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Vernezobre’s clients

La Tour VernezobreThe figure of Jean-Nicolas Vernezobre (1719–1789), peintre de l’Académie de Saint-Luc (reçu 1750), quai Pelletier, would be completely forgotten today if it weren’t for the striking (and much copied) portrait of him by Maurice-Quentin de La Tour in the musée Antoine-Lécuyer at Saint-Quentin (J.46.3054; right). It is almost certainly the pastel described in the 1806 will of the artist’s brother as “Un Arménien”, although for obvious reasons that was long confused with a portrait of Rousseau.

More recently a box of pastels supplied by Vernezobre surfaced – in a private collection, and was recently lent to the pastel exhibition at Lausanne which I discussed here. I had of course done quite a lot of research on Vernezobre, both as pastel-maker and as artist; and indeed Vernezobre’s first wife exhibited a pastel at the Salon de Saint-Luc in 1753. His brother too may have dabbled, while a cousin, Geneviève Vernezobre de Laurieux, “travaillait en peintre”, although not necessarily in pastel. There are detailed articles on Vernezobre and his wife in the Dictionary, which I don’t need to duplicate here. There is also a genealogy at Vernezobre.


There was evidently a connection with La Tour’s teacher Claude Dupouch, since the posthumous inventory of Dupouch’s mother (who also lived in the quai Pelletier) recorded a debt of 130 livres from Vernezobre’s father. And in 1760 Vernezobre was remarried, to the sister of the pastellist Jean-Baptiste Lefèvre. Lefèvre you may recall from my last blog post is the artist I think responsible for two striking (if not brilliant) pastels currently on show in the Louvre.

But it turns out that he played a role in connection with a fascinating document which I recently discovered in the Archives nationales. This is the posthumous inventory carried out in 1760, several years after the death of Vernezobre’s first wife. This provided a valuation of his stock, undertaken by Lefèvre and another pastellist, Claude Pougin de Saint-Aubin.

Pougin de St Aubin sig Mme Vernezobre inv 1760

There were 6534 “crayons en pastels a cinquante livres les cahier prisés entre les boites dans lesquels sont enrangées”, valued in total at 330 livres 14 sols. It also provided an invaluable list of two dozen debtors who owed relatively small amounts for crayons they had purchased (about half were already known as pastellists, and several others known hitherto only as artists in other media). A smaller number of creditors include marchands de couleurs. While it would have been nice to discover La Tour’s name among the customers, his absence doesn’t prove he didn’t use Vernezobre’s pastels – he might have settled his accounts promptly. And in the absence of the full accounts, we have little idea of turnover or profits from the business.

There follows my transcription of the relevant parts of the inventaire après décès de Mme Jean-Nicolas Vernezobre, née Françoise-Marguerite Desbois.[1] While all the debtors now have entries in the Dictionary, I have added notes only for those about whom we have independent information (consult the Dictionary to find it).

Les marchandises et ustensils servant en l’art de peinture prisés et estimés de l’avis de Sieur Claude Pougin de Saint-Aubin et Jean-Baptiste Lefèvre maîtres peintres à Paris…

Item six mille cinq cent trente quatre crayons en pastels a cinquante livres les cahier prisés entre les boites <dans lesquels sont enrangées> la somme de Trois cent trente livres quatorze sols.

Item un livre Intitulé, Relevé de ce qui m’est du de la vente des pastels tant bonne que douteuse, sommé enfin a ladt somme de quatre cent sept livres quinze sols, düe, Sçavoir–

par M. Ganger une livre cinq sols

par M. Garand[2] une livre

par M. DuRonceray[3] et plusieurs artistes, pour reste, quatre cingt onze livres onze sols six deniers

par  M. Lambert[4] aussi et plusieurs artistes, pour reste, sept livres sept sols

par M. Loir[5] aussi et plusieurs artistes, pour reste, six livres, dix neuf sols six deniers

