, because two copies were recorded in 1755 but not paid for until 1760 when the year might have been confused. Those copies were made in oil, and in a more conventional format: 65×54 cm; together they cost 672 livres – a figure to remember next time you are told that pastel was popular because it was cheaper than oil.

Drouais Mme LouiseFrey later executed similar versions of Madame Louise’s sister, Madame Sophie de France, of which you can read more in my essay where its derivation from a painting by François-Hubert Drouais is discussed. It seems plausible that Frey’s portrait of Madame Louise is also connected with a Drouais portrait such as that at Versailles (right), although in 1754 Drouais, who was fifteen years younger than Frey, was not yet agréé and should not have been assumed to have priority (Laurent Hugues’s 1999 article suggests that he was given access to the court only in 1756). But the particular interest here was the involvement of the Bâtiments in producing gifts for servants rather than diplomatic gifts for foreign ambassadors etc.

The rest of the correspondence with Marigny provides us too with some glimpses of Mlle de Braque and her relations with Madame Louise who evidently held her in the highest esteem. Mlle de Braque wanted to stay on at Versailles, but the pressure on space meant that she had to be moved to the part known as the “Grand Commun”. (Ironically this was location of the office of the Chambre de deniers, held by Élisabeth Lorimier’s father and brother.) She was assigned the apartment that had been occupied by the recently deceased abbé de Pomponne, a former ambassador to Venice, aumônier du roi, conseiller d’état and chancellor of the Ordres du roi, and as you can see from Petit’s engraving after Jean-BaptistPomponnee Van Loo, a rather important figure.

Not content with that, Mlle de Braque insisted on repairs and improvement to the apartment which were estimated to cost 8000 livres. Marigny put his foot down, and forced her to cut back her expenditure to 6000 livres, but even then had to get the king’s permission, noting that the revised plans still included 4600 livres for “glaces, cheminées de marbre et menuiserie”.

But before you focus too much on the idea of conspicuous excess, the correspondence brings us back to the other side of life at Versailles which isn’t shown to tourists today: in 1758 Mlle de Braque wrote to Marigny to complain that the disposal of “tous les immondices et ordures imaginables” (in the manner which was common practice at the château, through a window in an upper floor) had broken her windows and damaged her furniture. Marigny sanctioned the installation of iron bars over the offending window, at the end of a corridor; but soon after (such were the pressures on sanitation) someone prised open the bars and resumed the practice. Marigny enlisted the duc de Noailles to deal with the problem.

Apart from that we find only minute references to Mlle de Braque. In the January 1760 issue, the Mercure recorded the public donations of silver to the mint to meet the costs of war: her respectable contribution (by weight, 27 marcs 6 onces 7 gros, or about 7 kilograms) was about half as much as given by the pastellist and violinist Louis Aubert, but much more that the 5m. 6o. 3½g. donated by another pastellist, Léon-Pascal Glain – curious names to find among a list of fermiers généraux, secrétaires du roi, présidents and duchesses, but precious morsels about the finances of these minor artists. Even the excessively wealthy banker Nicolas Beaujon gave only about four times as much silver as Mlle de Braque.Nivelon

Ritchey Newton tells us that Mlle de Braque died in 1778, when she would have been 100, but he provides no source [PS: see comment below: Mlle de Braque must have died c.1762]. She may well have followed her patroness, Madame Louise, who in 1770 left Versailles to become a nun (under the name of sœur Thérèse-Augustine, dying in 1787): Versailles houses a portrait of her at that time by Anne-Baptiste Nivelon (right).

Identifying Russell’s petite fille aux cerises

Russell frame Vikery

In my recent post about the evolution of taste in pastels, I mentioned how important national schools have been, so that the English undervalue Perronneau, while the French reciprocate by ignoring Cotes. But by the end of the nineteenth century, John Russell had become a collectable name in Paris (albeit usually spelt with one l). There is no doubt that a major contributor to this was the presence in the Louvre, since 1869, of Russell’s Petite fille aux cerises. Copied dozens of times, and reproduced infinitely more often, her latest appearance is in the delightful new issue of the Dossier de l’art (no. 254) devoted to pastel, where the work is one of the chefs-d’œuvre to which a double page spread is devoted by Thea Burns in an excellent overview of the medium before 1800. Is it a portrait or a genre piece, the author asks, adding “aucune identité n’a été proposé pour ce charmant modèle.” The only reference cited for this pastel is to Camille Dorange’s 1990 article devoted rather curiously to Russells that happen to have been in French collections.

