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William Towers ( –1678), art dealer and collector

Van Dyck, Nicholas Lanier (Vienna, KHM)

Van Dyck, Nicholas Lanier (Vienna, KHM)

Art historians spend a great deal of time poring over old sales catalogues in the hope of recreating provenances, and can draw on vast resources such as the Getty Provenance Index or Lugt’s Repertoire des ventes (and, for those who can afford the astronomical subscription, the commercial Art sales catalogues online database). But sometimes the missing clues are to be found in genealogies or wills – documents which are also increasingly available online, but seldom indexed for the benefit of those searching objects rather than people. Since discoveries thus remain a little aleatory, I thought I would report one which isn’t in my normal field but will be of interest to those researching Stuart collecting. I leave it to those scholars to pick up the hints this document presents.

It relates to a certain “William Towers” who is sighted several times in relation to Samuel Cooper and his circle, including members of the Gibson and Hoskins families of miniaturists. Interest was triggered initially by a group of drawings attributed to Cooper and Richard Gibson shown in a Royal Academy exhibition in 1960, The age of Charles II. They belonged to a collector, a Mr A. H. Harford, who had an ancestor called Thomas Tower [sic] of Tatham in Lancashire, who died in 1659. Mentioned by Daphne Foskett in her 1974 monogaph on Samuel Cooper (p. 85), the trail was picked up by Mary Edmond in a long study of “Limners and picturemakers” (Walpole Society, xlvii, 1978, pp. 60–242, at p. 110): she noted that there was a Mr William Towers who was known to Richard Gibson – as well as to Mrs Elizabeth Lanier, and plausibly (but as we shall see erroneously) suggested that this William Towers must have been an ancestor of Mr Harford, the Towers/Tower names being so similar.

Elizabeth Lanier was the widow of Nicholas Lanier (1588-1666), the musician whose portrait by Van Dyck once belonged to Charles I and is now to be found in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna (as I have no image of Towers, that masterpiece adorns this blogpost: whether it is the picture mentioned below is a question I shall leave to specialists. Lanier bought his portrait at the 1649 sale of the king’s collection, and there is a gap in the provenance before it appears in Vienna in 1720). In her will, made 1672 and proved the following year, she gave “unto Mr William Towers Two of my best Pictures” as well as “two more of my Pictures and forty shillings in money” to Mr Richard Gibson (perhaps he needed the cash more that Towers).

When Gibson wrote his will in 1677, although of course it was not proved until 1690, he too mentioned his “worthy friend Mr William Towers” and gave him his “Little Birding Gun made by Harman Barne” (a well-known gunmaker, appointed to the king and to Prince Rupert).

Armed with the conviction that she had the name of the early owner of these sheets, Edmond set about to identify this William Towers more specifically. He must have been still living at the time of Gibson’s will (easily thought of as 1690, although of course 1677 is the right terminus post quem to infer), and it would help if he lived in the same parish, St Martin-in-the-Fields. Edmond found a plausible candidate in a William Towers, freeman of the Feltmakers’ Company (so I shall call him here the feltmaker), who had died in 1693, and tentatively suggested him. Her research established that the feltmaker’s probable grandfather came from Lancashire, as did Mr Harford’s ancestors; but she seems not to have noticed that the feltmaker’s son died the following year, making a will covering also his father’s estate, and bequeathing everything to a Miles Spensley, a cooper, who had no obvious connection with the Tower/Harford line; nor was there any evidence of an interest in art or a social status that would have made that more plausible (particularly in the light of the information below).

By the time the drawings were shown in the British Museum show Drawing in England from Hilliard to Hogarth, 1987, with an otherwise excellent catalogue by Lindsay Stainton and Christopher White (nos. 63, 64, 75, 76 and 80), the owner’s line back to the feltmaker Towers (d.1693) was considered certain and has since been repeated in other sources.

A few further facts about Gibson’s friend were gleaned by other scholars, notably in an article on Nicholas Lanier by Jeremy Wood (Collecting prints and drawings in Europe, c. 1500–1750, ed. Christopher Baker & al., p. 120) where the William Towers mentioned in Mrs Lanier’s will is identified as the former keeper of the Earl of Pembroke’s collections. The reference cited is an article by Philip McEvansoyea (“The sequestration and dispersal of the Buckingham collection”, Journal of the history of collections, viii/2, 1996, at p. 135), according to which a Mr Towers (or Touars) was being paid £20 a year by the Earl of Pembroke to look after the pictures at Durham House and at Baynard’s Castle. This was derived in turn from the 1968 catalogue of the Wilton pictures, now superseded by Francis Russell’s account (The pictures and drawings at Wilton House. 2021, at p. 5), where a further reference to Towers in Aubrey’s Natural history of Wiltshire (1847 ed., p. 91) is also mentioned. That passage in Aubrey is worth citing in full as it explains the link between Towers and Gibson:

Russell goes on (p. 6) to list several transactions which Towers executed in connection with the winding up of the 4th Earl’s estate: in September 1651 he paid £535 “for several pictures sold by him to one Monr Tenier a Dutchman”; in August he sold three pictures to Lord Bellasis fror £40, and later that year sold pictures to the value of £213 to the Spanish Ambassador, Alonso de Cardénas, of which £4 was to cover a gratuity to “one that helped in the sale”. Sales continued until 1654, the last being “a flower pot done by Clare a wooman” [Clara Peters].

There is one further sighting of Towers in the Pembroke literature – in the 1731 Description of the Earl of Pembroke’s pictures by conte Carlo Gambarini. The volume is cited in Russell’s general references, but omitted from the specific literature given for what we can agree is the “most spectacular and compositionally ambitious of all van Dyck’s portrait groups”, viz. The Pembroke Family.

Van Dyck, The Pembroke Family, Wilton House

Russell lists a later engraving by Bernard Baron (1740 – after Gambarini was published), but not the Audran, nor (as far as I can see) is the involvement of Towers discussed. The reduced version in the Hermitage (link), at one time attributed to Lely but now catalogued as by an unknown hand, is presumably the copy Gambarini mentions as made by “Remy” specifically to be engraved and then owned by Pierre Crozat. (This must I think be Remigius Van Leemput (1607-1675);  while in Crozat’s collection, where it was seen by Richardson in 1716, it was confused with the English royal family.) Here anyway is the passage:

Time now to reveal the true William Towers who looked after the Earl of Pembroke’s collection, befriended Elizabeth Lanier and Richard Gibson and collected paintings. The will is available online (from Ancestry if you have a subscription, or from the National Archives if you do not), but as these are the proved file copies rather than autograph documents it will be easier if I give my transcription. I have added line breaks and abbreviated the monetary amounts given both in words and figures but otherwise preserved spelling; my annotations are given in square brackets.

Will of William Towers of St Martins in the Fields, made and proved 1678:

In The name of God Amen.

I William Towers of the parish of St Martins in the Fields being infirme in body but of perfect mind and memory Thanks be to God Doe make and ordaine this my last will and testament First I give and bequeath my soule into the hands of Almighty God firmly trusting to be saved by the meritts of the death and passion of my Saviour Jesus Christ And my body I comitt to the Earth to be decently buried att the discretion of my Executor hereafter named And as far and concerning that Temporall Estate wherewith it hath pleased God to blesse me I give and dispose the same in manner following (that is to say) I give and devise

Inprimis to my deare sister Mrs Anne Stelling at Levingate Read Marshall in the Bishopprick of Durham and to the helpe of her Children the sum of £40 [Clement Stelling was parish clerk in Redmarshall, Durham]

It. To the widdow of Thomas Towers lately deceased in Windsor for her children £20

It. To the sister of the said Thomas Towers a Bakers wife neare the Castlegate for herself and her Children £20

It. To my sister Francis Towers £25

It.  To George Wood £5

It. To Wm my servant over and besides what shall be due unto him for his wages the sume of £10 with such of my apparell as he shall order

It.  To my Landlady £5

It.  To her maid servant forty shillings

It. To Mrs Lannier £5

It.  To my Laundress £3

It.  To Mr Banks forty shillings

It.  To the poore Beggar woman with Crutches that to comes to this dore forty shillings

It.  to the two [?]victims and Mr Adelham to each forty shillings (£6)

It. to be distributed amongst other poor PP Ten pounds to pray for my soule

It. to  my very good friend Mr Cholmley [probably John Cholmley who died 1693 leaving a ring to the Earl of Pembroke etc.] to whom I have always been obliged and ever found a very just man, my little Diamond Ring and the picture of Doctor Faustus

It.  to my Landlords sonne twenty shillings

It.  to Henry the Apprentice in the Shopp tenn shillings

It.  Twenty pounds to be distributed among the poorest and most distressed persons in generall

It.  to my serving maid Dennis £5

It. to Mrs Gowe forty shillings to buy her a Ring

It.  to Mr Jo. Hodleston the Picture of St Mary Magdalen of Guido and £5

It. The great Picture of Christ at Supper with his disciples in the Castle of Emmaus To the RR Fathers of Somersett House for their Refectory humbly begging the Charity to be buried there by them

It. Mr Gibson [Richard Gibson] my Porfery Grinding Stone and the Picture of the old Earle of Pembrook in the Closet.

It.  to his daughter Mrs Rose [Susanna Penelope Rosse] the Picture of Sir John Thoroughgood [Sir John Thorowgood (1588–1657), MP, secretary of protégé of the Earl of Pembroke] in the Closet.

It. to Mrs Bawtrey the Picture of Mr Lannier [perhaps the Van Dyck or a version of it] and the little picture of Snellings [the artist Matthew Snelling done 1644, and later in the Rosse sale 1723: see Foskett p. 77] done by Couper

It. to my Landlord my Great Cabinett.

And as for and touching all the Rest of my Estate Reall and personall of what Nature kinde or quality soever I give devise and bequeath the same to my loving son Francis Towers And I doe hereby Constitute and appoint my said son Francis Towers sole Eexcutor of this my last will and testament In witness whereof I have hereunto put my hand and seale this sixt day of May in the thirtieth yeare of the Reigne of our Soveraigne Lord Charles the Second by the grace of God King of England Scotland France and Ireland defender of the Faith Anno Dno 1678. /Will. Towers/Signed sealed and published in the presence of Ge. Sayer/James Bagnall/John Eason

Probate was granted to “Francisci Towers filij dict defunt” etc., on 6 June 1678.

Although the will contains some hints about his family, they are not easy to trace to reconstruct a full family tree: for example I can find no document mentioning Towers’s son Francis. But a conveyancing document (published in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, 1921, p. 169) includes vital information:

1664, Jan 13. Release, between (1) Thomas Towers of Windsor, Surrey, gent. (only son and heir of Thomas Towers, late of St. Martins fields, Middlesex, gent., decd., which said Thomas was eldest son and heir of Thomas Towers, sometimes of Girsby, and late of Darlington, gent.) and Anne Towers, only sister of the first named Thomas; and (2) William Towers of St Martins in the field, gent. (one of the sons of Thomas Towers, late of Darlington)

In other words our William Towers who died 1678 was the younger son of Thomas Towers of Girsby, near Darlington (in the north east of England, not the north west of Mr Harford’s ancestors): father and elder brother were both dead by 1664. Since William was active collecting for the 4th Earl of Pembroke in the 1640s, he was probably born before 1620. It is also notable that he owned a porphyry grinding stone, suggesting that he was himself an amateur artist – and surely an informed connoisseur. There is however nothing to suggest that he owned any drawings.

The will was made and proved in 1678, so he cannot be the feltmaker. Further since he died well before Richard Gibson, the theory that the Harford drawings passed to him after Gibson died is also unsound. As it turns out Mr Harford had other art collectors in his pedigree, and it is perfectly possible that the drawings were purchased after Richard Gibson’s death by, for example, his great-times-6-uncle, Thomas Walker of Wimbledon Heath (1664–1748), who owned pictures by Van Dyck, Watteau etc. – but that is another story.



We should learn by the end of this week whether the National Portrait Gallery has been successful in its attempt to save Sir Joshua Reynolds’s painting of Omai for the nation. We will all rejoice if some philanthropist has come forward to write out a cheque, but it may not be as simple as that. Indeed the whole saga has raised so many different (and apparently unrelated) questions that I thought it might be worth putting them together in a post.

There’s no need for me to rehearse the history of the painting or explain its importance: there’s a vast literature. Starting points might be the documents on the Arts Council website (e.g. this summary). One aspect of the case is that it illustrates the shortcomings of Britain’s export licence scheme. Some of these are being addressed, notably the right of owners to reject matching offers, making the efforts required to raise funding not merely Herculean but Sisyphean; and I welcome the suggestion that the Culture Secretary is considering whether the destination to which the work is to be exported should be taken into account (a work in the Louvre is easier for most of us to see than one in a secret bunker in the UK).

The editorial in this month’s Burlington Magazine (here: free access) goes further, leaning towards the conclusion that the whole system be scrapped, and museums encouraged to purchase directly from families who want to bring their heirlooms to market. I’m sure people will be ready to point out that it takes UK museums time to put the funds together to bid at auction, and with even less certainty of success than under the former right-to-reject regime, it will be impracticable to do so.

Of course the real problem is that our museums don’t have adequate acquisition budgets, UK culture does not encourage US-style philanthropy and our governments won’t simply write out cheques for old master paintings (I don’t think they’ve done so for half a century or more). What we have instead is a somewhat Byzantine scheme of tax “douceurs” that sits alongside the export licensing scheme under the aegis of the Arts Council; it survives largely because people don’t understand it. In essence family heirlooms can be retained across generations without paying inheritance tax provided certain minimal public access conditions are met; when they are finally sold, they can be accepted in lieu of tax if UK museums want them. In other words UK taxpayers are being made to do precisely what the Government refuses to do openly (since voters would object: elitism as the polar opposite of levelling up etc.). But the pictures we get this way wouldn’t necessarily be the ones museums would select if they had a free choice (so there is a steady parade of Reynolds portraits and other pictures reflecting the taste of the owners of stately homes when Britain was a wealthy country, but rarely anything to fill the gaps, for example, in French dix-huitième painting). (There is a curious tension between the desire to save “our” pictures for the nation and the argument that our museums should retain the Elgin marbles etc. as centres of world culture.)

In the case of Omai the system failed at this first hurdle. When the Howard family decided to sell the picture in 2001 (to fund a divorce), Tate raised what might have been a sufficient offer when the tax douceur was taken into account only to find that the family had a different tax plan. This depended on arguing that the picture was in fact “plant and machinery” required in the business (of attracting paying visitors to the house), and as such was a “wasting asset” and thus exempt from capital gains tax. You might think this a rather ambitious claim (although less so if you understand the technical meaning of these terms in tax law); and the Revenue did too. Their interpretation succeeded at the First-tier Tribunal, but on appeal the Upper Tribunal allowed the claim. Incidentally if you’re American, and have watched Brideshead Revisited, you probably think that Castle Howard belonged to a Lord; if you’re British you know it belonged to an Hon. – but you probably think the painting belonged to him, while in fact the painting was sold by (and the tax case was in the name of) the Executors of Lord Howard of Henderskelfe. The decision is also worth reading.