par M. Huquier[6] douze livres

par M. Hermans neuf sols

par M. Boquet[7] une livre dix sols

par M. Lion[8] quatre livres seize sols

par Melle de Bery quinze livres

par M. Cherfils[9] quinze sols

par M. Lepeintre[10] neuf livres

par M. … ami de M. Aubry une livre seize sols

par M. Trenelle dix huit livres

par M. … de la connoissance de M. Cottin une livre

par Melle de Belgarde douze livres

par M. L’abbé de St Non[11] douze sols

par M. Allais[12] six huit livres

par M. David une livre

par M. Deschamps vingt quatre livres

par Melle Desgroux dix huit livres

par Melle Glachand un sol

par M. Naudin[13] douze livres

par M. de Bertherand Cent quarante deux livres

par M. Delaroche six livres

Et par Melle Ledoux une livre Treize sols

Ledt relevé Inventorée en une piece Unique            Neuf

Declare led. Sr Vernezobre qu’il est du aux du communauté et succession scavoir–

Et par M. Le President Renouard quarante huit livres pour restant d’ouvrages de peinture que led. Sr Vernezobre a faits pour lui…

Comme aussi declare led. Sr Vernezobre qu’il est du par les. Communauté et succession, scavoir–

Au Sr Solvet Md de couleur la somme de deux cent dix sept livres par billets dont quatre et trente livres chacun, …de vingt quatre livres aussi chacun etvu de vingt cinq livres

Au Sr Buldet Me Peintre Cinquante neuf livres huit sols six deniers par memoire arreté pour fourniture de verre blanc qu’il lui a faites

Au Sr Langlois[14] Md de couleur en six billets de vingt sept livres chacun, cent soixante deux livres

[1] AN mc/cxxii/711, 11.iii.1760.

[2] Jean-Baptiste Garand, miniaturiste et pastelliste (see Dictionary; in the following notes, q.v. means there is an artist article with additional information).

[3] The brother of Mme Favart, known hitherto only as a painter of two oil on copper portraits of his sister and brother-in-law.

[4] Possibly the pastellist Jean-Louis Lambert, but there are several other homonyms in the Dictionary.

[5] Alexis Loir (q.v.).

[6] Jacques-Gabriel Huquier (q.v.).

[7] Probably Louis-René Boquet (q.v.).

[8] Pierre-Joseph Lion (q.v.), just before his departure for Vienna.

[9] Jean Cherfils (q.v.).

[10] Charles Lepeintre (q.v.).

[11] Jean-Claude Richard, abbé de Saint-Non (q.v.).

[12] Jacques-Charles Allais (q.v.).

[13] Charles Naudin (q.v.).

[14] Jacques Langlois: v. Suppliers.


Pastels at the Louvre

cvrEveryone reading this will now know that the Louvre’s long-awaited pastel exhibition has just opened (until 10 September), and I thought some preliminary impressions might be helpful. I have not yet had an opportunity to study Xavier Salmon’s catalogue raisonné of the collection whose publication coincides with the exhibition, and which doubles as a catalogue. I have seen it, but will confine this post to observations about the exhibition only.

Anyone with the slightest interest must go to see the show. Most of the reviews that appear will inevitably focus on the great works in the exhibition, and tell us why La Tour and Perronneau are important. And rightly so – but all my readers know that already, or at least know that I think so. The music critic doesn’t have to take up space explaining why a Beethoven late quartet is important (perhaps a solo sonata would be a better analogy in this case), but launches straight into a discussion of the performance, not the piece. Which I shall do – after of course noting that a show which includes 20 pastels by La Tour and four or more by each of ten more artists (Vivien, Carriera, Lundberg, Chardin, Perronneau, Boze, Ducreux, Labille-Guiard, Vigée Le Brun and John Russell) cannot but be a triumphant success (which in those terms the exhibition certainly is). What could possibly go wrong?