There is of course a far more abundant bibliography some of which you can find in the Dictionary of pastellists (just Google, or put into the search box, J.64.172; in the print edition it’s listed on p. 473 among the unidentified sitters), but until now confusions have persisted which are not discussed in the Dossier. As so often with Russell, these problems arise from George Williamson’s slapdash approach to cataloguing in his 1894 monograph. The pastel is signed and dated, but the date is no longer legible (at least not when I last saw it), so Williamson read it as 1780 since this allowed him to identify the Louvre pastel with the Girl with Cherries which Russell exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1781 (no. 372). That pastel was in all probability the one included in the artist’s posthumous sale, London, Christie’s, 14 February 1807, Lot 27, with the same title. Having made that conflation, it follows that the owner who left the picture to the Louvre must have bought the pastel as a collector. “M. Henry Vikery” appears on a label at the top of the frame, in larger type than the artist gets, in spelling which will raise the eyebrow of any English speaker, whether Brexit-voting or not. Geneviève Monnier, in her 1972 catalogue of the Louvre pastels, followed this narrative, as did I in earlier editions of the Dictionary.

In doing so we dissented from Maurice Tourneux’s 1908 article in the Revue de l’art ancien et moderne: always unwise, as Tourneux was a far more careful scholar than Williamson. He read the date as 1798, and told us more about the donor, a “M. Henry Vickery” who had died in Arsonval, leaving this pastel to the Louvre, and which the minister had been told orally depicted the donor’s mother. Of course this is the sort of legend that so often turns out to be fantasy, but in some cases can provide the vital clue: the starting point has to be to obtain the biographical details and test them for plausibility.

Immediately we see a problem: Williamson tells us that the pastel was in the artist’s posthumous sale, so (we infer) it can’t have descended in the sitter’s family. Further research on Vickery (see, for example, the entry in the otherwise useful Les Donateurs du Louvre) adds nothing to our knowledge beyond a further forename, Alfred Henry: but there the trail goes cold. There is no Alfred Henry Vickery to be found. And so the story died with the obscurity of this man.

Now that we know the answer, the steps I set out below will seem obvious, but they have been remarkably resistant to discovery. The first step was to examine the état civil for Arsonval, which does indeed record the death, not of Henry Vickery, but of “Alfred Dehenin Vickery”, aged 47:

VickeryAD death

As we shall see neither of these data is strictly correct. But the de Hénin looks particularly plausible since his wife, Joséphine Vangraefschepe, has a distinctly Belgian sounding name. We also find that “Alfred de Hénin-Vickery” appears in a deed in the Archives nationales (a part payment of 10,000 francs for a property in Bièvres in 1851), so this is the name he used. We can trace back their marriage, which took place at St Clement Dane’s in London, in 1855:

VickeryAD marriage

And from that we get Alfred’s father, Joseph Pace [recte Paice] Vickery. (There is another false trail here with a Joseph Pace Vickery and the widow of a soldier in the Coldstream Guards, but that is irrelevant.)

Vickery père was born in Lincolnshire in 1786 and died in Paris in 1858. In 1813 at St Marylebone he married a Mary Hall: a common enough name, not defined much more narrowly by the presence of witnesses including a Thomas and an Eliza Hall, nor by a friend, Cecilia Charlotte Jackson (although she was easily traceable to the future wife of a baronet; she was born in 1794):

Vickery Joseph Paice mariage 1813

The trail went cold until I found that Alfred’s real name was not Dehenin, nor Henry, but Dehany:

VickeryAlfred Dehany birth Somerset 1819

That allowed me to connect Mary Hall with the family of Thomas Hall, a wealthy sugar planter in Jamaica, who married a Mary Dehany. To proceed to the answer (which is confirmed by Mary Vickery’s name appearing as a legatee in her aunt’s will), the pedigree I have established is as follows:

Thomas Hall (1725–1772) of Jamaica ∞ Mary Dehany ( –1763)

Mary (1747–1815) ∞ Richard James Laurence (1745–1830)

Hugh Kirkpatrick Hall (1749–1788) of Bowden, Cheshire

William Hall (1750–1805) ∞ 1773 Mary Reid (1750–1794)

Mary (1784–1836×58) ∞ 1813 Joseph Paice Vickery (1786–1858)

Alfred Dehany Vickery (1819–1868) ∞ 1855 Joséphine Vangraefschepe

[From William’s liaison with Mrs Catherine Jones of St Johns, Worcester]:

William Jones Hall ( –1814)

Catherine Jones Hall ∞ 1829 George Bowles

Sarah (1755– )

Thomas Hall (1757–1839) ∞ Eliza Humfreys (1762–1800)

Eliza Ann (1789–1831)

Dehany (1759–1822sa)

Thus the “petite fille aux cerises” is, if the Vickery legend is to be believed, Mary Hall, the daughter of William Hall and Mary, née Reid, baptized at St James, Jamaica, 3 May 1784. In all likelihood the date on the pastel was 1788 (Williamson and Tourneux each getting one digit wrong), a date I find entirely plausible stylistically.