You will all have followed the subsequent (and uniquely long running) story of export licence deferral. The particular problem here is that the owner doesn’t seem to be selling the picture at all: he merely wishes to take it out of the UK (one imagines to Ireland, but we have no idea where or whether it will then be lent to a public institution). (Incidentally for a picture that has been in private ownership it has been exhibited outside Castle Howard quite regularly – in at least eight public shows during my lifetime.) So the mechanism for export licensing, which is designed to come up with a matching offer (where it cannot matter to the vendor which they choose), again works imperfectly: this time there is no hard evidence that the value proposed is real. Instead the Reviewing Committee drafted in an independent expert who, the paper I cited above reported, “agreed with the applicant’s valuation of £50m and their detailed justification of it. This was … submitted to the Secretary of State who agreed that as the fair market price for the painting.”

But all of us involved in any way in the art market know just how difficult the valuation of paintings can be. Countless pictures come to auction with estimates which are exceeded by a factor of ten, while others fail, are re-presented repeatedly and are eventually sold for a fraction of the initial estimate. The phrase in physics for this type of assessment is “not even wrong”. And that’s the point: no one has a clue (unless they know a specific purchaser with a cheque book at the ready) whether this picture will sell for five times what it fetched 20 years ago, itself I believe a world record for Reynolds which still stands.

I’m not going to derail this blog by listing the hospitals or nurses we could pay for with the money – considerations which of course are only relevant to the extent that public money is used to fund the purchase. To some of us £50m sounds like the price of a good Rubens, and Reynolds, who may well be Britain’s best eighteenth-century portraitist, simply isn’t in that league. It feels like tulip territory – negative elasticity in the language of economics, where the price builds in a component of extra value derived from the price already being supreme: a kind of feedback loop that leads to prices that bear no relation to value. You get a similar result when two agents are sent to an auction with unlimited commission bids for a teddy bear which ends up reaching £50,000.

The price is so high a hurdle that there are rumours of a time-share with the Getty: this seems to me to offer a poor solution. I think we should only save pictures for the nation which are going to be part of the “permanent collection” of the institution bidding. For me that means that every time I go there I can be sure of seeing it (ideally in the same place: I hate it when museums undertake rehangs). Whims aside, there is a real danger if pictures as big as this have to be moved repeatedly, whatever the condition report says (and what do we do if a future report says it can’t be moved again?). The costs of transportation and the downtime of being in transit mean that we pay more than half the cost of the picture for less than half the walltime.[1]

One of the arguments widely put out is that this is the best picture Reynolds ever painted. It may well be; but it wasn’t always seen as such. Thus the price it fetched at the sale of Reynolds’s studio pictures in 1796, 100 guineas, was matched by two other lots, and comfortably exceeded by three more. The top lot, Hope Nursing Love, reached 150 guineas. It is now in Port Eliot. It was accepted in lieu in 2006 with 22 other paintings (13 by Reynolds) which together discharged…just £2.2 million tax. No need to write to me to tell me that Omai is the better picture: I don’t disagree, but my point is that we didn’t always think so.

You may say that the tastes of 1796 are now irrelevant. But differences of view about the relative merits of particular Reynolds portraits have continued to the present century. It is difficult to ignore the fact that the foremost Reynolds scholar of our day, David Mannings, given the opportunity to view Omai in the context of a monographic exhibition of Reynolds portraits in 2005, wrote this in his review in the Burlington Magazine:

Miss Crewe appears to be on long term loan to Tate: I assume that means that in due course we are going to be asked to save that for the nation as well. What will that cost?

The answer today is probably a great deal less than Omai, because she no longer ticks the boxes. How much has changed in taste and fashion over just 18 years. Again please don’t bother to tell me you prefer Omai: my point is precisely that museum purchases with public money need to reflect long-term value based on aesthetic criteria, not temporary whims.

I want finally to turn to one aspect of the picture which I find slightly uncomfortable but where I know none of you will agree. All I can say is that if I’d told you ten years ago that the people of Bristol would rise en masse and tear down a statue of their local benefactor and throw it into the river you’d have thought I was exaggerating.

Omai was portrayed by a number of artists during his stay in England. There is a group portrait by Parry already in the NPG – or rather sometimes there, as it too is on a timeshare with Cardiff and Whitby (so who knows how often its appearance in St Martin’s Place will coincide with the Reynolds), and a number of others including Nathaniel Dance. There is even a study by Reynolds himself, which fetched a mere 7 guineas in the Reynolds sale in 1796, probably the one now in Yale.

These are remarkably consistent, and show us the real Mai. The Castle Howard picture in contrast displays an imaginary figure cooked up by Sir Joshua from his imagination, revealing not the person before him, but a confection in an outfit from the dressing-up box that is more Lawrence of Arabia than Polynesian. The question it raises (for me at least) is whether this is acceptable. Of course there is a long tradition of historiated portraiture, of ladies dressed (or partly dressed) as goddesses with which I have no problem, nor do I worry when Byron dresses up as an Albanian for Thomas Phillips: but here did Mai really consent to his being depicted thus? Ethnic portraits were not that unusual at the time, but Reynolds was aware that an accurate depiction wouldn’t sell so well. He was right: fantasy trumps authenticity. But will we agree in another 18 years?

[1] There is a further technical issue with such an offer as I read the rules in the Arts Council notice (2018/1: I’m not an expert, and the rules may be have some flexibility; but I suspect the owner’s lawyers will wish to see them applied consistently): a joint offer of this kind is not by a “public body”, and as an offer from a private source, the Secretary of State can only take it into account if it offers public access in a UK museum, the guideline being a minimum of 100 days a year. That would seem to require annual travel.

Postscript (11 March 2023)

Apparently now the deadline for donations has been extended to 11 April , although I can find no further confirmation on the Arts Council, NPG, DCMS or Artfund websites. This is bizarre given how much public interest there is. And once again it reinforces the idea that the rules are made up as we go along, which hardly strengthens London’s case as a world art market centre.

I shouldn’t think the owner will be happy about the further extension. But, according to the rules, “additional deferral periods are rare and normally only granted where there is a reasonably certain prospect of raising the residual sum within a prescribed timescale.” So, one infers, it is reasonably certain that the NPG will make a full offer.

Today’s Telegraph overenthusiastically prints a photo of the painting with the caption “…after a deal prevented it going abroad permanently”, the main story however merely reporting the Getty joint bid was a “step nearer.”

Postscript (21 March 2023)

Finally, an announcement from the Art Fund: The deferral period has been extended to 10 June, despite the fact that funds raised so far remain under half the target required.

Postscript (31 March 2023)

The widely heralded joint venture between the NPG and the Getty has just been announced. I haven’t seen the details, but it does involve regular travel for this Flying Dutchman, including, after he NPG’s reopening in June this year, a tour of the UK regions.

Why are there so many women’s art histories?

…to rephrase Linda Nochlin’s famous war cry from 1971. In fairness to the latest, which provokes these personal observations, A Revolution on Canvas: The Rise of Women Artists in Britain and France, 1760–1830 (by Paris Spies-Gans: Yale, 2022) is a sober, scholarly account which deserves its place in any art library, and would prompt a full review if only I were qualified to offer one – but I should confess now that it is mostly about oil painting, and straddles a period only one half of which interests me (1800 marks a shift in aesthetics every bit as marked as the register break on a piano). But I have no doubt that it will sell well and attract universal praise for its many achievements. One of which of course is the treasury of lavish illustrations wrapped in the superb design which Yale have provided – the latest in a long line of beautiful productions for which Gillian Malpass deserves our continuing gratitude.

But let’s stop at the picture on the cover. It’s an ideal choice to tell you what the book is about, and if you like it you’ll certainly enjoy the book. But is it, to get straight to the point, any good? In the two discussions (pp. 110ff, 130ff) the author sets Maria Cosway’s depiction of the Duchess of Devonshire in context, reports contemporary praise (“unanimously commended”, although Walpole’s succinct comment – “extravagant” – might not be regarded so positively: the OED has “fantastically absurd”), notes that the picture “advertised bold visual ambitions”, and states that “the canvas reaffirmed Cosway’s technical skill, while demonstrating how a female artist could effectively blend the allegorical and literary genres with contemporary portraiture to compose a highly original scene in the manner of Reynolds’s grand style.” Yes, but: again, is it any good? You’ll have realised by now that I think it’s simply dreadful.

There’s little point in my trying to tell you why I think that. But it is the fundamental question that bedevils art history. Whether we compile dictionaries of artists or write academic studies of movements, we are faced with the problem that most art isn’t great. And it’s not because it was made by women, poor, disabled or other minorities – the art that was commisioned, or exhibited, or just produced for the enjoyment of the artist alone is mostly unlikely to send shivers down the spines of today’s viewers. Most of us became interested in art because we experienced a profound emotional response to a great work, be it by Rembrandt, Rubens or Raphael.

Three famous paintings by men happen to be reproduced in the book (Gainsborough, David and Zoffany): two are incontestibly great by any standard, the third is of huge importance and interest. But how many of the other 166 works reproduced are in this class? I counted 13: almost all by French artists. (Of course a purely subjective choice. I didn’t include the Vigée Le Brun self-portrait in the National Gallery since it is but a pale imitation of the original version. Incidentally, if you want to give that artist a single forename, it should be Louise, not Élisabeth. And her stepfather’s name was Le Sèvre, not Silvestre – p. 61.) No doubt you will have made other choices, but the exercise is important if you believe that art history is worth studying because of the pictures.

So the question that I often ask (as I spend so much of my time with bad artists of either sex) is why we research the others? For my own work I can give a simple enough answer: establishing an œuvre and accurate biography for each artist is an essential platform for attribution; it’s a basic duty of scholarship. But feminist art histories often seek to draw deeper truths about the plight of artists who laboured under difficulties specific to their sex: this to me is more sociology than art history. Perhaps I felt this more as I turned the pages of Paris Spies-Gans’s book, revealing histogram after histogram plotting percentages of women appearing in exhibitions and so on. (There are some 29 charts and tables in the book, in addition to the 169 conventional reproductions.) There is a danger that this descends into what in finance is called “elevator analysis” – this went up, that went down etc. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but I don’t think a bar chart is worth so much.

And there is a specific hazard from which almost all academic art history suffers of paying too much attention to public exhibitions and critiques – although if people rob banks because that’s where the money is, art historians have little choice but to study the information available.

What is lost in the relentless focus on exhibition livrets are the artists who made their way through private commissions and lower profile networking – often far more important in portraiture (the bread and butter of eighteenth century art) than in history painting, typically conducted in larger, male-dominated studios embedded into the academic structure through the multiple armatures of genre hierarchies, criticism etc., and perpetuated today by universities’ focus on publishing, where narrative subjects are far easier to analyse and discuss at length than portraiture where the vocabulary runs dry too soon. So it is in a way an unfortunate handicap to impose on a study about women’s art. So too (although I would say this wouldn’t I?) is the reluctance to discuss minor media – miniature, pastel – where (as I have argued in many places: see e.g. §ix.3 of my Prolegomena) the barriers for women were lower.

The Académie de Saint-Luc gets curiously short shrift. Note 78 on p. 316 (citing the Almanach historique of the abbé Le Brun whom the author names as Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun, although I identified him as Jean-François Brun in a post on this blog) tells us this is because the author has chosen to study solely women who exhibited their art publicly – but of course this is my point. On page 38 we are told the Académie was “founded in 1391 and established as a teaching instutition under this name in 1738”: that latter date is surely an error or misprint in the source cited (it would divert me too far to discuss which much earlier date can fill that space), but the relevant point is that the Académie de Saint-Luc provided legal cover for artists to work on commercial terms – and that it had admission procedures for the wives, widows and daughters of male members which are highly relevant to the rise of women artists in the period the author studies.

Another surprise, the lacuna however felt like the gravitational pull of an invisible planet, is the almost complete omission of Rosalba Carriera. (One of the two passing references, a quotation from a letter of Katherine Read, indirectly marks her significance.) Perhaps this is refreshing, in that far too much has been written about her already (see my review article in the August issue of the Burlington Magazine). But I find it puzzling that the most famous woman artist of the eighteenth century, arguably ever, who shaped so many of the concepts around which this book is built, is virtually omitted: her visit to Paris was forty years before the 1760–1830 period, but its reverberations are still felt today.

I did feel too, within the book’s parameters, that more could have been done to fill out the lives of the very many women whose names are preserved in these exhibition catalogues and livrets. You might say that if their work is unknown or bad this is pointless, but I do think they deserve the respect of getting their basic details correct. And I think the scholars who have unearthed new material deserve to be encouraged to continue by having such research noted (the trail is also important to avoid the propagation of single-source errors). And when we do find such material, it can offer a real contribution to the sociological aspect – as when we find that an unknown artist was in fact closely related to another, or resided among collectors, or lived far longer than her exhibiting floruit dates (so that she probably abandoned art).

Of course I’ve already done a lot of this work for pastellists. It is thus a little disappointing to find, for example, the third paragraph on p. 292. Mlle Frémy’s dates are given as 1754-1788: I thought I was the first to discover the year of her birth, which I published in the Dictionary three years ago; while I give her death as “p.1788”, i.e. in or after 1788 (I suggest she may have still been alive in 1797, but not as an artist), no reference is given for the exact 1788 printed. Similarly I published Marie-Victoire Davril’s dates in 2016 and wasn’t aware that others had found them in 2016 (they are copied in Wikipedia, but citing me as source; neither woman’s dates are given e.g. in Sanchez or Lemoine-Bouchard). In the same paragraph is a mention of Vigée Le Brun’s petition, which I published in 2017 with the essential Le Brun key allowing an analysis of all the signatories (why did so few women artists support her? – a question that only arises in the context of the full list).

I was disappointed to see Mlle Carraux de Rosemond’s name continuing to be misspelt throughout the book, despite my research on her biography (see her entry in the Dictionary of pastellists and this blog post), although the index entry (p. 357) indicates that my correction was known. And while it is correct to refer to Mlle Capet’s parents as “domestiques” at her birth (p. 55), my research has revealed that her father was soon after described as “homme d’affaires chez M. de Meximieu” [Jean-François Trollier de Fétan, seigneur de Messimieux (1731–1814), conseiller du roi en la cour des Monnaies de Lyon; a philanthropist and patron of the arts]. All of this is material to a discussion of the social status of women artists. Taking account of new research is what lifts surveys beyond the level of so much work that merely rehashes known information.

I noted dozens of other examples as I turned the pages, individually trivial, and mention just a few here to explain what I mean.

p. 25: “Miss Gardiner (fl. 1762–70)” (who John Hayes guessed might be a relation of Gainsborough, Susan Gardiner, when discussing an album now in the British Museum, while Wendy Wassyng Roworth called her Eliza in the 1997 Dictionary of Women Artists) was identified by Walpole as “the sister of Mrs Maccartney” [sic]. A letter from her in the Royal Academy archives gives her address as Upper Brook Street. She was in fact Mary Gardiner, sister of Henrietta, Mrs Francis Macartney, their brother Charles and nephew Luke, Viscount Mountjoy being significant patrons (with portraits by Cotes, Gardner, Reynolds) etc., and her niece Florinda was the girl shown dead in Maria Cosway’s picture (fig. 65).

p. 25: In some cases information is taken from secondary sources which is simply wrong: e.g., the death of Mary Grace, née Hodgkiss (Mrs Thomas Grace) is given as 1799/1800, as it appears in the Oxford DNB: but that is the date of the will of a homonym (Mary Harford, Mrs William Grace, mother of Clara Louisa Middleton). Just because it’s in the DNB… (In fact her maiden name seems to have been Hotchkis, not Hodgkiss; Lionel Cust, in his original DNB entry, thought she died in Homerton, Middlesex, c.1786, which would be consistent with rates books showing her in St Thomas’s Square until that year; the erroneous alteration was made in Marcia Pointon’s 2004 revision.)

p. 64: The painter Anne-Zoé Delaroche (1783–1850) married Guillaume Philippon Delamadeleine in 1818, aged 35: a bit more information than fl.1806-24.

p. 64: Françoise Windisch (b. Kilber, fl. 1801–8): Francisca Kilber married Johann Windisch in Höchst in 1776 and was active far earlier.

p. 38: Charlotte-Denise Surugue (1751–1820) was the daughter of the well-known engraver and academician Pierre-Louis Surugue. It appears (from the lengthy dispute with the Académie de Saint-Luc) that she and her sister specialised in hand-colouring engravings, in wash or gouache.