Curatorial performance has many dimensions. First is getting people through the door. Standard practice is to arrange all sorts of enticements – inviting prominent specialists (or even sociétaires des Amis du Louvre) to attend a vernissage might be one, while failing to organise a scholarly colloquium to discuss findings seems rather more important (unless there is one to which I also haven’t been asked). Neither the title “En Société” (apparently an afterthought, with unfortunate resonances with the title of the recent Rijksmuseum show High Society) nor the bizarre graphic immediately outside the exhibition seem likely to draw in many passers-by or give any intimation of what delights await:


A story?

Far more important of course is the “hang”. Here there are again many aspects. First of all, what is the logic or narrative? This exhibition is hamstrung by its association with a book whose own structure and compass are curious. While beautifully produced, intellectually it is essentially an update of Geneviève Monnier’s catalogue from 1972: so we follow the division into seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with artists then ranged in alphabetical order. Of course that wouldn’t do here, so we start off with some chronological progression – Vivien, Carriera, La Tour etc. – but thereafter non-specialists are likely to get lost: confused by a wall which ends with Regnault, in an Empire frame, but dated 1765, while behind have been Hoin, Greuze etc.

This could easily have been dealt with by the most obvious of solutions: print the date (whether known or estimated) prominently on the labels (or cartels in French). But there are no dates systematically given on the cartels. This is inexplicable. Sometimes they are discovered within the text. Sometimes they are given, but are simply wrong. How in the world a cartel labelling two pastels by Vivien as his “morceaux de réception à l’Académie royale… le 28 juin 1698” got past checking I don’t know. There are other such howlers in the wall texts (further examples are discussed below): Louis Vigée, we are told, continued to use pastel after La Tour and Perronneau – although he died more than 15 years before either. None of this assists in communicating a coherent story to the public.

Another astonishing hole in the project is the complete absence of any explanation about pastel as a medium. There are no heuristic aids to tell visitors what pastel is, how it is made, how it differs from natural materials, or how drawing with coloured chalks evolved during the seventeenth century into painting in pastel. I would be personally sympathetic to this approach if I felt it marked the maturity of public interest in the medium, but I am surprised that a museum such as the Louvre felt it an appropriate level at which to present the subject. But even within its own terms the compass of the show, and that of the catalogue, share Mme Monnier’s definition of pastels as complete works, distinct from sheets with touches of pastel, as set out in the Avertissement on p. 31 of the catalogue – but then go on to confuse by including (but not exhibiting) sheets by Deshays and Natoire.[1]

Physical description

Instead of dates, however, the cartels focus in obsessive detail on certain matters of construction. We told for example that one is in

Pastel sur quatre feuilles de papier gris-bleu assemblées à joints couvrants marouflées sur une toile imprimée d’une couche de préparation de couleur rouge-brun tendue sur châssis

while another is

Pastel sur plus de treize feuilles de papier bleu raboutées à joints couvrants marouflées sur toile tendue sur châssis

This is information of interest to specialists, but not I think to the general public, and is far better restricted to the catalogue. Sizes would probably be of more interest, but are not given. It would also be helpful if the information were consistently presented, and matched with other scientific descriptions – there seems for example little agreement on whether paper is blue or grey compared with recent publications, or whether there are 13 or 12 sheets on a particular work. What is of significance (unless you merely wish to evidence the curator’s close inspection) is where the joins are, which pieces have been isolated, why and when (for example, are the heads done on separate sheets and pasted into larger works where working in situ would have been awkward?). None of this is presented, in the exhibition or catalogue, although maps showing the joins turned the current Getty show (Pastels in Pieces, to 29 July) into a far more interesting report. Another particular point is the references to “gouache” which are probably simply wet pastel (whether applied with the tip of the pastel moistened, or ground into dust, mixed with fluid and applied with a brush). Again many of the pastels that have this are not so described, while others are.