It is also highly plausible that the Hall family were clients of Russell. Despite the artist’s fervent Methodism, several other Jamaica planters were among his sitters. The Halls were interested in portraiture: Benjamin West famously depicted the petite fille’s aunt, also Mary Hall (later Mrs Richard Lawrence: but not to be confused, as she is in some sources such as the British Museum database, with the flower painter, née Mary Lawrence, who married Thomas Kearse in 1814) in the guise of Spenser’s Una in 1771:

WestB Mary Hall as Una 1771 Wadsworth Atheneum

William Hall, the petite fille’s father, was born on the family’s numerous plantations in Jamaica, but sent back to England to be educated at Eton. Extensive family correspondence is available in archives at the University of California at San Diego, which has made numerous documents available online. William returned to Jamaica on his father’s death in 1772, and the following year he married a Mary Reid. Among their numerous plantations was the Round Hill estate at Montego Bay. Records indicate fairly extensive lists of slaves, some of whom absconded (as seen from newspaper advertisements). Their only daughter, the petite fille, was born in 1784, and soon after they returned to England definitively, settling in Worcester (where William’s father Thomas had been born in 1725, and where Russell would make numerous trips throughout his career). Here Mrs Hall died in 1794, and was commemorated in a superb monument gracing the cathedral, the masterpiece of William Stephens:


An excellent blog post by a local historian fleshes out the rather curious background to William’s will, proved in 1805, after he died having moved to Bath. There were substantial provisions for William’s two illegitimate children by one Catherine Jones: it seems that William maintained two establishments while his wife was still alive, on different sides of the river in Worcester (Mary at Bevere, Catherine at St John’s). The petite fille was then living at Queen Street West, St Marylebone (probably with her uncle Thomas), while her half-siblings lived with their mother who had moved with William to Hatfield Place, Bath. There seems to have been no enmity between the children: when Catherine Hall Jones married in 1820, her guardian issuing the bans was Mary’s husband Joseph Paice Vickery.

The petite fille was a wealthy heiress, inheriting the residual share of her father’s fortune, including a provision of £12,000 secured on the Worcester estate in Jamaica. That legacy became the subject of legal proceedings not concluded until the 1860s. Neither Joseph Paice Vickery nor his son seems to have had paid employment, and reports in 1844 that Joseph held £5000 of forged Exchequer bills may account for his emigration to France, where he lived at 44 rue de l’Ouest, Paris 14e before his death in Hesse-Homburg. His estate was valued at less than £300. There is nothing to suggest that the Vickerys were art collectors, and it is far more probable that this was indeed a portrait de famille.

We don’t know when Mary Vickery herself died: she is named in litigation documents in 1836, and predeceased her husband. But we do I think know, with reasonable confidence, that the Louvre pastel is a portrait of a girl who fitted perfectly into Russell’s clientele, and is an excellent example of his work at the height of his powers.

Postscript – 7 December

An eagle-eyed reader, Tim Clarke, has drawn my attention to the fact that Worcester has a long history of growing cherries. The Cherry Fair in Bewdley is located very close to Kidderminster where John Russell was also recorded on his numerous visits to the area.

Museums, indemnities and the Government Obscurity Scheme

Mendoza1When the Mendoza report on museums (covering some 2000 institutions in England, with an accompanying “strategic review” dealing with the top sixteen) was released on 14 November, there was limited reaction. An editorial in the Guardian the following day was justly critical of its whitewash of the level of arts funding in the UK (the figure above from Mendoza shows how this is declining from a pitiful level, less than the Tories paid the DUP to cling onto office), while Mendoza’s letter printed the day after indicated what seemed to me a shocking level of complacency about so fundamental an issue. (At the same time the Leonardo sold at auction for $450 million, close to half the UK government’s annual support for the entire museums sector.) The reports are both unreadable due in part to the forest of rebarbative acronyms (apparently quangos are now called ALBs – arm’s length bodies – but I’m not sure how many readers can tell their ALBs from their elbows). In any case I certainly didn’t get through them, but I did notice a few points of general interest and one which leads to another particular concern of mine.

In addition to the points made by the Guardian, I was struck by the absence of an international comparison on funding levels. Paragraph 23 of the strategic review is the only reference to this, but the source it links to is virtually useless. Within the UK the sources of funds it identifies are unimaginative; much of it comes from the lottery, a tax on stupidity. This paragraph is particularly alarming: it will nudge the philistines in government in the wrong direction, and seems to undermine the recent initiatives to make images more freely available:

Digitised collections offer new opportunities for both research and commercial purposes. … Museum trading arms are increasing their use of digitised collections to generate income, for example, by licensing images from the collection, while also allowing free use for educational and research purposes. Art UK, an online centralised platform for art museum collections, is exploring how it can offer a licensing service to generate income for its members.