“Mme de Hauré (fl. 1776)” exhibited also in 1777. She was Marie-Jeanne Legrand (1750–1843), wife of the sculptor Jean Dehauré, pupil of Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne.

I won’t try your patience any further. Instead I will leave you with a final question, about a picture which is not mentioned at all in the book. It is the portrait of a young Black in fashionable clothing, now in the Cummer Museum in Florida, once supposed (without foundation) to be Mme du Barry’s servant Zamore, and signed and dated “Lemoine pinxit/a Paris mars 1785”. But which? Was it painted by Marie-Victoire Lemoine or by Jacques-Antoine-Marie Lemoine? (Incidentally it’s no. 56 in my catalogue of the latter’s work, published in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts in 1999; and it’s MVL 11 in Joseph Baillio’s catalogue of the former’s work, published in the same journal in 1996.) Space doesn’t permit a proper discussion of the reasons for our different conclusions: but the question that is relevant is this: does it matter whether the painting is by a man or a woman?

Postscript (13 August 2022)

I should perhaps take this opportunity to point out a commonly seen oversimiplification regarding the admission of women to the Académie royale in Paris: so often we read simply that their number was limited to four – or, as one recent book put it, there was “an official ruling that female members should never exceed four at any time.” It’s worth examining the exact wording of the resolution passed 28 September 1770:

L’Académie ayant considéré que, quoiqu’Elle se fasse un plaisir d’encourager le talent dans les femmes en en admettant quelques-unes dans son Corps, néanmoins ces admissions, étrangères en quelque façon à sa constitution, ne doivent pas être trop multipliées; Elle a arrêté qu’Elle n’en recevroit point au delà du nombre de quatre, si ce n’est cependant au cas où des talens extraordinairement distingués engageroient l’Académie à désirer, d’une voix unanime, de les couronner par une distinction particulière. L’Académie au reste ne prétend pas s’engager à remplir toujours le nombre de quatre, se réservant de ne le faire qu’autant qu’Elle s’y trouvera déterminée par des talens véritablement distingués.

I read this not so much as male malevolence as a shortage of really talented applicants (for reasons that are well rehearsed). But had another Rosalba Carriera presented herself, she would not necessarily have been rejected.

Claude-Léger Sorbet (1716–1788), collectionneur

It has been my practice recently to turn my blog posts on art historical subjects into more formal essays on my website. Since they too are online, they can be updated and improved when any of you contact me with errors or new information. It’s then something of a chore to keep updates in sync. I also enjoy using Word and creating pdfs rather more than the horrid WordPress experience, particular after recent changes which make it even harder to control the layout and typography. So if you want to read what was to be my latest blogpost, about the collector Claude-Léger Sorbet (who was involved with Pigalle, Boucher, Cochin, Greuze – whose portrait, above, is in the musée des Beaux-Arts, Orléans), may I invite you simply to download the pdf from my site – here is the link:

La Tour’s cousin Anne Bougier

The sad story of La tour’s cousin[1] has been told on numerous occasions, including by me, either erroneously or at least incompletely. For reasons that will be obvious, some parts of it will always remain unknowable, but a group of documents discovered in the last few weeks while researching a different matter merit revisiting the whole episode. As usual reference should be made to my chronological table, where transcriptions (but not facsimiles) of the documents may be found in chronological sequence together with full references. There is also a useful genealogy for La Tour, with this simplified version:

The story which appears in every account of La Tour’s life concerns his liaison with his cousin Anne Bougier, her pregnancy and the birth of her illegitimate child, for which as we know La Tour felt permanently guilty, and for which he made amends through his philanthropic donations many years later. The basic facts are found in the judicial interrogation of Anne, a document discovered by président Combier and published by him in La Petite Revue in 1874, and subsequently by Charles Desmaze in his Reliquaire de Maurice-Quentin de La Tour in 1874 (the original documents were presented to the musée at Saint-Quentin, but lost after being sent to Maubeuge during the First World War). This is Combier’s transcription:

Du novembre 1723. A comparu Anne Bougier, âgée de 22 ans, fille de Philippe Bougier, chantre en l’église métropolitaine de Sens, où il demeure à cause de son emploi, et d’Anne de La Tour, sa mère, avec laquelle elle demeurait en cette ville [Laon], depuis huit mois, et auparavant, demeurant l’une et l’autre, sa mère et elle en la ville de Saint-Quentin, n’ayant, non plus que sa mère, d’autre métier que celui de tricotter des bas.

A dit: qu’elle était née à La Fère, mais que sa famille était originaire de Laon. Feu Nicolas Bougier, Chantre en l’Église Collégiale de Laon, étoit son ayeul paternel, et feu Jean de La Tour, maître maçon à Laon, étoit son ayeul maternel.

A dit: qu’elle s’étoit bien comportée, n’avoit jamais eu d’habitudes criminelles avec aucun homme, ni garçon, à l’exception qu’elle s’est abandonnée trois fois au nommé Quentin de La Tour, garcon de dix-neuf ans, peintre de son métier, demeurant à Saint-Quentin, son cousin germain, et cela, dans le temps qu’elle demeuroit avec sa mere à Saint-Quentin.

Interrogée si c’est des œuvres dudit de La Tour, son cousin, qu’elle est devenue enceinte de l’enfant mort, dont elle est accouchée le 15 août 1723, après avoir célé sa grossesse, a dit que oui, qu’elle s’est crue hydropique, parce qu’après avoir eu ses habitudes avec le dit de La Tour, elle a eu ses purgations ordinaires huit jours après et ne les a plus vues depuis.

Anne Bougier, ne sachant signer, est déclarée atteinte et convaincue d’avoir tenu sa grossesse célée jusqu’au jour de ses couches et, pour ce fait, condamnée a être admonestée en la chambre du Conseil à ne plus récidiver, et en 3 livres d’amende, applicables aux pauvres de l’Hôpital de Laon.

Lapauze (1919) went so far as to state that she was “faite prisonnière” by La Tour, and that evidently was the view of the tribunal reflected in her punishment (concealment of pregnancy was regarded as infanticide under an edict of 1566). According to her baptismal record (8 mars 1700), only located in 2019, she was in fact 23½, four and a half years older than La Tour: a difference in age making this defence somewhat less plausible than if he had been older.

No doubt the pathos of the story inspired genealogists to try to complete the picture, not always helpfully. The normally reliable Maurice Tourneux this time was responsible for repeating information he received from Jules Hachet in 1904, subsequently widely repeated by modern authors – including by Christine Debrie in 1991 (and of course still polluting genealogy websites). According to the story the unfortunate girl did marry, soon after the affair with her cousin, and settled down with her husband, a workman called Bécasse, in the parish of Saint-Thomas in Saint-Quentin where she died in 1740. I compounded this by finding an earlier register entry for the baptism of a child from this legitimate marriage, in 1728. But examining these entries carefully, they don’t refer to a Marie-Anne Bougier at all, but to a Marie-Anne Bruge or Bruche: the writing in each case is quite clear. It’s neither a likely phonetic mistranscription nor a likely pseudonym if she wanted to disguise her past; nor do the witnesses seem to have any connection with the pastellist’s family. And the age given at her death was 45, so that she would have been born in 1695.

In 2016 I made one further discovery, which I find almost as disconcerting: as we know she was the daughter of the pastellist’s aunt, Marie-Anne de La Tour, who married a Philippe Bougier, a fellow chantre in the church. The marriage took place in Laon in 1695 (17 May) when Philippe, a widower, was 26 years old (which was one of the reasons I continued to believe Tourneux’s identification). But I’ve since located Marie-Anne de La Tour’s baptismal entry:

She married Bougier when she was barely twelve years old. This was no dynastic match in which contracts were entered between children to be consummated when they reached adulthood. There is likely to have been a pressing reason, but whether it was an unrecorded sibling of Anne Bougier the registers do not vouchsafe.

* * *

Ever since the publication of La Tour’s wills, there has been something of a puzzle concerning the beneficiaries he describes as his “cousins”, almost all of whom I identified in 2016. But one of beneficiaries named in his later (1784) will that remained stubbornly unexplained was a “Mme La veuve Grand Sir, a La Ferre en Picardie” (La Fère):

Despite spending a vast amount of time in numerous archives and websites trying to unravel this in 2016, I stumbled on the answer only in June 2022 – in the parish registers of Saint-Montain, La Fère, when I was researching something quite different. This was evidence that there was indeed a Mme Grand Sire, or Grandsir, in La Fère, of an age that meant she might well have been a widow still there in 1784. Her name was “Barbe-Antoine Dio–” when, on 23 December 1750, she gave birth to a boy called Jean after his father, also Jean Grandsir, a tissserand in La Fère:

Le vingt trois a eté baptisé par moi chanoine Curé Doyen soussigné jean fils de jean grandsir tisserand en cette ville et de barbe antoine dio–– son epouse le parein jean du Notion la mareine francoise cheval, ledit baptisé né le jour meme

signé: De Nelle

It was evident that the curate had not been able to get the mother’s name correctly, but it was sufficient to make me return to the search for more details. This yielded the entry for the marriage of Barbe-Antoinette and her husband, Jean Grand Sire, tisserand, the previous year (1749), in Laon, Saint-Jean-au-Bourg:

Le vingt Janvier mil sept cent quarante neuf aprés avoir publie les trois bancs de mariage en deux Dimanches et vue fête entre Jean Grand Sire <homme veuf> fils de Jean Grand Sire Maitre Tisserand, et de Margte Guilbert demt a Aubegast, diocese de Roüen, d’une Part <age de 38 ans> et de Barbe Antoinette Guiot fille d’Anne Bougier demt a Laon de Cette Paroisse d’autre part <agee de 24 ans> Sans qu’il soit venû a ma connoissance aucun empechemt qui puit retarder la Celebration dudit mariage Je Soussigné Jean Antoine Huët prétre licentié en Theologie de la faculté de Paris, Curé de la Paroisse de St Jean au Bourg de la Ville de Laon, ay recûs de Jean Grand Sire et de Barbe Antoinette Guiot les promesses et Consentemens de Mariage et l’ay Celebré en l’Eglise de laditte Paroisse avec les Ceremonies accoutumés en presence de Jean Charles Marteau clerc laïc de la paroisse de St Michel, d’Antoine Larmois Clerc laïc de laditte paroisse de St Jean au Bourg de Nicolas Taïtart Me bonnetier et de Felix Bon bion Vigneront, dems tous en cette Ville soussigné avec L’Epoux et l’Epouse qui onts signés aussi le Jour et an Susdits

signé: jean grandsire barbe antoinette guiot Marteau
tetard felix bion Larmois
huet curé

From which we can see that Mme veuve Grand Sire was in fact Anne Bougier’s second child, born almost certainly in 1724, the year after the stillbirth of La Tour’s child that caused the trial discussed above. But the format of the entry is far from standard, and the acte leaves open many questions. Minor children (any unmarried person under 25) could only marry with their parents’ consent (and normally their presence at the wedding), so it is extraordinary that Barbe-Antoinette Guiot, aged 24, married without any father being named, nor it seems with her mother present (or identified as deceased). Evidently she was illegitimate, the father unknown. Was her mother dead by the date of the marriage? Could “Guiot” come from the name of a biological father, a stepfather or a protector? (It seems possible that this was Gérard Guiot or Diot (both names appear in the records), born 1680, a maître boulanger or patissier in Laon; on 23 November 1705 at Sainte-Benoîte, Laon he married a Barbe-Nicolle l’Eully.)

Further research in La Fère registers produced another baffling document: Barbe-Antoinette’s acte de décès, in 1792, claiming to be aged 83 which would make her far too old as well as contradicting the 1750 acte de marriage.

Sur la déclaration a nous faite par la citoyenne Marie Auteffe, demeurant à l’hopital des pauvres de cette ville, en qualité de surveillante desdits pauvres, agée de cinquante trois ans; que la nommée Antoinette Diot, veuve de Jean Grand Sire, cavalier de maréchaussée du Soissonnais à la résidence de La Fère, agée de quatre vingt trois ans natif de Laon, chef-lieu du département était décédée du jour d’hier, à cinq heures et demie du soir audit hôpital…

Was this “veuve de Jean Grand Sire” a different woman? I don’t think it can be as the name Diot had already appeared, she is described as from Laon and Jean Grand Sire is not a common name in La Fère.

I then uncovered yet another piece in the jigsaw, this time in the parish register of Saint-Rémy, Dieppe (surprisingly distant from the other towns we are concerned with: Saint-Quentin and Laon are within a 25 km radius of La Fère, while Dieppe is 200 km away), two years before Barbe-Antoinette and Jean Grand Sire’s marriage of 1749, once again filled with inaccuracies, whether erroneous or deliberately intended at concealment, but with sufficient contiguity to the truth to tell its own story:

Ce jeudy vingt-huit de decembre fut baptisé par monsieur Feburier vicaire Jean Charles fils illegitime né de ce jour de barbe anthoinette deLatour originaire de Lion en Lionnois fille de feu Jean de la tour et de marie anne bouzier de cette paroisse provenu des œuvres de jean grand sire aubergiste Suivant la declaration passée devant monsier charles adrien de quiefdeville bailly juge civil criminel et de police du trois d’octobre dernier portée au mandement et datte de ce jour signe de quiefdeville avec paraphe legris avec paraphe et scellé, nommé par charles gachet soldat invalide de la compagnie de monsieur beranger en garnison au château de cette ville de cette paroisse, et Anne bougier veufve de jean delatour fileuse de la paroisse de Saint michel de lon en lannois Le parein a signé Ledit jean grandsire absent La marreine a fait sa marque en declarant ne sçavoir ecrire

signé: Charles Gachet La marque d’anne bougier + qui a dit ne scavoir ecrire
feburier vicaire de St Remy

So Barbe-Antoinette herself had an illegitimate child before marriage, just as her mother had done. But the document sheds important new light: firstly that Anne Bougier was still alive, and present (and still unable to write): from tricoteuse de bas she had become a fileuse. Moreover while the infant’s father was the Jean Grand Sire who would later marry the mother, our attention is engaged by the name Anne gives to Barbe-Antoinette’s father: Jean de La Tour, claiming to be his widow, thus explaining his absence. Any other claim would easily have been exposed, Maurice-Quentin de La Tour being by then a name quite likely to be recognised by a vicar. “Jean de La Tour” is a name so common as to be untraceable, particularly before Google, but the only Jean in the pastellist’s family was his grandfather, far too old to have fathered Barbe-Antoinette.