The opportunity has not been taken to explore the frames in similar detail. This is to be regretted, as many are original and of very great interest (I may write more about this later). Others are later Louvre frames of Empire style which are to be expected. But there have been a number of less satisfactory recent additions. I don’t know why the Bartolozzi is in a Kent frame, a style that went out of fashion in England when Russell was born (perhaps this is less obvious to a French audience). A particularly unfortunate intervention is with the Perronneau Mlle Huquier, which formerly had an elaborate spandrel with curved corners which neatly concealed the tear in the lower left corner. That has now been removed and replaced by a bright straight-edged slip which serves only to reveal that the frame never fitted. This is a case for reframing completely if we want to see the whole pastel and enjoy it as Perronneau originally intended (many of his original frames were very modest and were widely changed c.1900 for more prestigious ones).


What would also be of great interest is to have comments on the condition and losses which these works have endured. While the catalogue goes into meticulous detail on recent interventions, it rarely provides explanations as to why we have misread images (the nun’s nose is perhaps an example, J.46.2183). There is nothing in the exhibition, and little on a first glance at the catalogue, which reveals scientific examination of these works – none of the spectroscopy or other scientific analysis which the Rijksmuseum for example have applied to their pastel collection and which might allow us to detect the presence of fixatives or later interventions with anachronistic pigments.

The catalogue also informs us that 11 restorers have worked on the collection for six years, which perhaps explains the obsession with descriptions of the physical construction. Of course we all want to see these works preserved to the highest standard, but this is a surprising amount of intervention not all of which I think it fair to say has been equally successful, but this isn’t the right place for a detailed discussion.

But one intervention in particular raised my eyebrow. The debate about what to do with old glass has been raging for years (you can find more about glazing pastels in my Prolegomena, §§ IV.15 and V.9): it is more fragile than modern replacements (and so too risky to travel) but its appearance is prized by connoisseurs. For reasons that escape me for a collection that is not supposed to travel, there has been a fairly systematic campaign not of removing the old glass, but of putting a second sheet of Mirogard behind it. While Mirogard is definitely preferable to acrylic alternatives (Optium is particularly popular, but has many drawbacks), the double glazing solution seems as dubious as the wares normally sold under that name. The idea misses the point of what connoisseurs value – the integrity of the original object, the assembly itself being part of the work of art. It is indeed a curious interpretation of the ICON duty to “conserve cultural heritage [as] reliable evidence of the past.” Whatever the theory (or deontology as the French might put it), there are practical objections. The installation may require deepening the rebate, and will certainly result in a considerable increase in overall weight, putting unnecessary strain on the frames and increasing vulnerability to shock. But the most obvious point that this exhibition makes plain (particularly because of the positioning of many of the works) is that the assembly results in bizarre double reflections from the lighting equipment. Mirogard’s principal fault is that it reflects white light as green. With the double sheeting you see each spot reflected as two, slightly separated ghost images, one white, the other green. It’s a weird effect, and once noted very disturbing. It shatters any illusion of being in the dix-huitième.

Lighting and hang

Readers of this blog will know that I am not a great fan of directional rather than ambient lighting for pastels: raking light can cruelly expose any conservation problems (including after restoration). Here we must praise the fact that the colour temperature has been kept down (avoiding the harsh colour distortions resulting from some equipment), but the lighting and the points made above on reflections and raking light take me to what I think is one of the most serious criticisms of the hang. The exhibition includes 115 pastels (not the 120 promised – see below) plus four drawings. Of these, twenty-four have been skied – hung as a second row, at a level at which only someone as tall as the curator could see them.

This was an extraordinary decision. Nor were the works concerned confined to the weaker examples: they include three of the very finest pastels in the show, La Tour’s Maurice de Saxe, Perronneau’s “Bastard” and one of the Chardin self-portraits. They are the ones that suffer most from the raking light and reflection problems. Even dirty glass (e.g. greasy streaks on La Tour’s Lemoyne) is painfully evident under these conditions (a good many of the pastels evidently recently bore sticky labels, approximately 1×5 cm, in the top left corner of the glass, the residue of which has not been cleaned properly). But housekeeping aside, it is a real shame that pastels of this quality that have not been visible for years (and presumably won’t again for another generation) should be exposed where they cannot be seen.