Equally alarming is the idea of “dynamic collections management”: the sequence chosen in this list gives a clue to the priorities the author may have had in mind (and it probably wasn’t what Lady Wallace or other benefactors were thinking):

All museums should have robust and active collections management plans…covering object disposal, acquisition, accessibility and use, to maximise their effectiveness and purpose

Alarm bells start when evidence is cited in a survey in which 40% of respondents do NOT think that the purpose of a national museum is to preserve and display collections.

I was also worried by the almost total absence of references to scholarship in the two documents: the word occurs once as a heading, twice in adjectival form – but all three vacuously, rather than in the context of any profound analysis of how museums contribute to knowledge. (Instead they are seen in civil service terms as focuses for public engagement and tourism: the word “visitor” occurs 69 times in the main report alone, and “visitor experience” four times.) In particular there is nothing here to encourage funding for fundamental research as opposed to adjuncts to entertainment or tourism; nothing to ensure that museums can continue to employ senior researchers of international repute engaged in highly specialised investigations, or free institutions from the tyranny of blockbuster exhibitions to generate the funding Government refuses to provide.

The term “national museum” (while better than ALB) bespeaks a lack of ambition. The British Museum and National Gallery are by any measure world class institutions. They should be respected, trumpeted and funded accordingly. But it is clear from these reports that both political parties are equally uninterested in invigorating the UK’s place in the museum world, with increased funding, a serious acquisition budget and a commitment to world class scholarship.

There was also rather less about Brexit than I should have expected. People who work in or use our museums will in almost all cases have a positive view about Europe, but neither they nor the general public are likely to see this in terms of Article 151 of the EU treaty. Yet for Europeans this is the framework within which they view the international exchange of cultural knowledge arising from the freedom of movement of works of art to international loan exhibitions. They will cite (although few people in the UK have ever heard of it) the European Parliament resolution on cultural cooperation (2000/2323 (INI)).

But little of this is mentioned in the Mendoza reports, which are strikingly insular. Although the strategic review recognises that the 16 major institutions are more likely to be affected by Brexit than the rest of the sector, it refers us to the Mendoza review for the shortest and most useless imaginable discussion (a couple of paragraphs on p. 69). The strategic review summarises HMG’s current priorities as rather patronisingly “promoting Britain abroad through cultural diplomacy, especially post Brexit, and contributing to tourism, highlighting the UK as a special place to visit.” The emphasis is on tourism and revenue generation rather than any sense of a common European culture; and it is notable that of the twelve international cooperation initiatives cited in paragraph 41, all but one were with countries outside the EU. But Britain’s ties with Europe are far closer than with China or Latin America when it comes to eighteenth century painting: Liotard and Perronneau came to London, while most British painters went or wanted to go to Italy. Even Neil MacGregor, the arch-exponent of world culture, works in Germany, not Beijing.

But I want now to come to one of the tiny details in Mendoza which has escaped all commentary I have seen. It caught my eye only because of the attempts I’d made to gather information for my recent blog post on the hazards of moving pastels.

This is one of the main recommendations from the Mendoza review.

6. Work with ACE to promote the Government Indemnity Scheme to borrowers
and lenders, and ensure that it continues to deliver good value for money. This
also means boosting confidence in the scheme and making sure that commercial
insurance is reserved for exceptional cases. Where commercial insurance is
necessary, this means simplifying the process.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Government Indemnity Scheme (“GIS”), there is a good deal of information about the mechanics on the Arts Council’s website as well as a lengthy pdf including guidelines for national institutions. I shall assume you know these in what follows. So what was Mendoza getting at? Why does “confidence in the scheme” need to be “boosted”? What changes is he nudging government to make to improve its take up and why?

Although you will know from this blog that I no longer lend pastels, I have (since 1981) lent pastels, drawings and other works of art to international travelling exhibitions and have some limited experience of what lenders are interested in. Fundamentally their concern is that handling is of the highest standard, and that if there is an accident, agreed value claims will be met in full and without delay. One of the mysteries to me is that the values I’ve suggested to commercial insurers have never been challenged before the loan is agreed. I’d perhaps worry whether that meant a vigorous discussion after any claim.

Interestingly a useful (if a little old) international survey commissioned by the EU, Study No. 2003-4879 (easily available online) reinforces this need for transparency and clarity for the acceptability of such schemes. It also highlights some of the quirks of international insurance terms (e.g. owners of portraits need to be aware that German insurance contracts explicitly exclude the “fictitious” value attached to family portraiture). Of these the most important technical point concerns the so-called waiver of subrogation. Currently the GIS, if it does pay out, retains the right to sue the negligent carrier or museum who caused the damage. Many foreign borrowers won’t accept this. I very much hope that the government will stick to its position on this: the moment you exonerate carriers from responsibility, damage becomes far more likely. I hope that relaxing it was not what Mendoza meant.