It seemed worth trying to investigate Jean Grand Sire’s background. Evidently he had a portfolio career: an aubergiste (1747), maître tisserand (1749, 1750), and later cavalier de maréchaussée du Soissonnais à la résidence de La Fère. According to the 1749 acte de mariage, he was the son of another Jean Grand Sire, another maître tisserand from Auppegard near Rouen, and his wife, Marguerite Guilbert, already a widower and born c.1710. Those people exist: Jean Grandsir (1685–1767), who married Marguerite Guilbert ( –1758) in Colmesnil-Manneville (10 km south of Dieppe) on 25 November 1710 and died in Auppegard, a further 1 km south of Colmesnil (within the same parish). (I also came across Charles Gachet’s signature again as a witness in the Colmesnil parish register.) They had several children but none called Jean is recorded. It is quite possible that he was born before his parents’ marriage, which didn’t take place until near the end of the year, accounting for the absence of a baptismal entry. Confusingly a Nicolas Grandsire and Marie-Suzanne Guilbert also had children baptised in the same parish around the same time.[2]

While I was proof-reading this article I decided I’d better have another trawl through the Laon parish registers, just in case I, together with everyone from the président Combier, Maurice Tourneux, Charles Desmaze and everyone else had missed something. And we had. Here, almost exactly where you would expect it, is the acte de baptême of Marie-Barbe-Antoinette Guiot, in the parish register of Saint-Michel, Laon, dated 4 December 1725:

Le quatrieme jour du mois de decembre mil sept cent vingt cinq est nee et a etee baptisee marie barbe antoinette fille d’Anne bougier femme non mariée qui a declaré qu’Antoine guiot cordonnier en vie etoit le père dudit enfant elle a eü pour parein valentin fourfaux et pour mareine anne therese damour qui ont signet ou marquet avec moi le present acte les jour mois et an que dessus

+ marque de la mareine Valentin Fourfaut  Agnet

So there was a Monsieur Guiot – a shoemaker, possibly dead (although Laon parish registers do not record such a death in the previous nine months) and possibly married (a Pierre-Antoine Guiot was married there in 1722; he signed Diot while his father signed Guiot: evidently the spelling caused his own family the same problems Barbe-Antoinette would later show).

One thing is clear. Anne Bougier’s transgression with La Tour was not an isolated incident. But why should she have (approximately) named La Tour as her second child’s father in 1747? Could it be that he was in fact the father of Barbe-Antoinette? Did she think the name a grander one for her daughter to bear? Or did she harbour some resentment at his conduct? I leave you to decide whether it affects your views of the artist’s moral character – and whether that has any relevance to his art.


[1] This essay first appeared on 26 June 2022 as an update of Jeffares 2016j, incorporating material from that and substantially extending it with a discussion of Barbe-Antoinette. It may be cited as Neil Jeffares, “La Tour’s cousin Anne Bougier”, Pastels & pastellists, and is referred to within the Dictionary as Jeffares 2022c.

[2] Two homonyms lead to false trails: a Jean Grandsire had been born to Nicolas and his wife in 1714, but on 27 Nov 1736, still in Colmesnil, he married a Marguerite Sannier, was able to write – in a hand that does not match that on the 1749 acte de mariage, and so cannot be our Jean Grandsire but may have been a cousin. Another red hering is the Jean Grand Sire who married, in Dieppe, Saint-Rémy, on 18.i.1738, a Marie-Marguerite Baron; he was then described as a “pignère de profession” (a carder), aged 21, the son of Jacques Grand Sire and Hélène Le Coq, unable to write. The following year, on 21.v.1739 in the same parish he married Marie-Marguerite Maugendre, a dentellière aged 25, as Jean-Claude Grandsire. He was dead by 1749 when his second wife remarried.

Vivien’s portrait of Pierre Richelet at Artcurial

Wednesday’s sale at Artcurial attracted a great deal of interest, and as the Tribune de l’Art website noted (see also their presale report), numerous preemptions by the French state – although not of the star lot, the magnificent Chardin from the Marcille collection which fetched a record €24.4 million. One picture that attracted slightly less attention was the portrait of the lexicographer César-Pierre Richelet (1626–1698). It is the earliest surviving pastel in Vivien’s œuvre, and its rediscovery in 2022 advances our understanding of the artist’s career in several respects.

Richelet[1] was born on 8.xi.1626 in Cheminon, Marne, the son of Jehan, procureur du roi in the town, and Marie-Madeleine Herard. His baptismal entry in the parish register has been damaged by flooding, making it impossible to see if he received the names César-Pierre or just the Pierre by which he is more often known. In any case both parents died before he was 6. He nevertheless became first a teacher: he was régent in the college of Vitry-le-François, and then a tutor in Dijon, before becoming an avocat in Paris (as had been his great-uncle, Nicolas Richelet, who was also an amateur littérateur best known as editor of Ronsard).

Falling under the influence of Nicolas Perrot d’Ablancourt (1606–1664), the linguist and translator, and the writer Olivier Patru (1604–1681), Richelet devoted his energies to the study of linguistics. In addition to Latin and Greek, he mastered Italian and Spanish in preparation for his work on the origins of the French language. Richelet’s first exercise in lexicography was a Nouveau Dictionnaire des rimes in 1667. This led in turn to his hugely important Dictionnaire françois, one of the first works prepared on methodical principles, and the first monolingual encyclopaedic French dictionary. While the Artcurial sale catalogue noted that “son œuvre épouse le Grand Siècle qui propulse la France à la première place en montrant la voie de l’excellence”, Richelet’s contribution may also be seen as forward looking. Summarised by Alain Rey[2],

[l]’ouvrage de Richelet était un recueil de format pratique, une sorte d’usuel au texte très dense. Pour la première fois une conception relativement homogène du lexique français et une description ne devant plus rien au bilinguisme s’y faisait jour.

It underwent some 60 editions up to 1811, starting with the first, in Geneva in 1680, and second, printed in Lyon by Benoist Bailly in 1681 and was widely copied or plagiarized. That the original edition appeared outside France was because the Académie française had an exclusive royal monopoly (unlike Antoine Furetière, Richelet was not a member; but Furetière was expelled before he too published his dictionary abroad); the first edition of their dictionary appeared in 1694. These and other works of systematization paved the way for the Encyclopédie in the following century. As another modern critic noted,[3]

Qu’ils consignent l’usage ou qu’ils se réfèrent à la raison, les dictionnaires de l’époque Classique sont, suivant l’expression de Richelet, l’« ouvrage de tout le monde ».

While it may sound dry, Richelet’s dictionary has been compared with Johnson’s (who owned[4] a copy of the 1710 edition of Richelet) for his occasionally quirky or even snarky observations: for example, of “bain”, “Quand les Médecins ne savent plus où ils en sont ils ordonnent le bain à leurs malades.” Similar witticisms earned him the enmity of several influential figures in the literary world, which it has been suggested accounts for his frequent movements around France. Indeed, when, after numerous requests, Nicolas Toinard finally managed to find a copy to send to John Locke, he wrote on 7.xii.1680 to excuse the delay[5]:

Vous avez a cete heure a ceque je crois le Richelet, que lon ne doit considerer que comme le plan imparfait dun bel ouvrage a faire. ce livre est tres recherché à cause des impertinences que dit l’auteur parcỳ parla contre beaucoup d’honetes gens.

Locke was pleased with the volume, replying two days later:

il me semble avoire trouvè le vray secret de fair un bon dictionaire, parceque la maniere ordinaire de rendre les paroles d’une langue en ceux d’une autre n’est pas plus raisonable que d’envoier querir un estui en France pour un instrument Anglois dont on ne scait pas en France ny la forme ny l’usage. parceque les mots de different langues ne s’accordent pas mieux que cela.

Among Richelet’s more sober definitions (he included technical terms from arts and sciences which other lexicographers preferred to omit), that of Pastel is early and important enough to be cited in our treatises from the first edition:

Pastel, s.m. Craion fait d’une espece de pâte composée. Il y a de ces craions de toutes les couleurs & l’on fait des tableaux au pastel comme on en fait à l’huile, ou en détrempe. [Dessiner au pastel.]

Richelet’s annotated anthology of Les Plus Belles Lettres des meilleurs auteurs français was published in several editions, of which the second, Paris, 1698, is best known; but the first, single volume, appeared in Lyon in 1689 and is of particular relevance because the frontispiece is the portrait of the author engraved by Langlois after the present pastel.

Subsequent editions and other publications carried reprints and variants engraved by other hands, of which the most important are those by Thomassin (facing right) and Desrochers (facing left). The Langlois and Thomassin prints are inverted from the pastel, the Desrochers corrected. It is fair to say that all three prints are fairly wretched and give no idea of the accomplishment of the original – but their significance is the terminus ante quem they provide for the pastel.

Of Jean Langlois little is known. The Inventaire du Fonds français, xviie siècle (vi, pp. 321ff) tells us that he had been a pensionnaire of the Académie de France in Rome by 1673. In 1692 he was established at the sign of Le Soleil d’or, rue Saint-Jacques. There is nothing to suggest a local Lyon connection.

The Langlois and Thomassin prints are inscribed with verses written by the sitter himself, and the subject of a satire by François Gacon (Le Poète sans fard, 1698, pp. 181f):

Vers de Richelet

Pour mettre au bas de son Portrait, devant un mauvais recuëil de Lettres.

A quoy bon nous faire paroître

D’apres nature Richelet?

Cet Ouvrage le fait connoître

Mille fois mieux que son Portrait.


Sur les Vers precedens.

A quoy bon nous faire paroître

D’apres nature Richelet,

Cet Livre pour un fat le fait assez connoître,

Il devoit épargner l’argent de son Portrait.

Late in life Richelet married Michelle Brumeaux, some 24 years his junior, the mother of their illegitmate daughter Anne-Madeleine, baptised at Saint-Sulpice, five years before their eventual marriage on 17.i.1693. He died on 23.xi.1698, and was buried at Saint-Sulpice the following day.

Quite why the Plus Belles Lettres was first published in Lyon, and whether that led to his acquaintance with Vivien whose roots were in that town, is unknown. The portrait’s place in Vivien’s œuvre is however clear: no other pastel from before 1690 is known, nor anything that demonstrates so clearly the full mastery of Vivien’s mature talent. Although far from being a copy – indeed the directness and warmth of the face are in some contrast with the Grand Siècle demeanour of the master – the parallels with the self-portrait (Uffizi) which Charles Le Brun sent to Grand Duke Cosimo III of Tuscany in 1684 are undeniable. An oval workshop copy of this (Largillierre 1981, fig. 31a, p. 181), given to the Gobelins in 1749 by Jacques Caffieri, may still have been in the Le Brun studio when Vivien was in contact with him, and suggests their relationship was closer than previously understood.

Nothing is known of the provenance of the pastel before 1935 when it was lent to the Paris exhibition celebrating the Troisième centenaire de l’Académie française. Perhaps a late entry (and a surprising one, since Richelet was not an immortel), it was numbered 997 bis. There it was noted in Solange René-Doumic’s critique in La Revue hebdomadaire, 1935, p. 486: “Un autre tableau de Vivien, aussi admirable que le premier, est le portrait de Richelet”, the preceding being the Munich portrait of Fénélon, “assurément…un des plus beaux tableaux du dix-septième siècle.” The lender, the wife of Ferdinand-Jules Deveaud, née Anna-Mélanie-Henriette Fabre (1866–1955), was a pastellist in her own right. Her copy of the Vivien, signed and dated 1940 (right), was on the art market in 2022, the sitter unrecognised. The pastel itself, which Artcurial indicate as passing through Mme Deveaud’s grandchildren, was unknown to Helmut Börsch-Supan when he compiled his 1963 Vivien catalogue, including Richelet only by virtue of the Langlois and Thomassin prints and vouchsafing no date for the work.

At the end of the bidding at Artcurial, Maître Fournier asked expectantly “sans pré-emption?”; met with none, he lamented “C’est vrai que la langue française est enterrée depuis longtemps.” Few today will turn to Richelet’s dictionary, but those that do will have a far better image of the author than the prints were able to convey.

Postscript: an expanded version of this essay is available here.


[1] There are numerous accounts of Richelet’s lexicography. Robert Connesson’s 1985 monograph and Laurent Bray’s 1986 thesis on Richelet remain the most comprehensive studies of his life and work.

[2] Alain Rey, Antoine Furetière : Un précurseur des Lumières sous Louis XIV, Paris, 2006, p. 91.

[3] Georges Matoré, Histoire des dictionnaires français, Paris, 1968, p. 87.

[4] Donald Greene, Samuel Johnson’s library, an annotated guide, 1975, p. 97.

[5] Cited from Electronic Enlightenment.


Cent portraits pour un siècle

The private collection sometimes referred to rather cryptically as the Conservatoire du portrait du dix-huitième siècle (CPDHS) caused some controversy when it was exhibited in the musée Lambinet in Versailles in 2019, with a catalogue by Xavier Salmon, and again in the Palais Lascaris in Nice. No doubt the title “Cent portraits pour un siècle” deliberately echoes the famous exhibition of Cent pastels in Paris in 1908 (the catalogue for which was vigorously criticised by M. Salmon in the introduction to his 2004 La Tour exhibition catalogue). It is now, no doubt with further controversy, to be sold at auction, by Artcurial, next month (15 February 2022). The online catalogue on their website largely follows Salmon’s catalogue (a few numbers are changed, perhaps to make the display in the sale catalogue more effective visually). I don’t propose to enter into the controversy, particularly since much of it is about oil portraits which are versions of established pictures: whether they are autograph replicas, versions with studio assistance or just plain copies is a matter you must judge for yourselves – although I would urge you to seek out the primary versions and put them side by side before deciding (neither the sale nor the exhibition catalogues have done this in most cases).

A collection which focuses on royal portraiture inevitably runs into this problem. But the collection also includes original works by more obscure artists, and offers an opportunity for exploring their biographies which I think has not been fully pursued. The purpose of this blog post is simply to record some facts I’ve unearthed that may be of interest more widely (but which don’t necessarily fit into my Dictionary of pastellists). A few discoveries which were previously published in the Dictionary are used but not acknowledged (I do not appear in the exhibition catalogue, although the Artcurial sale catalogue adds references and J numbers for the pastels which you can consult in, while many of the points below could have been found from consulting it more closely. I refrained from posting this blog in 2019 on the grounds that this was a private collection, but now it is being offered for sale, a few clarifications may be of use to readers. I should emphasize that these are simply matters that caught my eye; a full critique of the catalogue is beyond both my powers and the limits of my (and your) patience.

I’ll follow the sale catalogue lot numbers, noting where the exhibition catalogue numbers differ.

Lot 2. I agree that there may well be a connection between Adélaïde and Pomponne Hubert, Labille-Guiard’s pupil: see my article on Pomponne. But if the puzzle is to be solved, we must get the facts straight, and Anne-Marie Passez’s confusion over the pension payments to Pomponne and the unrelated Hubert sisters must not be repeated. (The Versailles sisters’ family name was actually Huot, but their father called himself Hubert; Pomponne lived in Paris.)

Lot 9. Anne-Baptiste Nivelon’s dates (1711–1786) were established by me on this blog.