Double rows in displays are not unheard of. In many ways this show sites itself intellectually with the great exhibitions of the past, the famous Cent pastels of 1908 or that of 1927, and it is true that the latter had a wall of Perronneaus in two ranks. But compare these hangs for elegance and symmetry:

Display2018Perronneau paneau 1927

The current hang is dense, crowded and simply untidy. What a pity.

Wall colour

But nothing to the second and gravest issue with the presentation: the choice of wall colour. The second part of the show has a sort of crushed raspberry hue: it’s not unfamiliar in the Louvre, but I can’t say I like it much. M. Salmon’s previous choices, such as the crimson for his Versailles show, were far better. But it is the colour for the first rooms, and the final one, which I find the most baffling. Images on social media do not capture it well: cameras find it hard to locate the precise hue somewhere between light sage and mustard. I don’t know if this is the colour Germain Bazin called “vomis d’ivrogne”, but that is a more precise description than any I can muster without feeling queasy.

This isn’t just a matter of design. What colour you paint the walls can have a transformational effect on the pictures you put against them, particularly when, as with pastels, their whole effect depends on colour. Balance, harmonies and the very essence of a picture can be destroyed. Those of you who recall the great Chardin exhibition at the Grand Palais in 1999 will remember just how magically these great self-portraits came to life: here they lie struggling for breath. If Oscar Wilde and his wallpaper were fighting a duel to the death, this greenery-yallery would surely have hastened his demise.

The cartels

For many visitors who do not have the catalogue to hand, or cannot afford it, the cartels are the opportunity to tell the story, choosing something that will draw people’s attention to the significance of what they should find when they look at the work. Many of the cartels are banal and unhelpful. Others are hardly original. On Valade, all they can think of saying is:

Valade fut avec La Tour et Perronneau l’artiste qui, entre 1751 et 1769, exposa au Salon le plus grand nombre de portraits peints au pastel.

This comes straight from Ratous de Limay (1946), p. 81:

Valade fut, avec La Tour et Perronneau, l’un des académiciens qui, entre 1751 et 1769, exposèrent le plus de portraits au pastel aux Salons du Louvre.

Some errors

I should perhaps highlight a number of mistakes in the cartels in the hope that they can be changed. They should have been reviewed by someone familiar with the subject. Apart from those noted above, there are some issues with names, foremost among which is the reference to “Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin”, a well-known chestnut. Pierre Rosenberg sorted this out in 1979, but a quick reference to the online Dictionary of pastellists will remind you that Chardin’s names were simply Jean Siméon. The erroneous Jean Baptiste Siméon arises from an error in his inventaire après décès (18.xii.1779, AN mc/rs//921), but was the subject of a notarial deed of rectification (4.iii.1780, AN mc/lvi/248). If M. Salmon has found evidence that overturns this, he should publish it. There are other problems with names (I won’t dwell on the examples, which include Lenoir and Coypel, proving my contention that the hyphenation convention for forenames adopted by M. Salmon always results in inconsistency). Séguier has an acute. L’Effroi needs a capital E if the title is to be meaningful. Some of the foreign names are given in French, others not, some sort of. (For Fredrik I, born von Hessen-Kassel, you could try German, Swedish or French, but adopting the English Frederick seems odd.)