But I want to discuss more generally the climate of secrecy surrounding this scheme, and indeed other aspects of the museum world and of the art world generally. Private collectors have reasons (good and bad) for wanting to hide their wealth. Dealers understandably want to conceal their sources (many clients baulk at paying a dealer three times what he paid last month), leading to the absence of provenance information which can bedevil Nazi era restitution claims. But shouldn’t museums think differently?

In preparation for the talk I gave on accidental damage to pastels, last August I sought information from several major galleries, from parliament, from DCMS and from the Arts Council concerning transportation protocols, accidental damage, the GIS and claims history. My experience was uniformly uninformative, despite all these bodies being covered by the Freedom of Information Act. Three months later, after reviews and appeals and references to the Information Commissioner (with whom several cases are still under investigation), I have very little information to provide the comfort that a foreigner would want about the operation of the GIS and the reliance that can be placed on its undertakings.

Based largely on published information (although this can be very hard to find: DCMS’s accounts are worth starting with) and the unpublished statements available in the House of Lords library, one can extract a picture of a scheme that is heavily used and with apparently extraordinarily low claims rates. They are hard to square with anecdotal accounts of handling damage (do museums take so much better care of GIS covered objects than of their own permanent collections?), which of course was why I wanted the hard facts.

Then there are the apparent anomalies in the data. For example, under the scheme museums have to tell Arts Council what indemnity limits they need. The latest Government Main Supply Estimates (2016–17, p. 269) list “indemnities in force” totalling £13,761,415,000 (of which the two largest are Tate, £3.2 bn, and the National Gallery, £2.6 bn). Yet despite this the “amount reported to Parliament by Departmental Minute”, according to the DCMS annual report and accounts to 31 March 2017, is only £6,253,500,000. No, I can’t either; and no one at DCMS or Arts Council seems willing to do so. [PS see the very helpful comment posted below]

What makes this all the more confusing is whether the Secretary of State has in fact laid this information before parliament as he is required to do under s.16A National Heritage Act 1980. These statements used in the past to be read to the Commons and recorded in Hansard. But the latest discussion you can find online is in 2006. Since then the statements have been treated as “unpublished papers”. You can read them in the library of the House of Lords, but it seems that no one does. And the librarian tells me that the last statement they have is to 31 March 2015. After much discussion with DCMS (I can say no more at this stage), one further unsigned draft statement to 30 September 2015 was produced, but they claim to have no later statement nor the signed version of that – despite the column in the DCMS accounts detailing amounts to 31 March 2017. Arts Council claim to hold only the 31 March 2015 certificate as the sole example of a document issued twice a year since 1980 for a scheme they are supposed to administer. Indeed one of the emerging issues from my enquiries was who if anyone has a complete picture of how this scheme is operating. It’s impossible to assign responsibility for what may be incompetence or intentional neglect, or merely confusions (perhaps even mine) that could be dispelled by a simple policy of open discussion and disclosure.

Let me turn now to the data on claims. The numbers (extracted like teeth from Arts Council) are astonishingly low: since 2012, a total of less than £300,000 with no payments at all in some years. Without a breakdown (into for example cost of repairs for minor accidental damage versus market value of works stolen) it is hard to say much more about these numbers. Further the numbers seem to bear no relation whatever to those “liabilities crystallised” (i.e. payment or provision for actual claims) in DCMS’s accounts: I have asked for a reconciliation, but do not expect it any time soon.

Low claims for government indemnity schemes are not that unusual on an international basis: for example, this from a lecture by Frank Bergevoet at the International Exhibitions Organisers conference April 2010:

It can be seen from our research that in the past five years more than 5600 indemnity requests have been accepted within 18 member states of the EU. Out of these 5600 applications only 7 damage claims were reported with a total amount of about 80,000 euro’s [sic] being paid out.

Why have there been so few claims under GIS? Can one infer that moving objects is very low risk? Does a low payout mean low loss (our museums and handlers doing a brilliant job) or just tough loss adjusting (the scheme so restrictive that lenders can’t rely on it)? One reason may be that the excess is so high, particularly since it is estimated that 80% of commercial insurance payouts for art transport are for compensation for damage rather than total loss, and much of this will be in the low thousands – below the level at which a claim can be made. And as I’ve mentioned in my pastel transport talk, insurers don’t pay for losses due to inherent vice: I have no data for how often that objection has been made. So what lenders really want to see openly discussed is actual claims processed.

That is what is so difficult to find. For example in a case in 1992, a canvas by Robyn Denny was damaged by a water leak while waiting to be exhibited at the Barbican. A year later proceedings were issued in the High Court over a disputed claim, but I can find no account of the final outcome, which I assume must have been settled before the court reached a decision.