Lot 10/11: J.329.1225/J.329.137. I’m not convinced that these pastels are autograph; to me they look like copies. I have published the exact date of death of François Bernardin Frey, as he called himself; XS continues to include “ou 1808”, an error in Ratouis de Limay. The letter identifying a copy for Mme de Braque (O1 1828/384 p. 36) was found and published by me, as well as (p. 38) the name of the “Comtesse de Bar”, Marguerite de Pionne (it is a different question as to whether this is the right identification).

Lots 16, cat. nos. 16/17: J.612.123 /J.612.188.

Lot 19, cat. no. 20. The bases of the identification and attribution are unclear. The matter is certainly not resolved by the pastel from the Fritz Arndt collection in 1905, as that doesn’t seem to me to be by the same hand. This gets rather complicated, but there is a useful discussion on this post on the Forum de Marie-Antoinette blog.

Lot 20, cat. no. 19. J.4976.111. De Lorge. I have more on his biography in the Dictionary: he was still alive in 1796. This picture is inscribed “chev~ Delorge/pictor Peigint 1781”, not “pictor Regine”, the only basis for the identification as Marie-Therese de Savoie, comtesse d’Artois; the sitter is unknown. I originally catalogued it in 2003 before any other de Lorge pastels were known. Those that I have since discovered have a consistent style (rather like that of Colson père) and the signature has a high form level, in the language of graphology (quite different from this semi-legible inscription); these now cause me to question whether this example is “right”.

Lot 22: A great deal has already been written about Vigée Le Brun’s portraits of the duc d’Orléans (J.76.314) and Mme de Montesson, including in relation to the pastel versions now in the Louvre which I first identified as autograph: see the note on this blog, at 141/142. Lot 22 is described as autograph in the exhibition catalogued, but like a number of other lots is qualified with “et collaborateurs” in the sale catalogue; others will have different views.

Lot 24: For French readers unfamiliar with other versions of Hamilton’s portrait of the prince, I offer this juxtaposition of the face with the one in the National Portrait Gallery in London:

In the exhibition catalogue XS suggests that the well-known drawing supposed to be of Louis XVI (Carnavalet, inv. D7108) by Ducreux must in fact be of Bonnie Prince Charles. I can’t see it myself.

Lot 25: This I think was exhibited in the Visiteurs de Versailles exhibition in 2017.

Lot 26: XS notes the Laurent Cars engraving whose lettering provides the name of the artist, identified only cryptically as “An. Demare, prieure de Saint-Calais”.

The print, catalogued in the Inventaire du fonds français as of Louis de Lorraine, prince de Lambesc (1692–1743), fully in accord with the lettering “Ludouicus a Lotharingia Princeps de Lambesc Andium Prorex” (the last phrase means Gouverneur d’Anjou, a position which he held from 1712). Nevertheless XS identifies the sitter as of his son, Charles-Louis, comte de Brionne (1725–1761) for reasons that are not explained. (The internet is now awash with confusions because the titles and offices were passed on from father to son: but Charles-Louis was known as the comte de Brionne while his father and son both used the title prince de Lambesc; see Levantal and La Chesnaye des Bois.) Perhaps he thought the face looked like that of the child in the Nattier double portrait he cites: but the eyes are a different colour?

The debate may easily be resolved however by identifying the artist. She was evidently the “Anne des Mares, coadjutrice” who supervised an inventory at the prieuré Saint-Denis de Saint-Calais in 1714, standing in for the prioress who was ill. The installation of a third prioress in 1721 puts a terminus ante quem for Mme des Mares’s tenure as prioress (among many resources, see this), and indicates that the portrait was made c.1715–20 (this is also consistent with the fact that the convent was dissolved c.1730 when XS’s sitter was only 5). It therefore depicts the prince de Lambesc listed in the IFF, not his son.

Lot 31: J.662.1181 and J.662.1182.

Lot 34: “John Borgnis, Limner” was married in Hull, Yorkshire, on 10 April 1774, to an Ann Scott. Soon after, he returned to London, where several children were born in the parish of St Giles-in-the-Fields. He was still in that parish when he died and was buried on 8 September 1815 at Whitefield’s Memorial Church, Camden. He was probably the Borgnis, drawing master and miniature painter, at 40 Oxford Street, whose trade card is in the British Museum collection.

Lot 36: While there is no doubt that this is of Marie-Alexandre-Éléonore-Louis-César de Saint-Mauris, prince de Montbarey (that’s how he spelt his name: Mauris, one r in Montbarey, although frequently seen with two), I’m unconvinced that this could be the Vigée Le Brun portrait of 1776. He is shown with the Saint-Esprit awarded in 1778. The catalogue suggests that this was a later addition, but in 1776 he had not the simple croix of a chevalier de Saint-Louis, but the grand-croix (from 1763: Lot 58 shows you what that looks like). The changes involved would be far more elaborate than a simple addition; and it seems improbable that the alterer would have made their task even trickier by incorporating in the unnecessary additional fold in the cordon bleu just visible behind the lace jabot, level with the ribbon of the Saint-Louis. To me this looks like a later portrait, and the documentation link to Vigée Le Brun unreliable.

Lot 37: this oil follows the pastel J.76.146.

Lot 40: I doubt if this is Rotari; probably by a native Russian painter, perhaps Levitsky.

Lot 41, cat. 39. I have this as J.9.2553, anon. Éc. fr., and I wrote about it here at the time of the 2013 sale. An attribution to Kucharski is not unreasonable, although I couldn’t myself get to a firm attribution.

Lot 42, cat. 41: The painter given here only as “Millot” is surely Pierre Millot, as Guiffrey has; reçu 1754 and referred to in Jean-François Brun’s Almanach des peintres. He appears as “Pierre Millot, peintre demeurant à Paris, rue Comtesse d’Artois” in an Avis in the registres de tutelles (10 mai 1783, AN Y5105A) for the children of the sculptor Defernex, along with friends, the painters Anseaume, Doyen, Le Peintre and Lafont.

Lot 44, cat. 43: Lassave, whose biodetails are given as “Toulouse, vers 1750 – ? après 1813” was actually born and died in Paris: 1751-1832. An élève de l’Académie royale, he was reçu at the Académie de Toulouse in 1788. His 1793 carte de sûreté (F7/4805) reveals that he born in Paris, and was living in rue Saint-Medéric 438, age 42, peintre. Among works he copied for the Bâtiments du roi were a pastel of the king (presumably by La Tour), for which his bill for 300 livres was not settled on time. The son of Jean Lassave and Edmee Marguerite Bourgeois (who married in Paris the year before his birth), he married Catherine Meneau at Paris, Bonne Nouvelle, in 1785, and died 19 avril 1832 in Paris 7e. Their son was Alexandre-Jean Lassave (Paris 3 juin 1791 – 1881), chef d’escadron d’artillerie de marine, officier de la Légion d’honneur. His signature appears in the registres de tutelles for his minor cousin Jean Gueral, son of a tailleur d’habits, 1786: “peintre du cabinet du roi…rue St Méderic.”

Lots 49/51, cat. nos. 49/50. Given in the exhibition catalogue to “Joseph (?) Vallière, actif de 1778 à 1797 à Besançon et à Pari”, I am pleased to see that the sale catalogue has now published Nathalie Lemoine-Bouchard’s discovery of the artist’s real name to a wider audience. See also my article.

Lot 52: my J.9.2548, among the unattributed Éc. fr. I don’t believe this is by or after Carriera.

Lot 53. The Yale drawing of Mme Nettine is surely after Pierre Bernard, not Joseph, who didn’t work in this manner and was too young. The error is in Greuze 2002 but correct in the Dictionary. XS omits the suggestion (made by the current owner of the pastel: not proven but worth discussing) that the subject is the first Mme La Live de Jully.

Lot 54, cat. 55. The discovery that the pastellist formerly known as “Pierre Allais” was in fact Jacques-Charles Allais, and the biographical details of that artist, who worked in both media, were first published in the online Dictionary of pastellists.

Lot 57, cat. 58. A good deal more is known about Jean-Baptiste Garand, including his dates: see the article in pastellists. It is curious that XS does not mention the very similar drawing, in imitation of a print, of Feydeau de Brou in the Louvre (inv. RF 29447). A third chalk drawing of a police inspector, Sartine, was named in the livret of the salon de l’Académie de Saint-Luc in 1762 (no. 89), the same year as this drawing; perhaps it was among the “plusieurs portraits dessinés de même [à la pierre noire], de differentes grandeurs, sous le même numéro.” I don’t however have an explanation for the coat of arms shown, nor for the appearance of the Saint-Louis which is only recorded from 1776.

Lot 58, cat. 59. Remi-Fursy Descarsin was born and baptised on 4 juillet 1747. The René that appears on his death certificate is no doubt just a misspelling.

Lot 59, cat. 60. As far as I can see the only basis for identifying this lady as Mme Necker is a claimed resemblance to Liotard’s sitter (unfortunately the two Liotard portraits of her are so different as to make any such identification hazardous – they don’t even have the same eye colour; neither much resembles the Duplessis portrait). The miniature in the Louvre (RF 212) was previously an anonyme inconnue. There is a real danger in extrapolating from a bold hypothesis into presenting the inferences as supporting evidence – petitio principii. It is hard to know why the Pichon sale is mentioned (1897, not 1896), as the lot there (not reproduced) described a “robe grise”, while this is a pale yellow (the colour may of course have been misdescribed – but the description is broad enough to cover hundreds of candidates). Whether it is by Aubry I will leave to others to discuss.

Lots 69/70, cats. 72/71. Louis Petit is mentioned at several addresses; Guiffrey cites rue Saint-Honoré, près SaintRoch, making it likely that he is the peintre-doreur of this name and address married to a Marie-Nicolle Raflet (AN Y5130B, 1785).

Lot 73, cat. 69 p. 143: Davesne’s dates used here were first discovered and published by me (by 2017).

Lot 77, cat. 9. Anne-Charlotte-Julie Beausire, veuve Destouches died 9 juillet 1814. Her husband’s inventaire après décès was closed 27 novembre 1772 (AN Y5304).

Lot 80, p. 165 A photograph of the “lost” Mlle Silvia by La Tour (“n’est connu que par l’estampe”) is included in my La Tour catalogue, J.46.2972. (I’m also responsible for most of the recovered œuvre of Drouais père in pastel.)

Lot 82, my J.6.1013; a version of the original pastel. p. 167: Pougin’s birth “vers 1721” was my deduction, first published in the Dictionary in 2015.

Lots 88/92, cats. 90–92. Simon Pinson was born in Paris in 1739 and still alive in 1800; his first wife was the aunt of Francois-Guillaume Ménageot, and his second was the sister-in-law of the artist Jean-Baptiste Garand (v. Lot 57).

Lot 97: J.284.101. p. 194: I identified the names etc of Mmes Rathelot and La Loge. pp. 194, 206: The distinguished miniatures specialist Bernd Pappe is spelt with 3 ps.

Lot 98, cat. 99. The photograph of the Bordeaux 1913 exhibition referred to was reproduced in 2014 from my copy of the rare album. It also shows another version of cat. 1. The sitter’s identity is easily deduced from the name of the lender to that exhibition, although one degree of consanguinity has been omitted: the lender was Mme David-Louis-Adrien Léon, née Thérèse-Elisabeth-Judith Levylier (1857-1939), whose great-great-grandmother was Mme Abraham Mendes, née Esther Lopez-Diaz (c.1754-1827).

The essence of innumerable biographies…

David Alexander, A biographical dictionary of British and Irish engravers 1714–1820, Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art/Yale: New Haven and London, 2021

I pre-ordered this a long time ago, and had completely forgotten when it unexpectedly arrived a week ago. It spent the ritual three days in quarantine before I dared open it. And I have been browsing through it since, reflecting as I did on the concept of art dictionaries. For of course I am the last person to ask to review one, since I am in a sense a rival. (Actually not as much as I expected: both Alexander’s dictionary, which I refer to below as DA, and mine include about 3000 names, but the overlap of artists in both is about 5% at a rough estimate.)

Physically it is similar to Ingrid Roscoe’s Biographical dictionary of sculptors in Britain 1660–1850, 2009 (from the same publisher), although that is considerably longer; at xii+1047 pages (not 1120 pp as on publisher’s website) DA is the same size as John Ingamells’s invaluable Dictionary of British and Irish travellers in Italy 1701–1800, 1997 – a work whose charms and scholarship never fail. (What a pity the same paper could not be used.)

DA too is a work of obvious scholarship and huge diligence, but which nevertheless brought out the Beckmesser in me (never far from the surface), for reasons that I will come to. Partly dare I confess I found it odd to have my work referred to as “Pastellists” when everything else is cited by author’s name. The feeling that I was a late addition was reinforced by my puzzlement as to when Pastellists is cited – it seems rarely, usually in relation to minor figures, but, for example, not in the bibliographies for Joseph Ducreux, Daniel Gardner, William Hoare, Charles Howard Hodges, Arthur Pond, Thomas Frye, Jean Pillement etc. It didn’t put me in the best frame of mind for a balanced review. Which in any case should only be undertaken after using a reference work over a much longer period than four days.

But readers of this blog will want to know more immediately whether they should buy it. At £75 it’s neither expensive nor cheap – the decision depends on what you want it for. There is something about art history that attracts dictionary-makers, and for dealers and collectors the ability to find basic information and be directed to deeper studies is a major attraction. So publishers have found a market for major works throughout the ages. The great Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon, Bénézit or the Grove Dictionary of art are perhaps best known, but there is a vast number of dictionaries and encyclopaedias focused on narrower areas from architecture to miniatures. Perhaps there should be a dictionary of dictionaries – but of course there is, there are…

Prints have had more than their fair share of lexicographical obsession. The role of engravings before photography was often as reproductions of real works of art; the prints themselves could display a level of craftsmanship which was occasionally breathtaking, but rarely original. The challenge of identifying and cataloguing “states” of engravings involves a rare kind of meticulous attention which is not for all; some will consider it little removed from stamp collecting. I confess to having indulged in a bit of this myself, justified I think by the astonishing quality of the work by Nanteuil and Drevet which I collected 35 years ago (when you could buy portrait engravings on the Portobello Road). In France, Firmin-Didot, Portalis & Beraldi set a standard that progressed to the sadly still incomplete Inventaire du Fonds français, and Britain has not been ignored with the vast riches of Victorian scholarship now updated and largely consolidated in the fabulously useful, if occasionally incomplete, British Museum collection database (“BM” below).

So is there a need for yet another Dictionary of British and Irish engravers? (I didn’t count but I suspect there are nearly as many engravers from France as from Ireland – a reminder that the level of skill and training in Paris was astonishing, and of the need to be as familiar with French genealogy sources as with British ones.)

On the positive side there is a truly vast amount of information in this volume, and really important accounts of the work of major engravers presented clearly. Its function of identifying engravers whose names are known is obvious. The question of homonyms (there are 50 Smiths, 18 Walkers (6 of them John), 17 Williamses…) illustrates the need for such a dictionary. And I noted very few omissions: Luttrell may be an example, although it is difficult to be sure if he made any plates after 1714; see also Holloway and Benson below. Who knows if Basan was correct in suggesting that Franz de Paula Ferg and Pierre Maloeuvre (neither is included) had worked in London? Omissions are always harder to spot.