Nor are dates any more successful. M. Salmon has adopted my specific identification of the Rozeville couple (I am pleased to see how much of my work he has drawn on throughout the catalogue), but has decided to assign them new dates. But a few seconds on the Archives nationales website would show him that Marie-Angélique did indeed die in 1762, not 1787 (perhaps if he had explored the genealogy further he would have realised that her daughter-in-law was also a Colignon). Similarly it would not take long to discover that Couturier de Flotte died in 1780 (in Paris on 9 February), not as stated (an error drawn from secondary sources). (Incidentally the inventory number is RF 1697, not RF 1967.) Again a proper examination of this family would have revealed that his daughter Marthe-Lydie-Olympe Couturier de Flotte (1768–1836) married, in 1788, Jean-Pierre Dussumier (1761–1802), so the Louvre donor was far more likely to be from the Dussumier de Fonbrune family than the (as far as I am aware unrelated) Poussou de Fontbrune family. Perhaps as much attention should have been given to the provenance of this collection as to the conservation details. An analytical index of collectors would be interesting, but there is none here, as there was none in Monnier (readers can always resort to my index of collectors).

Rosalba JF avec singe Louvre 4798Another disappointment concerns the Rosalba little girl with a monkey, the future marquise d’Havrincourt, née Antoinette-Barbonne-Thérèse Languet de Gergy. It would be useful for the cartel to tell us that this is the “ritratto della figlia dell’Ambasciator di Francia” recorded in the artist’s diary on 13 May 1725. (My annotated transcription of Rosalba’s diaries is here.) But as she appears to be about 8, not 2, M. Salmon cannot do that as he is under the widespread impression (floating round on the internet) that she was born in 1723. But in fact, as I explained in a previous post on this blog, she was actually born in Regensburg on 6 June 1717.

Another surprising comment is on the Le Brun pastel of Louis XIV which, we are told with confidence, is the model for the frontispice for Colbert fils’s thesis, which Véronique Meyer, the great specialist in these matters, has specifically challenged in her definitive study, Pour la plus grande gloire du roi: Louis XIV en thèses (Rennes, 2017, p. 189). Even if M. Salmon wants to sustain his view, it seems odd to flatly state it without discussion.

The Louvre’s collection

What then of the Louvre’s collection viewed outside the context of the presentation in this show? Readers will know from my earlier blog that the Louvre has not always had the most enlightened acquisition policy. Let’s turn to the numbers in that context.

As mentioned above, there are 115 pastels in the exhibition. The no-shows appear to be among the recuperated works which the museum holds on trust for the victims indefinitely. Two of these (by Perronneau) have recently been handsomely installed in the newly opened cabinet de pastels in Orléans, and it is unsurprising that they have not come (although cartels were prepared assuming they would):

Orleans MNR

Photo mBA Orleans, social media

Among the other disappointments are the Labille-Guiard of Catherine-Flore Pajou and the disputed M. d’Albespierre. But the cartels for the MNR pieces are bizarre: the information is appropriate for a catalogue, but these look like legal documents, with “comme de” heading even when they are thought wrong. For example we cannot tell from the cartel whether M. Salmon does or does not agree with the attribution to La Tour of Carlin (REC 8; my J.9.1147).[2]


Restitution would be better served by explaining these works rather than setting out legal arguments which are of course freely available online. And perhaps they could have been integrated into the main hang.

Of the 115 some 75 come from just 11 artists. But almost all of the works are French – hardly surprising, and entirely justifiable in terms of the dominance of France in the eighteenth century. Of course, although billed as pastels of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, this is essentially an eighteenth century show: the Vivien group at the beginning are all close to 1700, and there are really only three purely seventeenth century works in the exhibition. The final three, by Prud’hon, all have a definite dix-neuvième aesthetic and look completely out of place in the show. Whether they are actually made after 1800 cannot be determined from the cartels as no dates are given. Prud’hon appears in the Dictionary of pastellists before 1800 because most of his pastels were made in the eighteenth century, and all of them are there presented together.