Rather more interesting is the case of the Zoffany painting (The Mathew Family, above) destroyed in the fire at Clandon several years ago. Neither DCMS nor Arts Council provided any information on this, despite the claim and payout (of £4.2 million) being widely reported in the press (as a payout by the GIS). But you can, if you know what you are looking for, piece together what seems to have happened from DCMS accounts. It appears that (and I invite DCMS and Arts Council to correct me if I am wrong) a claim was made by the owners; the amount of £4.2 million was provided for in DCMS accounts. The claim was then found to be invalid (perhaps because Clandon did not meet the GIS indemnity standards, but I am speculating). Nevertheless the claim was paid by the Government on an ex gratia basis. In other words the lender found that he had not been legally covered at all. And Arts Council can claim that this wasn’t a claim under the GIS. I can see why that is not something the government would want to publicise, although as a lender I would want to know both parts of that story, and when I could rely on the whim of the government minister.

We should also note that the £4.2m Zoffany claim was dwarfed by the non-GIS items in the same fire, or the 2004 fire of the Saatchi and Tate collections in a storage warehouse. Or even the evidence Nicholas Penny is reported to have given to the Burrell enquiry: the Herald Scotland on 6 September 2013 said that he “has had knowledge of 10 major accidents during his career in museums and galleries in Britain and the US.”

So it is not that there is no risk that catastrophic losses will (equally rarely) occur: it is that the public find it very difficult to understand the value (and price) of risk. There is here a neat confusion of risk and premiums saved which mean we can miss the fact that Government is subsidising the museums. The figure of £15m per annum saved (as repeated in Mendoza) is an old estimate which does not seem to be sourced or revised. Voters readily think that that £15m is public value added by the Scheme; the same logic would leave you smug in the years when you don’t insure your home, and disappointed in the year when it burns down. The real public saving is at best the profit element in an insurance premium (by way of illustration, a leading art insurer’s most recent accounts disclose a 10% underwriting profit on gross premiums written in the relevant division); the rest is a concealed transfer of value from taxpayers to museums that doesn’t normally get seen as such. Sssh! I can hear some of you say – don’t let those nasty élite-hating leave voters hear of this (don’t worry – they don’t read my blog).

And then there is the real question: if your £500 million Leonardo is destroyed in an air crash, what is the point of paying yourself a cheque for that amount?

Postscript (23 November)

When I wrote the post above, I had completely forgotten that the GIS had been discussed in blogposts at Art History News and The Grumpy Art Historian some five years ago. The Art Newspaper article to which they refer is no longer online, and I long ago archived (i.e. lost) my copy. It’s somehow reassuring that many of the same points are made, and I also note that the  estimate of savings to museums of avoiding commercial insurance discussed in those posts is the same £15 million claim that currently appears on Arts Council’s website and in Mendoza. But is it right? In Gerry McQuillan’s very helpful comments below he alludes to the Van Gogh exhibition which the previous articles also discussed, where the commercial premium saved was estimated at £6 million in relation to total sum assured of £2 billion. That would seem to suggest that the total “value” of the GIS, where the “indemnities in force” amount to £13.8 billion, might be substantially higher than £15 million – perhaps closer to £40 million. (Of course you can’t simply multiply £6m x 13.8/2…)


Monochrome at the National Gallery

38.65One of my rules when blogging about current exhibitions is to try to avoid saying the same thing as every other critic. I prefer to write before I see other reviews: easier said than done, particularly when the review in The Times appears the very morning (Thursday) I’m invited for the “press view” (the National Gallery PR team observes a strict hierarchy of previews in which money and influence play their inevitable role: they are after all how museums survive today). The difficulty is exacerbated when the topic is outside my specific expertise (but the exhibition is so broad I doubt any single person could claim otherwise) – but I try to write (or at least sketch) my pieces without reference to the press release, and ideally to form some sort of idea of what “should” be in the exhibition before I’m prejudiced by what’s actually there. That may be terribly unfair, but it’s the best way to avoid the ruts and furrows ploughed by the other third-tier hacks who are just one up from NG members (Friday).

Imagine therefore (perhaps it’s one of your nightmares) sitting down to an art history exam paper, and the question is:

Curate an exhibition called Monochrome. List a dozen items you would include, state why, and write an introductory essay (1 hour).

What you would come up with is likely to say more about you than about the subject. The variety of answers however gives you a clue as to just how enormous this topic could be. And I guarantee that none of you will have included a great many of the delightful, fascinating and instructive choices made by the curators of the present show. Nor are many of you likely to have assembled and curated your imaginary exhibition with the intelligence and humour they have brought to a show that is sure to be a success in visitor numbers (the primary metric in today’s hard-headed museum world) and at the least a talking point for all of us.

Divided into seven sections, covering seven centuries, some might even see a parallel with the V&A’s over-ambitious Opera exhibition: of that (the less said the better) I can only comment (as Schopenhauer noted) that the medium is usually unendurable since it depends on getting everything right, which happens very rarely. Opera has some interesting exhibits, but the density of those is too low.