How helpful is it as a practical guide to attribution when there are literally no reproductions beyond a tiny vignette on the dust-wrapper? As it is a biographical dictionary, are the family relationships set out clearly? As it is printed, are the indexing (none) and cross-referencing good enough? How much original material is there? If this is a compilation, is there any logic to assembling in a single volume material available elsewhere (particularly when the scope ranges from engravers of portraits to music etc.)? And fundamentally, as anyone who works with this type of material knows, when presenting information from different sources that is contradictory, are the discrepancies satisfactorily resolved, or has the book merely added another source of confusion?

That I think is probably the most important challenge. I don’t want a seventeenth reference work I’m going to have to read against sixteen others before deciding which is right: I want one which gives the correct dates (surely one of the most important pieces of information sought in a biographical dictionary) every time, and, where they contradict other respected sources, explains why.

A reviewer is likely to open this book, see a wealth of interesting facts and assume it is all correct, without realising that it is virtually impossible to escape error or incompleteness when it comes to biographies of obscure people in the eighteenth century. This is partly because of the explosion of online material: databases with parish records, imaged as well as transcribed (so previous errors can be eliminated) as well as far more liberal access to images of the prints themselves. I note for example that Ian Mackenzie’s rather useful British prints (Antique Collectors’ Club) is not mentioned, although it is a handy compilation with useful images that many readers may have to hand from pre-internet days. Comparing the first page of both, DA gives Henry Abbott’s dates as fl.1820, Mackenzie the full 1768–1840. This is found also for example in the Yale Center for British Art Collections Online database, so, even if wrong, DA needs to say why.

This is not the only example. It is only by working through specific examples that one comes across questions: I have (not quite randomly, as my eye was inevitably drawn to artists I knew independently) compiled below a list of such observations. Suffice it to say that it is rather longer than I expected. (I know only too well how such errors arise, particularly when a work has developed over a very long period.)

I’m attaching it partly to help readers understand the sort of problems I encountered, but also I hope to set off a debate about how we can more efficiently handle the task of sifting such errors out of art history reference material. Lists of errata (several have previously appeared on this blog) are never popular with the authors, and my own preference is to provide them before printing rather than after purchase – but I’m not asked as often as I’d like.

Increasingly of course reference material is online, or will go online (as I hope this will), and so can be corrected and updated: but even here practices differ widely. I’ve submitted corrections or observations to the British Museum collection database which have invariably been adopted with courtesy (not always immediately, but the advance of human knowledge doesn’t have to be instant, and there is something to be said for letting new information mature before it is acted upon). In contrast a long list of corrections for the Oxford DNB sent in 2014 have been ignored with a level of arrogance I find misplaced.

Another approach which in theory should be efficient is the collective enterprise of a Wiki-like undertaking. In principle this could allow us to join together all those dictionaries of minor arts, genealogies etc and forge a communal knowledge base etc. But sadly I don’t see any way to get it to work in practice, with the wide range of skills among likely participants, combined with the genuinely different needs for a database on say needlework compared with one for topographical watercolourists. I fear we are stuck with the individual project.

There are other issues with the book. It has entries only for those who actually engraved: no doubt for reasons of space, but many of us will want list of artists whose work has been engraved and by whom, if only in an index. Indeed when prints are mentioned, the details don’t always include the artist whose work is engraved. This (like many of my criticisms) all depends on where you’re coming from.

The vocabulary is occasionally quaint: apprentices are invariably “bound”, while a few artists come from “gentry families” (I use the word reluctantly, but only as a noun). The handling of foreign names is a bit odd, as some of the examples below illustrate. Of course French names often appeared in anglicised form in British documents at the time, but both forms should be given today; spelling, alphabetisation and identification of family names are not standardised here. And, as a number of my illustrations below suggest, I felt a biographical dictionary should have more about wives and families and colourful stories rather than just the work; others will disagree.

Specific comments

Francis Edward Adams: died 20.iv.1777 according to his widow’s declaration appended to his will, probated 26.iii.1801 (Prerogative Court of Canterbury).

William Barnard: birth given as “c.1776” although ODNB (cited) provides date of baptism. We can go one step further: he was in fact born 8.vii.1774.

Bartolozzi: there is huge confusion in the literature about his date of birth: citing an 1815 source is no substitute for explaining why the date given (1728) is correct.

Nicolas Dauphin de Beauvais appears under B, not D, and the forename is given as Nicholas.

Birrell: the entry is of no help in identifying the “W Birrell” who signed Hamilton’s Lady Temple in 1798; I had already conjectured this might be Andrew Birrell.

Bland: The BM collection database gives Thomas Bland’s dates as fl.1770–1790, while DA gives fl.1765–72.

James Bolton: DA gives death as 1799. BM: “died in March 1807 (information from David Beasley, Goldsmiths’ Company). Previously incorrectly identified with James Bolton, botanical painter of Halifax, who died in 1799.”

William Bond death “1842 or later”: his will made 27.xii.1837 was probated 1842; buried 2.vii.1842 aged 80, St Anne’s Soho.

Thomas Bragg (c.1780-1840): The Times inquest report gives his age as 95, while the parish burial entry is probably more accurate at 86 years. In any case c.1780 (which I presume is deduced from his likely age at apprenticeship) seems unlikely.

C. Carter: Charles Carter is identified in Pastellists (and Walpole’s correspondence, where there are numerous references) as the “painting servant” of Canon Mason, whose portrait by Vaslet J.749.18 he engraved.

Jacques Chéreau was born in 1688, not 1694.

Louis Chéron died in 1725, not 1735 (twice).

Philip Dawe: DA has “c.1750-1809 or later”; Pastellists, following ODNB (neither is cited), as ?c.1745–?1809.

William Delacour: DA plausibly suggests that he be identified with the Guillaume de la Court, son of Salomon, who was a weaver of Bethnal Green in 1704 when he married; his wife was Marie-Magdelaine du Bois, and the baptism took place in the Huguenot church, Threadneedle Street, not the hospital chapel in Spitalfields.

Nicholas [sic] Dorigny: Nicolas was born in 1658, not 1638.

Robert Dunkarton’s will was given probate on 2.ii.1815, so he must have died before “c.1817”. He married Mary Barnard on 6.x.1771 at St Paul’s Hammersmith.

Gainsborough Dupont was born in Sudbury 20.xii.1754 (if the RA archive is to be believed), not 1757.

Abraham Easto was baptised 14.v.1786 in Fressingfield, Suffolk and died in Norfolk 26.iii.1867.

William Faden, pp. 334f: this might be the place to mention his son-in-law rather than just p. 773. The question of how to handle cross-references and avoid duplication in printed dictionaries is tricky.

“Amadeo Gabrieli”: the name in the BM Collection Database is Amedeo Gabrielli: the alternatives should be listed. “C. Cunningham” is Edward Francis Cunningham. The only Boze seems to be the Louis XVI; the other royal portraits after Gratise etc.

Daniel Gardner: surely Pastellists might have been added to the bibliography? Despite my researches (Transactions of the Romney Society, xxi, 2016) we still haven’t found his exact date of birth, so c.1750 still required.

John Alexander Gresse: more in Pastellists beyond ODNB.

Samuel Hieronymous Grimm lodged with the pastellist Susannah, not Sarah, Sledge.

Charles Harris: DA suggests he may have been the engraver apprenticed to Peter Mazell, but it is difficult to see how an apprentice could exhibit as an honorary amateur.

Charles Howard Hodges: born in London, not Portsmouth (discussed in Pastellists).

Why is John Holloway Jr missing? His engraving after La Tour’s Voltaire (my J.46.312551) for Literary magazine, 1792; BM also has Joseph Benson 1804 (inv. 1851,1108.19).

Isaac Jehner: The Isaac Jenner who married Mary Ann Cattell in 1803 was a bachelor, so this cannot have been a second marriage of the father. Two years after his autobiography, Jenner, “drawing master”, also published a manual on the Art of drawing.

Elizabeth Judkins: the EJ buried in St Botolph, Bishopsgate in 20.i.1815 was aged 56, so born 1758, too late for the engraver. Another, of Leadenhall Market, was buried 30.x.1823 aged 68, just possible. Note that when James Watson married, his bride signed Mary Judkin, not Judkins, so both spellings were evidently in use. ODNB (following Goodman) gives her father as Reuben Judkins, not cited DA: from that I traced the clandestine marriage of Reuben Judkins, a coach painter of St Giles, to Ann Bouch on They had at least four children, Mary, born 30.i.1746, bpd St George’s Hanover Square, who is too young to be the future Mrs Watson (that Mary Judkin was 21 or over in 1757 according to the banns); Samuel 1748 and Joseph 1753, both baptised St Martin-in-the-Fields, and Elizabeth, baptised 12.ix.1756 at St Giles-in-the-Fields (matching the age of the deceased buried in Leadenhall Market in 1823). Nor is it likely that Reuben Judkins had an earlier marriage: he was apprenticed in 1740 (to Richard Abbott of the Painters’ company).

Charles Knapton’s dates are 1698-1742: see Pastellists.

S. Lamborn: one wonders if his engraving of Samuel Johnson, “from an original drawing”, inverted from the anonymous pastel after Reynolds, my J.6174.159, might mean he was a pastellist?

William Lane: the suggestion that he was born in Hereford (Hampton Bishop, surely, rather than Hampton Wick?) is added credence by the large group of his drawings discussed in Pastellists, of which the donor was the daughter of Reginald Lane Poole, a great-grandson of the Rev. Dr Theophilus Lane (1762–1814), prebendary of Hereford. He was the son of James Lane (1731–1791) and Eliza Reece. But the Ann Lane born in Hampton Bishop on was probably the daughter of Rev. William Lane, canon of Hereford and rector of Hampton Bishop who died 1752, born 1700 (matriculated at Oxford, Oriel College, in 1718), son of another James Lane. This could be looked at further.

“James Christopher Le Blon” for Jakob Christoffel etc.: the reader needs warning of the numerous variants.

James Macardell’s birth is given as 1729, without explaining the discrepancy with the ODNB: “in 1727 or 1728”. Later the ODNB says “he died at the age of thirty-seven on 1 June 1765”, while DA has “in July 1765” without age. Musgrave has

Alexander Macdonald: the print of Todd Jones may be after Matthew, not Robert, Hunter.

For Thomas Major’s collaboration with Liotard, see my

Simon Malgo was born in Copenhagen in 1745 according to old sources: are they wrong?

Maucourt: although Pastellists is cited (and I think I first published his forename as Claude rather than Charles), the birth certificate I found, Passavant-en-Argonne 1.iv.1714 (not c.1707), is ignored.

George Morland was the son of Henry Robert, not of George Henry, Morland.

Amelia Noel: See article in Pastellists for the full account of why she is Minka Levy. I find it hard to understand why DA questions this (or why he does not cite the source for the theory he rejects), which I put forward in 2012 (and has since appeared in various websites). My proposed identification is not in the Massill article, which merely reprints the 1781 reports of the wedding (already cited in my article) without mentioning Amelia. The law report, properly understood, makes it perfectly clear that the Amelia Noel sued by her coal merchant was the same lady.

Nutter’s birth often cited as 1754. Are we relying only on age in GM obit? If in 44th year on 22.iii.1802, 1758 is three times as likely as 1759.

Pether’s dates: buried 25.vii.1821 aged 82, so more likely born 1739 than 1738.

Purcell: The Richard Purcell of Springford, Co. Cork, born 1728, who married Catherine Grove in 1762 (Cloyne marriage licence bonds index) died in 3.ix.1797: he was the rector of Casteltownroche near Cork, and appears in Edmund Burke’s correspondence. He was from a different layer of Irish society. See link for his career. The son apprenticed to John Bennett of Fleet Street, Printseller (surely the details refer to the master, not the deceased father), on 2.xii.1777, was according to the source cited (Mckenzie), “Gasper”, not Gaspar. DA’s spelling may be correct (but if so from what source?), but the unnoted change delays verification. It seems to me likely that this apprentice was the “Jasper Purcell” listed on the register of poor children taken into parish care at St Clement Danes, aged 7, on 2 December 1767 (London Lives online). If his father was the engraver, that would confirm that Richard Purcell probably died in 1767.

Ravenet’s son was Simon-Jean-François Ravenet (1737-1821).

Ruotte: There is no doubt that the engraver was Louis-Charles Ruotte. On 16 May 1782 at St Marylebone Charles Lewis Ruotte married Jeanne Terase dit Labaume (the witnesses were Louis Francis Dumay and Marguerite Dubuisson). Their son, Louis-Nicolas-Marie Ruotte, was born in Paris on 3.vii.1785 (as we know from his 1843 marriage in Lyon, at an advanced age), so Ruotte was probably back by then. We can find many more documents in French archives. He was described as “graveur étant actuellement à Londres” in a document of 10.i.1784 (AN Y5122A) dealing with his deceased father’s estate (François Ruotte, bourgeois de Paris); a grandson of the deceased, Alexandre-François, was also named: he was the son of a deceased “professeur de langue angloise”, Francois-Marie Ruotte, the engraver’s brother. The engraver’s mother was Marie-Jeanne Caron, still living. Louis-Charles Ruotte, graveur en taille-douce, was back in Paris by 16.ix.1785, living at rue Saint-Hyacinthe, paroisse Saint-Côme (AN Y5133B). He was still there five years later, in .vii.1790 (AN Y5192B), when he applied to compromise with his creditors. Another document in the registre de tutelles (AN Y5144B) identifies him as still a minor in .viii.1786, so he must have been born no earlier than 1761, not in 1754.

John Charles Russell (p. 774) “was the son of John Russell (q.v.)”, but of which?

Charles Reuben Ryley was admitted to the RA in 14.ii.1769 aged 17, so c.1751 is surely to be preferred to the 1749 suggestion (is there any evidence that that Abraham Ryley was a trooper in the Horse Guards?).

Richard Sisson (born “c.1730”) was baptised on 19.viii.1722 at St Mary’s, Church of Ireland, the youngest of six children of Robert and Frances Sisson.

“Scorodomoff” needs at least to be cross-referenced from Sk-, 34 pages away. His dates are given in Pastellists, 12.iii.1755–12.vii.1792.

Sintzenich: three members of the family are included, but not others e.g. Friedrich Heinrich, presumably because he didn’t visit, or isn’t known to have visited, England. Correct but annoying.

Emma Smith married in London on 10.viii.1808 Robert Smith, who later adopted the name Pauncefote; that is why the marriage is hard to find.

Gabriel Smith: perhaps 1783 is wrong for his death, but is there any reason to suggest the Gabriel Smith buried in Whitechapel 8.iv.1773 rather than say the one buried at St James’s Piccadilly on 8.v.1774?

John Raphael Smith: born “c.1746”: D’Oench has Derby bpt 25.v.1751.

Francois-David Soiron was Swiss, not French; born in Geneva 12.x.1764, trained there and left for London in 1790 (Brun, Schweizerisches Künstler-Lexikon, 1913).

Peltro William Tomkins: perhaps worth noting that he owned Russell’s pastel (J.64.114) of Bartolozzi, now in the Louvre.

Townley: the family relationship worth explaining is with the collector: the connection is (very) distant. I am not sure whether he died in Hertford in 1802 (plausible); but Margaret called herself his widow in a will made in 1803 and proved on her death in 1809. He had two children by a previous marriage (the son’s name, Charles Haswell Townley, might be a clue to his first wife’s family name). This is made clearer by the marriage record on 14.ix.1801 which did not take place in “St George’s Church, Hendon” as incorrectly reported in the press at the time, but at St John’s, Hampstead, and he was described as “Chas Townly Widower”.

George, Marquess Townshend: it seems eccentric not to give him his title in the headline. He is the subject of a rich iconography by artists including Reynolds, Hudson, Mather Brown and Angelica Kauffman, as well as (probably) by Liotard. It’s a pity portraits of engravers aren’t systematically listed as they are a useful clue to the reciprocity of artistic relations.

Henry Trench: there is no reason to doubt the 1684 year of birth inscribed on his self-portrait in Stockholm reproduced in Pastellists.

George Vertue’s death is printed twice (on pp. 939, 941) as in 1755; is there any reason to question the 24.vii.1756 given in Pastellists and most other sources?

J. Violet: nothing better illustrates the need for continuing research. Here is a portrait engraving of the highest quality signed by an otherwise unrecorded engraver. Was he English or French? Looking through the biographical sources, one wonders about the James Violet living in Grafton Street, London in 1781 according to the Westminster rates books; but the Westminster poll book for 1780 (his name struck out as “foreign”) gives his occupation as “victualler”. Perhaps he might be the Jacques Violet, aged 10 in 1751 (registres de tutelles), son of a menuisier in Paris, but there is no other trace. Could this in fact be an early London appearance of the miniaturist Pierre (see below) Violet whose middle names was Jean? All guesses, wisely omitted from the book.

“Pierre Violet (1749–1819)”: citing ODNB for his career as a whole. But Pastellists has more than either. His full name was Pierre-Jean-Noel Violet, born 25.xii.1742. ODNB is confused too about his marriages: his first marriage, in Paris on 7.viii.1770 (contract of 20.vii.1770), was to Marie-Félicité Legeste; he was divorced on 12.iii.1794, and, on 11.xii.1797, at St James’s Piccadilly, he married Marguerite Becret (1769–1851); Francesco Bartolozzi was witness. There were two daughters of the second relationship: Maria, born 1793 and Cécilia, born three weeks before the 1797 marriage.

James Ward: Pastellists and ODNB give his birth as 23.x.1769, not 1770.

Caroline Watson “(1760–1814)”: where does the 1760 come from? The ODNB gives 1760/61–1814, and notes that her mother was Mary, daughter of Reuben Judkins, indicating she was born c.1740. See my comments on Elisabeth Judkins above, where I suggest Mary was in fact born 30.i.1746. But James Watson married Mary Judkin [sic] on 17.i.1757, and according to the banns she was 21 or over. I can’t resolve these curiosities (I’d rather hoped that DA would do so for me), although it is not impossible that Mary’s age was misstated, she married at 13 and gave birth several years later; but this seems improbable.

“James Watson (c.1740–1790)”. According to Pastellists, based on Irish church records (which may be incomplete), and assuming that Redgrave is right that he was the brother of William Watson, it is most likely that they were the William and James Watson baptised respectively on 20.iv.1730 and 18.ix.1734 at St John’s Dublin, the sons of William and Sarah Watson.

“Ephraim Welsh (c.1749–1772 or later)”: he served as topographical artist on the voyage of the Fox packet to and from China 1781–82.

Francis Wheatley: there is no mention of his liaison with Jean-Alexandre Gresse’s wife which is supposed to have caused his four-year stay in Ireland.

La Tour’s second thoughts

So much of my work on La Tour has been unravelling and rejecting myth. Herodotus faced much the same problem with his sources, but eventually conceded “having condemned others’ opinions, I must now say what I think about these obscure matters.” The problem of course is in finding new, reliable sources of information – or else one is simply compounding the confusion. With an artist on whom so much scholarship has been devoted, entirely new sources are difficult to find. But sometimes crucial information has been hiding under our noses.

The legend about La Tour’s destruction of two of his masterpieces in a senile attempt to “improve” them is more than just a story: the evidence was shown to all in the Louvre exhibition in 2018. The sorry state of Dumont le Romain (left), and the even sorrier remnants of what was once Jean Restout (right), were bravely presented to an audience with a reasonable account of their confused history. You can find my version of this written up in the relevant entries in my online catalogue raisonné: Dumont at J.46.1681, Restout at J.46.2687. (Remember you find these by searching the J numbers in the search box on, opening the relevant pdf and going to the J number which is in a decimal sequence – so J.46.2787 is before J.46.279. Or you can go direct to the pdf from You can also find a precis of the discussion below in §II.4 of my main La Tour article, As always the crucial contemporary documents are transcribed, with further references, in

But here at any rate is a broad chronology of what must have happened.

At a session of the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture on 25.v.1737 “le sieur Maurice-Quentin de La Tour, Peintre de portraits en pastel, aïant fait apporter de ses ouvrages” was agréé (provisionally accepted for membership). His set pieces for full reception were selected the following week: they were to be portraits of the academicians François Lemoyne and Jean Restout. Lemoyne committed suicide a few days later, and Jean-Baptiste Van Loo was nominated instead: but his departure to London and later return to his native Provence created a further hurdle, before La Tour eventually submitted Restout alone, in 1746, when he was finally reçu. Four years later he also presented the portrait of Dumont le Romain as a gift to the Académie; it is often erroneously described as a morceau de réception.

Some six years after that, in 1756, the Polish painter Tadeusz Kuntze copied both works. Although this has been in the Dictionary since 2015, the copies are not mentioned in other La Tour scholarship and their significance has escaped me until now. Tadeusz Konicz, dit Kuntze (Zielonej Górze 1727 – Rome 1793), was trained in Rome at the Académie de France, 1747–52, and stayed on to paint religious and allegorical pictures there in the tradition of Reni and Solimena. In 1756 he was sent to Paris where he made oil copies (all now in Wilanów) of artists’ portraits which had been acquired by the Académie royale (normally as morceaux de réception), including pastels by La Tour (Dumont le Romain, Restout) and Lundberg (Boucher, Natoire). He returned to Poland in 1757 before settling in Rome in 1759 and disappearing from our story. His copies were run of the mill, boringly but helpfully unimaginative.

A few years later attention focused on engravings of both La Tour pastels. Neither sitter had had a portrait engraved (the Cochin portrait of Dumont was engraved by Saint-Aubin only in 1770). The engraver Pierre-Étienne Moitte (1722–1780) – who also engraved La Tour’s portraits of Belle-Isle and of Jolyot de Crébillon – was agréé on 26.iv.1761, with Galloche, acting recteur, deputed to set him two subjects for his morceaux de reception. Evidently the La Tour portrait of Restout was one of those, but the other was never recorded. Six months later, in a session of the Académie where La Tour was present, the question of the format of the engraving was raised: La Tour’s portrait being deemed unsuited to the usual oval format (Moitte’s head of Crébillon for the Galerie française is no doubt what was in mind), the Académie decided that the whole portrait be engraved, but in view of the additional work required, this single engraving would suffice for Moitte’s reception. It was not however delivered until 1771 (although it must have been based on the pastel before its reworking already underway in 1769 – see below), for reasons unknown but one may speculate that La Tour’s dissatisfaction with his own work may have played a part in the delay. Nevertheless the engraving accurately corresponds to Kuntze’s 1756 copy of the original version of the pastel.

Separately the engraver Jean-Jacques Flipart (1719–1782) produced a full-length portrait after Dumont le Romain. (Again one may speculate that it was originally the other set piece for Moitte, but there is no evidence for this.) Flipart was agréé in 1755 but never reçu, and this engraving was not part of his Académie requirements. Apart from the La Tour, he engraved a self-portrait by Rosalba and a pastel by Vivien, but most of his work was not portraiture: he was best known for his genre pieces after Greuze. A 1772 Chasse au tigre, after Boucher (actually a leopard), is one of the few plates for which the engraver’s preparatory drawing survives (Paris, Drouot, Thierry de Maigret, 27.iii.2009, Lot 76).

The lettering on Flipart’s Restout includes the artist’s offices, and thus provides a terminus post quem for the plate (or at least the complete state), of 1768, when Restout was promoted to chancelier of the Académie. Unlike the Moitte, it is reversed from the pastel; and perhaps for this reason its departures from the Louvre work have gone unnoticed. It is equally possible that anyone comparing the print with the pastel would simply have assumed the alterations were the engraver’s fancy. That theory survives the discovery of what may be Flipart’s preparatory drawing in the Walker Art Gallery (again omitted from all La Tour scholarship to date) – a drawing which however is in the same sense as the pastel, reinforcing the suggestion that it may have been preparatory to the engraving; the lower part is unfinished. (The evidence of the Cleveland préparation is limited to the central fold in the turban, which matches far more closely the print than the Louvre pastel. The Restout préparation in Saint-Quentin, of stunning quality, with a knotted falling lock of hair as in the Kuntze copy, can however tell us nothing about the overall composition.)

But it is in both cases the almost exact match of the Flipart and Moitte engravings with the Kuntze copies that provides incontrovertible evidence of how the pastels looked in 1756 and during the 1760s before La Tour’s changes.

That changes were made is of course well documented. Shortly after Restout’s death in 1768 La Tour retrieved both portraits with the intention of “improving” them. Mariette mentions only Restout, while Diderot compounds the confusion when he interrupts his Salon de 1769 with an account of a visit to La Tour’s studio in which he suggests that La Tour is copying rather than altering the pastel of Restout he had borrowed:

Je sortais du Sallon; j’étais fatigué; je suis entré chez La Tour, cet homme singulier qui apprend le latin à cinquante-cinq ans, et qui a abandonné l’art dans lequel il excelle pour s’enfoncer dans les profondeurs de la métaphysique qui achèvera de lui déranger la tête. Je l’ai trouvé payant un tribut à la mémoire de Restout, dont il peignait le portrait d’après un autre de lui dont il n’était pas satisfait. O le beau jeu que je joue, me dit-il! Je ne saurais que gagner. Si je réussis, j’aurais l’éloge d’un bon artiste; si je ne réussis pas, il me restera celui de bon ami. Il m’avoua qu’il devait infiniment aux conseils de Restout, le seul homme du même talent qui lui ait paru vraiment communicatif, que c’était ce peintre qui lui avait appris à faire tourner une tête et à faire circuler l’air entre la figure et le fond en reflétant le côté éclairé sur le fond, et le fond sur le côté ombré; que soit la faute de Restout, soit la sienne, il avait eu toutes les peines du monde à saisir ce principe, malgré sa simplicité; que, lorsque le reflet est trop fort ou trop faible, en général vous ne rendez pas la nature, vous peignez; que vous êtes faible ou dur, et que vous n’êtes plus ni vrai ni harmonieux.

Diderot’s account at least offers an explanation of La Tour’s interest in a tribute to his recently deceased mentor. No such explanation can account for the assault on the Dumont pastel: the subject would live on to 1781.

The following year La Tour laid out the problems with the portrait of Restout in his long letter to Belle de Zuylen (5.iii.1770). The letter is too long to quote in full, but this is relevant:

C’est s’occuper de chimères, on ne fait ny tableaux ny poëmes tels que je les désire. Cette perfection est au-dessus de l’humanité; je l’éprouve actuellement: j’ay sur le chevallet le portrait de feu M. Restout, fait et donné à l’Académie en 1744; j’ay voulu depuis sa mort luy témoigner ma reconnoissance des grands principes de peinture qu’il m’a communiqué, en remaniant cet ouvrage. Après avoir fait cent changemens, on me dit « Quel dommage! » Il y avoit un mouvement qui se communiquoit à ceux qui le voyoient. Je suis encore après et ay changé jusqu’à ce jour; je ne puis dire quand il sera fini. On attend d’autres ouvrages faits anciennement, que j’ai eu en fantaisie de remanier; je les renverray si un compagnon de voyage arrive avant.

(Once again La Tour is confused about dates: his morceau de réception was presented to the Académie in 1746, not 1744.) But at least the letter makes it clear that what was under way was a “remaniement”, not a copying. The postscript disclosed that the Académie had required him to return the portrait of Restout, more or less as it was:

les regrets de l’Académie m’obligent de tacher de remettre le portrait de M. Restout à peu près comme il était. Voilà bien du temps perdu et des efforts in vanum. Mieux que bien est terrible! On ne se corrige pas, puisque j’ay tombé dans le cas plus de cent fois.

The pastels were presumably returned to the Académie soon after, or perhaps later. They were listed among the revolutionary seizures from the ci-devant Académie on 9.xii.1793, when they were inventoried in the Premier Garde-meuble with this note: “Ces deux tableaux sont perdus par l’auteur même qui, trop vieux, voulut les retoucher: on peut compter que les glaces.” In the 21.vii.1796 inventory, Phlipault noted that they had not been transported to the maison de Nesle with the other Académie pictures; the entry included the important note that by then they were “sans bordure”; if the glass too had been removed since 1793 that would have led to further losses beyond those inflicted by the artist.

But interesting though these verbal documents may be, they leave us completely ignorant of the visual issues which must be paramount in any art historical analysis. Further there is a limit to what scientific analysis alone can bring to this discussion: the use of multiple sheets (Restout we know is on 13 sheets of paper, Dumont on 5), repaired joins  etc. can offer little to tell us whether changes were made during the 1740s or thirty years later: no newly invented pigment or material is likely to be detectable.

What we can now say with confidence is that La Tour decided to make radical changes to both works for essentially aesthetic reasons. Those to Restout are less clear in view of the subsequent deterioration (so that what was deliberately altered and what has been damaged are sometimes irretrievably confused). Why round the corners of the canvas on the easel, unless La Tour had developed a dislike of linearity (or had noticed that the perspective of the plane of the canvas and that of the easel were incorrect)? Most curiously, the proper arm, visibly on a separate sheet on the Louvre pastel, seems if anything to be closer to the original than the rest of the work. The most important alteration is that the portfolio resting on the artist’s knees on which he has been drawing has been replaced by a far less ambitious work table covered in baize. The gesture of drawing, with the porte-crayon now resting on cloth, makes no sense. But the covering up of the sitter’s legs has transformed this three-quarter length portrait jusqu’aux genoux into a half-length image: what is lost in sense is gained in proximity: it is in the current vernacular up close and personal.

The changes to Dumont can be more exhaustively listed. Among the minor details, one notes that the original had a fuller background curtain, a rectangular palette with an oil reservoir, a larger group of brushes and a simpler table with no drawer, supporting different objects. The effect of these differences, notably in the table, is again, and even more dramatically, to change to viewpoint, providing a di sotto in sù perspective (unique in the œuvre) which served to make the portrait both more intimate and more reverential.

What is clearly happening illustrates La Tour’s problems with the viewpoint, one of numerous particular difficulties facing the portraitist on which he wrote at great length to Marigny in 1763:

Les gens délicats sont blessés d’un tableau dont le point de distance est près et n’a pas au moins vingt-cinq pieds. Partant de ce principe, quel embarras pour une vûe courte et foible, forcée d’être à deux ou trois pieds du modelle, obligée de se hausser et baisser à mesure, de tourner à droite, à gauche, pour tâcher d’appercevoir de près ce qu’on ne peut voir bien que de loin! Il faudroit être à ma place pour sentir les efforts que je fais pour mettre une figure et une teste ensemble dans les règles de la perspective. Les angles sont si courts que la personne qu’on peint de près ne peut pas regarder de ses deux yeux à la fois l’œil du peintre. Ils vont et viennent sans être jamais ensemble. C’est pourtant de leur parfait accord que résulte l’âme et la vie du portrait. De la naissent les inquiétudes qui occasionnent tant de changements qu’ils font passer le malheureux peintre pour fou ou tout au moins capricieux, fantasque; à la vûe de tant de difficultés l’humeur gagne l’artiste et, au souvenir de M. Coypel qui n’a pas rempli les intentions du Roi, elle s’aigrit et s’éloigne de beaucoup de choses telles que des devoirs, des bienfaisances, etc.