Monochrome’s sprawling ambition is sure to include something to annoy everyone, but it has throughout plenty oTitianf plums. That might not be the mot juste – the plum after all, with its luscious deep colour, is the antithesis to the exhibition’s thesis, as we realize when we pass through the door into the third room where we encounter just that colour in Titian’s La Schiavona (National Gallery; left), whose lower right corner alone includes her invitation to this show. I can’t help a puerile observation that “plum” too is the meaning of one of the curator’s names, in a spectacular example of nominative incongruity.

But to go back to our undergraduates, what might they have suggested (it’s a safe bet that Titian would not be among them)? I gather there’s a television programme which even I don’t watch in which contestants have to guess not the answer to a question, but the answer least likely to have already been given by a group of (presumably South London bus-riding) viewers. I put down Whistler’s mother (it’s reproduced in the catalogue, but presumably couldn’t be borrowed: that its absence does not undermine the exhibition makes you realise that it is broad enough to rest on many other shoulders, and perhaps shifting some precious objects wasn’t so strictly necessary as it might be in a monographic show). Bridget Riley (yes). Yves Klein (no). I knew that people of a certain age would probably be thinking of living sculptures in Watteau, brought to life in Peter Greenaway’s films (the Pygmalion legend would surely have made an appearance); but they’ve become tacky with the pavement outside the Gallery (no). But the trendy equivalent for today’s youth must surely be Malevich’s Black Square (yes). Incidentally, it’s not square, at least not in the version shown here; and I ran out of patience trying to find out from the catalogue whether this is the same version as the one Tate Modern showed in 2014.

I also thought there might be more physics. If Malevich isn’t black enough (I checked my Russian dictionary to confirm that Malevich is close to the word for painter or dauber, and found the illustrative example “the devil is not so black as he is painted”), surely we would get examples of Vantablack, whether just as a scientific sample to illustrate its stated capacity to absorb 99.96% of incident light, or in some realization by Anish Kapoor, reported last year as having the exclusive right to paint with it? But this seems not to have made it. Perhaps this is the meaning of “exclusive right”. Or maybe it’s there, but I just didn’t see it.

We do get a physics lesson, in the form of the last room, which I felt belonged more to the Science Museum than the National Gallery. It’s witty in its way, but if you’re old enough to remember sodium street lamps the effect is very familiar. I can’t help but comment that this so-called exhibition of “painting in black and white” starts and finishes in yellow.

Indeed the curators confess that they use the terms “monochrome” and “black and white” or “greyscale” interchangeably: but they are not. Black, white and grey are all devoid of colour (at least in theory); a room illuminated with light of a single frequency is monochrome. But whatever the technicalities, as you walk round this exhibition you are constantly aware of colour trying to creep in. The caption to the Barocci sketch, for example, describes it as in “grey monochrome”, but then goes on immediately to discuss its “warm brown hues”. The British Museum’s Sine Cerere et Libero friget Venus (cat. 22) is described in the NG catalogue (where Latin however is abolished) as “chalk, ink and oil on paper”, while the BM description is “black chalk, pen in black, brush and oils in brown, grey, white, yellow and pink” [sic].

While the exhibition is beautifully designed and presented (as we have come to expect at the National Gallery), once again it is let down by the use of LED spotlighting. The whole point of the Ingres Odalisque (above, at the top of this post) is surely the delicate pink of the drapery which disappears into a mess in the harshness of this set-up. (Incidentally the Metropolitan Museum now claim that the work is exclusively autograph: “since the early 1980s there has been agreement that the work is solely by Ingres”, while the catalogue and captions here still argue for studio assistance. Is this a conscious downgrading? The Met also say that the work is unfinished, while this (I think) is not discussed in the NG catalogue.)

Needless to say the catalogue is reproduced in full colour throughout. And again it’s excellent value, although the absence of full critical apparatus as noted above is the sacrifice commerce exacts. Alternate chapters are contributed by the two curators, largely seamlessly (they evidently share a common view of the scope of the exhibition far narrower than my group of imaginary dreamers). There is some duplication – as for example on p. 71 where the concept of “dead colouring” is mentioned, and it is said that it can be traced back to 17th century Netherlands. On p. 81 the other curator comes to the same concept (without referring back), this time identifying the source as the 1604 Schilderboek. In fact (for what it’s worth) I think it goes back at least to 16th century Italy, with Lomazzo’s treatise (“…che pajono corpi senza il lucido della trasparenza, e sua vivacità…”), which Haydocke (1588) translates as “dead colours”.

My undergraduates would probably have thought about monochrome in the context of visual response to low lighting conditions (they can get plenty of practice in National Gallery exhibitions, although it would be unfair to mention the Giacometti on press day). They’d probably have listed lots of nocturnal views (more than just the Barocci). But the whole idea of modelli (which is explored in some depth) surely overlaps with the realisation of the inchoate and the power of the imagination, themes which aren’t really explored here at all fully. And while I’d promised myself (on the don’t-do-what-other-reviewers-inevitably-will) not to mention a popular BDSM novel/film, I can’t resist alluding to Diderot’s far more obscene story about the président de Brosses with his explanation for the power of the sketch.