In his letter to d’Angiviller in 1778, in which La Tour argues at length as to why he needs the use of an additional logement in the Louvre, spelling out all the difficulties consequent to his perfectionism he mentions perspective. And the postscript reinforces this:

J’ay oublié qu’il s’agit du portrait de M. Retout [sic], que j’ay enlevé pour un mot de critique de feu M. Toqué: c’est un maître à danser. Ce mot et le désir de donner aux élèves l’exemple avec le précepte de la perspective qui manquoit dans mes portraits sont les causes funestes des peines infinies que je me suis donné jusqu’à present. Dieu et Monsieur le Comte me soient en ayde, j’en ay un très grand besoin.

It may be possible to read this as indicating that La Tour had not returned Restout to the Académie as he had reported to Belle de Zuylen, or perhaps that he had borrowed it again; once again La Tour’s correspondence baffles us today as much as it baffled Marigny and other recipients at the time. But the evidence of Kuntze, Flipart and Moitte tells us much of what we need to know, and hadn’t troubled to see until now. The distant monuments to Pompadour and de Rieux are dismantled for these friends.

Postscript 2.i.2023

Further evidence of the appearance of the Restout pastel is provded by the oil self-portrait of Johann Heinrich Tischbein, c.1752–55 (Schloss Wilhelmshöhe) which, as has been observed by Heidrun Ludwig (Burlington magazine, .i.2023, p. 77) was inspired by the La Tour which he must have seen while studying in Paris with Carle Van Loo 1743–48. It clearly refers to the earlier state of the pastel.

Alexis Judlin (1740–1808), miniaturist

[Note, 9.viii.2021: There have been a number of alterations to this blog since posted on 7.viii.2021 – including to its title, since Judlin’s dates have since been discovered. Additions are integrated below.]

One of the features of my work on Maurice-Quentin de La Tour is the fully annotated documentation in which I (at least try to) provide short biographical details of all the people mentioned. When they are pastellists of course I simply refer to my dictionary (I’ve already researched them from primary sources wherever possible), but when they are not I try to ensure that the main reference sources agree before relying on them. And sometimes unpicking disagreements opens up a rabbit hole which I may not have the time or inclination to pursue myself, but where the elements I’ve uncovered are sufficiently suggestive that I wish others would (that’s particularly the case where hot topics such as international espionage or transgender celebrity arise – much better left to enthusiasts). The result is somewhere between a footnote in my La Tour monograph and a full essay or article in my dictionary…in other words, a blog post…

The starting point for these ruminations was a document I’ve recently added to you can find the full transcription at 10 janvier 1784. It’s one of those expert reports commissioned by the Châtelet to settle the frequent disputes between disappointed clients and portraitists – in this case a pastel by Jean-Gabriel Montjoye, the pupil of La Tour responsible, as you may remember, for the famous “self-portrait” in Amiens that, until my revelation in 2019, took everyone in as autograph (and continues to be reproduced as such by those who should read my research). This post isn’t about Montjoye, nor La Tour (who was clearly senile by this stage, and a bizarre choice for a forensic judgment), but the second expert appointed by the court to countersign the report, described as “André Alexis Judelin peintre de l’accademie de Londres demeurant a Paris rue dauphine hotel de Mouy.” The procès-verbal tells us nothing more about him other than that the inspection took place at La Tour’s studio in the Louvre rather than in Judlin’s; and his signature gives a more accurate spelling of his name:

Judlin’s forenames are inserted into the notary’s document in a different hand in a space left for them, but are completely clear as André Alexis. Moreover they are the two forenames (not always both together) found in all documents below.

Judlin is well known as a miniaturist: you will easily find some of his works which have appeared on the art market, and his name appears in most art reference books – but with puzzling contradictions if all you want is to find his dates. There is a consensus that his origins were in Haut-Rhin, one of the two départements in Alsace (not Germany, although a good deal of German is spoken; baptismal records are in Latin). Both Guebwiller and Thann have been suggested as his birthplace: records for the former are not online, but although a great many Judlins were born in the 1740s in Thann (as for example Schidlof has), none has the right combination of forenames and parents’ names. Lemoine-Bouchard relies on Edouard Sitzmann’s 1909 biographical dictionary repeating (uncredited) the “discovery” published in the Intermédiaire des chercheurs et curieux, 25.iii.1881, of the record of the birth of an André-Melchior Koessler in Guebwiller in 7.i.1742 from the marriage of an André Koessler with a Jeanne Judlin; it was explained that the miniaturist later adopted his mother’s name of Judlin as a pseudonym. The ICC contributor noted that he was a cousin of général Schérer. Sitzmann added that he died in Thann in 1800, which Lemoine-Bouchard found was incorrect. Instead she found a rather brief burial record for an André Judlin in Thann in 1795 which she adopted by a process of elimination, believing that he had probably died unmarried. Unfortunately the name Judlin or Jüdlin (and that of Koessler in its many variants) was extremely common, and this suggestion simply doesn’t match known facts about the miniaturist. There are literally dozens of André Judlins, but Alexis is very rare. No document suggests that the miniaturist was called Melchior.

The most important clue to the genealogy is the names of the artist’s parent provided by the Fonds Andriveau index cards for the two marriages discussed below: these make it clear that André-Alexis Jüdlin was the son of another André-Alexis Jüdlin and Jeanne Koessler (contrary to Sitzmann’s belief that Judlin was his mother’s name). The second piece of firm (usually fairly reliable) evidence is the entry for his admission to the Royal Academy schools on 22.x.1773, “aged 27”, which points to a year of birth of 1746. How he got to London is unclear, but we know he was there at least a year previously, as on 15.viii.1772 he married “Lucy de Vignoles” (recte Barbe-Lucie Vignoles) in St Marylebone:

We’ll come back to that document later, in particular the name of her father. He appears again in the baptism of their first child, Frances Henrietta Sophia, born 2.v.1773 but not baptised until 25.xi.1773, at the Roman Catholic Sardinian Chapel of St Anselm & St Cecilia in Lincoln’s Inn Fields:

Meanwhile Judlin exhibited in the Royal Academy in London 1773–76, the catalogue entries listed as follows in Graves:

Note that not all the items were miniatures, but I suspect we can assume they were in oil rather than pastel (or else I’d have to pursue all the loose ends in this post).

He was evidently in Paris by the time these lines appeared in the Journal de Paris (


The same author also provided verses to go under a bust of the chevalier d’Éon (v. infra) by Mme Falconnet. Adrien-Michel-Hyacinthe Blin de Sainmore was co-founder, in 1780, of the Société philanthropique, with Savalette de Lange, head of the masonic lodge to which La Tour belonged around this time. It seems very plausible that Judlin and La Tour met through this masonic route.

Judlin’s arrival in Paris is also documented in the two cartes de sûreté that were issued to him during the revolution. These, incorrectly transcribed and indexed, have been located since the first version of this post. They were issued on 4.x.1792 and 16.viii.1793 respectively, to Alexis Judlin, peintre, living respectively in rue Dauphin and the rue de Thionville (the two addresses that also appear in the salons livrets. They both agree as to his age – 52 in 1792, 53 in 1793, so that he must have been born between 5.x.1739 and 16.viii.1740. However the first carte gives his place of birth as Strasbourg, the second as Colmar: doubtless the artist felt that a village such as Guebwiller or Thann would have been too small to mention, but Mulhouse might have been nearer than Colmar as a substitute. Colmar parish records are not online, but provisionally Haut-Rhin 1740 seems the best inference. As to his arrival in Paris, the transcription of the first card has “depuis 1774” while the second has “depuis 14”, i.e. 14 years previously, or 1779. The first transcription s probably erroneous.

A letter of 15.vii.1780 from him to Benjamin Franklin concerns the miniature of the diplomat he was commissioned to make, probably after Duplessis. A miniature of Louis XVI (sold at Sotheby’s in 1989) in a lilac coat, signed and dated 1784, bears an ambitious inscription around the case, suggesting an English market (if not a later addition): “Judlin Painter to the Queen of France took the outline of this Picture in 1784 while the King was ailling in the Queen’s apartment in Versailles.”

In 1785 he exhibited two miniatures at the Salon de la Correspondance, one a portrait, the other, also a tête de femme, but “dans le genre historique”, both “d’un beau faire, d’un coloris vigoureux, & d’un grand style de dessin.” When the official salons became open, he exhibited another miniature tête de femme in 1791, and in 1793 a case with five miniatures, one a portrait, the other topical allegories of “La Liberté”, “L’Egalité”, “La République”, “Les Droits de l’Homme”. No doubt the third of these is the miniature that you can find on a specialist’s blog:


So let’s pursue his biography a little further. Brief references such as the engraver Wille’s journals (noting Judlin’s hospitable dinners) add little of substance, but genealogical records offer concrete facts (usually).

The transcriptions (Fichier Laborde) of the records of Saint-André-des-Arts made before the 1871 conflagration of all Paris registres paroissiaux provide a number of interesting events (you have to search all spelling variants): the baptism on 9.ii.1780 of a son, born rue Dauphine, with parrain Alexis’s brother Joseph “demeurant ordinairement à Vienne en Autriche”; two years later, another son with Lucie’s sister Marie-Anne-Gabrielle as marraine; in 1786, another son, with parrain a former cavalry officer, Nicolas-Roland Fouquet Dulomboy. That is of some interest because only six months previously Dulomboy had married the comédienne Marie-Élisabeth Joly, and Judlin had acted as joint guarantor on her purchase of jewellery from François-Félix Boyer. One can only guess who was the parrain at the birth of Alexis Dulomboy, 3.xii.1785, just weeks after his parents are thought to have been married (although Fabre d’Eglantine, in a complaint about his former mistress, alleged that the marriage was irregular); the boy grew up to be a painter.

The following year, a fourth son, with parrain Jean-Baptiste Schérer, avocat en parlement and intendant du maréchal de Richelieu; however he was also the brother of the future général Schérer to whom Sitzmann told us the miniaturist was related. On 10.iv.1789, Lucie died and was buried in the presence of Judlin and Francois-Xavier and Jean-Baptiste Vogt, both secrétaires-interprètes, whose mother was an Elisabeth Judlin, doubtless a close relation.

On Judlin remarried; his second wife was Lucie’s sister Marie-Gabrielle de Vignoles. So it’s clear that Judlin was particularly closely connected with this family, and we must revert to the question I parked much earlier. The Vignoles girls’ father signed the St Marylebone register in 1772 as “John Joseph de Vignoles”: that is enough to set us on a lengthy line of enquiry which I shall leave others to complete.

Google will take you directly to dozens of mentions of this mysterious figure who was associated with the chevalier d’Éon. The essence of these accounts is that Jean-Joseph de Vignoles (1721-1780), apparently a Fleming of French extraction probably from Antwerp, had been a Prémontré monk but had been forced to leave his monastery after his girlfriend (I assume the Barbe Borlé recorded as the girls’ mother) became pregnant; they married in Holland where Vignoles became a merchant; in this he was unsuccessful and soon made bankrupt. He moved on to London where he put “Esq” after his name and dabbled in various matters from publishing to politics and spying.

His dubious reputation emerges from an account in British government papers which is too long to cite in full, but may be found here: his “character and manner of life in England, where he had subsisted for several years without visible means of support, rendered him very suspected.” Further enquiries revealed that “he was a man of letters and intrigue…likely that he acted as a spy for the Court of Vienna, that he corrected D’Eon’s works for the press, and that a very close intimacy subsisted between them.” But not it seems above spying on d’Éon himself. His name was also connected with Beaumarchais, whose international activities have appeared previously in this blog.

Vignoles was also a prominent freemason, the British Grand Master for Foreign Lodges: in 1766 he founded the Lodge of Immortality, held at the Crown & Anchor in the Strand in London. He was grandmaster, but the membership list reveals a mix of French-speaking gentlemen, merchants, surgeons and clockmakers (Francis Hobler and Justin Vulliamy) and numerous accounts (I don’t know whether freemasonry or transvestite espionage attracts the larger cult) suggest that it was Vignoles who initiated d’Éon into the cult. For further details, see William Wonnacott’s lengthy article on Vignoles published in 1921.

This material tells little about other members of the family, although it provides an explanation as to why Judlin’s brother Joseph might have lived in Vienna. This is reinforced by the entry in the register for the Bavarian Chapel (Roman Catholic) in Warwick Street on 6.ix.1766 where Lucy was godmother at the baptism of her sister Teresia; the godfather was Karl Graf Cobenzl, the Austrian minister in Brussels (see collectors):

Teresia de Vignoles

Another source suggests that the d’Éon connection continued after his return to Paris in 1777, as he is said to have contacted his dress-maker Rose Bertin on behalf of one of the Vignoles girls who wanted to follow her fashion.

In any case we have enough material to understand the significance of the V&A’s miniature of d’Éon (inv. P.31-1929) which Judlin made in 1776. Engraved on the case “Mademoiselle / la Chevaliere D’Eon / Painted from the Life / in London 1776 / by Monr. Judelin”, the V&A online catalogue nevertheless questions the identity of the sitter. Because it shows d’Éon in a conventional male uniform, it isn’t as well known as the Stewart copy of the lost Mosnier portrait that the NPG acquired some years ago, but it deserves to be a little better known. Even the rather poor photograph at the top of this post no longer appears on the V&A’s website, where the work is said to have been executed in France, no information is offered about Judlin and the sitter’s identity is questioned. For the record, d’Éon wears the uniform of a lieutenant in the régiment du Colonel-Général des dragons, to which he was commissioned on 22.vii.1758.

As we started this post with La Tour, I’d better deal with the annoying entry J.46.175 I’ve been forced to include in my La Tour catalogue, a record of a hypothetical portrait of d’Éon by La Tour. This is most unlikely to have any connection with Maurice-Quentin La Tour, but derives from the enigmatic legend on a Haward mezzotint of 1788 indicating that it was based on a copy by Angelika Kauffmann after La Tour. The lettering on the print adds that the portrait was made in d’Eon’s 25th year (although d’Éon was not awarded the Saint-Louis until 1762), and that it was in the collection of George Keate. However this information may be entirely spurious, as the Haward engraving appears to copy a 1779 print by Bradel. It is also possible there may be a confusion with the Flemish history and portrait painter Jan Latour. But that is a different rabbit.

Postscript, 9.viii.2021: Our original quest has now yielded the final answer, located in the Tables de successions (DQ8). Judlin did not return to Alsace, but remained in Paris, rue Dauphine. “Alexis Judelin” [sic], now a mere journalier, died on 1.xii.1808, aged 68, in the hospice Beaujon; of the heirs, there was “aucun renseignement”.

Judlin 1.xii.1808 archives_FRAD075AF_DQ8_00316_00086

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