The undergraduates will also have alluded to the old disegno v colore debate. I doubt if I alone will have been puzzled by where the lines in the sand are drawn around the exhibition’s scope. Drawing is excluded – the subject is after all “painting in black and white”: yet Goltzius’s wonderful, if bizarre, drawing in pen and ink over chalk (cat. 46) is included. If the argument is that the support is prepared canvas which in one sense makes it a painting, then why are works on paper allowed? Unless of course anything that takes your fancy and is interesting enough…

But for me the intellectual thesis of an exhibition on painting in monochrome would surely be based around a schema in which colour is on the horizontal axis (running from black and white to full colour), while drawing/painting is on the vertical axis (running from graphic lines to fully modelled surfaces). So drawing (bottom left) is excluded, as is full colour painting (top right). (I suppose bottom right would include paintings by Piet Mondrian…but that is certainly a different story.) But top left should include surfaces modelled in a single hue in any two dimensional medium. For me that includes media like mezzotint, whose raison d’être is the exploration of light and shade.

Oddly however (apart from a passing allusion on p. 155) the exhibition ignores mezzotint, but has quite a lot about reproductive line engraving. We also have the trompe-l’œil by Étienne Moulinneuf (incidentally, p. 151, there is no doubt about his date of birth – 30 December 1706, in Marseille – since the 1969 article on his father) which seemed to attract a good deal of interest at the press view. Of course the whole point of this is that it only makes sense because of the tinge of green he is able to capture to depict the broken glass. This genre (which the catalogue might leave you thinking was Moulinneuf’s alone) was very popular at the time, if somewhat forgotten now; in one dictionary “verre cassé” is a synonym for a trompe l’œil painting. Moulinneuf certainly didn’t invent it; I think that title goes to Gaspard Gresly, who applied the same treatment to Dupin’s print after Watteau of Les Enfants de Silène.

My fictional students might also have recollected ways in which clever cross-hatching in monochrome drawings can create the illusion of colours – whatever you may think of the origins of the drawing known as the Bella Principessa (and I do not suggest it should have been borrowed), the scientific analysis demonstrated the trick remarkably.

When you remove hue from painting, one looks for other ways to engage the senses. Curiously the word “haptic” occurs in Olafur Eliasson’s essay but not elsewhere (or if it did, I missed it): yet this is precisely what I felt was missing in, for example, the trompe-l’œil section. Patrick Baty’s recent Anatomy of Colour whets your appetite for more on the texture of oil paint. But what about pastel? How wonderful it would have been to discover Liotard’s lost–

pastel d’un bas relief de platre pendu sur une tapisserie de damas bleu, representant des enfants qui jouent avec une chevre, cizeaux pendus, et une fiolle avec une huile suptile.

Pillement Blauerhof 18Indeed many of Liotard’s trompe-l’œil and cameos which have survived would have brought the question of texture to the fore. Pastel and oil paint of the same hue are really quite different. Hugh Douglas Hamilton’s pastel of Canova’s studio would have been absolutely relevant (if too hazardous to move). But so too would have been the blue scenes (left) and winter landscapes of Pillement, or the so-called grisaille pastels developed by the Irish school (Frye, Healy – the Castletown Hunt below – etc.) and perfected by Joseph Wright (seventeenth-century plumbago portraits might also be mentioned). The development of other forms of soft black chalk (Citoyen Coiffier‘s crayon noir-de-velours, Conté crayon etc.) all converge with mezzotint in a chapter explored in Noir, the recent exhibition at the Getty which this show avoids more or less entirely.

Healy Castletown hunt

Monochrome will get people talking. It will show people many things they don’t know, and show some they do in a different light. It is perhaps too much to ask for a tighter focus, but if I had to sacrifice something it would be the last three rooms. There is an unmistakable twentieth-century creep appearing inexorably at the National Gallery which I hope can be resisted. Leave that to Tate.

Postscript (30 October)

My attention has been drawn to the exhibition Gray is the color: an exhibition of grisaille painting, XIIIth-XXth centuries held at the Rice Museum, Houston, October 1973 – January 1974, curated by Patrice Marandel. It is referred to in the bibliography of the present exhibition, although I had not seen it when I wrote the piece above: I would probably have noted (in assessing the ingenuity of the choices) that it includes a closer selection of objects than my imaginary undergraduates might have chosen. (The catalogue is available to consult online at, although you do have to register to do so.) It’s not just that some twenty artists are present in both exhibitions, but it too starts with stained glass, proceeds to illuminated manuscripts and even embraces the verre-cassé pictures I mention above (albeit with different examples). Curious.


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