What is more remarkable is the nationality. Accepting Lundberg (in Paris for 37 years) and (more hesitantly) Carriera as effectively French, practically all the works are French school apart from the group of four Russells. M. Salmon is aware of this point, and hopes to rectify it by future acquisitions, “for example, of Cornelis Troost, Anton Raphaël Mengs or Hugh Douglas Hamilton”. Indeed. One might add Vaillant, Ashfield, Hoare, Cotes, Copley, Luti (why wasn’t his self-portrait shown?), Fratellini, Tiepolo, Rotari, Schröder and Roslin. So despite the certain victory in the exhibition stakes for a show with 20 La Tours, one has to concede that the Met’s 2011 show had a better balance in terms of giving an overview of pastel as a European phenomenon. In fact there might have been an argument for omitting the Russells and making this the definitive study of French pastel in the eighteenth century.

Except that is isn’t. There’s another gap right at the heart of this project, and while it would have been far easier to plug it is much less conspicuous and easily overlooked. This is that the story of pastel in France in the eighteenth century is far deeper than just the top names. While other countries had talented individuals (some of the names above), France had a system which led to a great many pastellists capable of producing wonderful examples. Few of them are household names, but the single example of the recently acquired Lenoir pastel makes this point clearly. To it one could have added (even on a very limited budget) examples of gorgeous work by Hubert Drouais, Glain, Lion, Pougin de Saint-Aubin, Davesne, Saint-Michel, Hall, Capet, Mme Gault de Saint-Germain, Berjon etc., not to mention better and more typical examples by Allais, Bernard, Hoin, etc. (Of course many of these artists are uneven, and most of their work is not of Louvre quality; but the examples that are should be embraced and promoted.) And although the Louvre is already rich in works by Vivien, all are in the vein of his official portraits: several recent examples, most notably the abbé Lalouette (J.77.248, now in Stockholm) which I discovered recently, would have provided a glimpse of the other side of his talent.

Instead these are the only pastels in the show that have been purchased since Monnier (a Ducreux autoportrait was received by legacy in 1985):

  • Liotard, Mme Tronchin 1982
  • Perronneau, Tassin 1985
  • Greuze, L’Effroi 1986
  • Hoin, Tete 1987
  • La Tour, auto à l’index, 2005
  • Vigée Le Brun, Jules de Polignac 2007
  • La Tour, préparation dite de Mme de Pompadour 2008
  • Russell, Bartolozzi 2008
  • Lenoir, Lekain 2013
  • La Tour, Mlle de La Fontaine Solare 2014
  • Vigée Le Brun, duc d’Orléans & Mme de Montesson 2014

The message (with the exception of the Lenoir, itself not a typical work) is more of the same rather than a conscious attempt to rebalance. The most recent examples, the two Vigée Le Brun pastels which I first discovered in 2013 and which I first published (although M. Salmon does not consider this worth reporting in his bibliography), are rather weak repetitions and arguably not really of Louvre quality (this was evident in the Vigée Le Brun exhibition in 2015, where the better version of the duc made the point, and again today where each of the four Labille-Guiards comprehensively trumped the Vigée Le Bruns.)

I cannot pass over in silence one of the ironies in the hang, where the Louvre’s sole Liotard is placed between Valade and – yes – Perronneau. Was this a subtle allusion to the very French view of Liotard of one of M. Salmon’s precedessors, that “Ses pastels, tant vantés par ses contemporains et ses compatriotes, n’égalent pas le moindre ouvrage d’un élève de Perronneau”? (You can of course find the reference in the Liotard article in The opportunity to discuss this is not however taken.


Since the Louvre collections have been the subject of vast research it is hardly surprising that there are relatively few problems of attribution for the works in the show. I will mention only a few here. Of course like everything else in this blog I offer a personal opinion only.

Inv. 24780 & 24781 /J.173.873 & J.173.874. Le petit dénicheur & La petite oiselière: I am surprised that the pastels Monnier catalogued as copies of Boucher have now been elevated to “attributed to” him.

RF 29662 & 29661/ J.47.1124 & J.47.1125. The Rozeville couple (mentioned above) are here attributed to Frey on the basis of a vague compositional similarity to the Jacquemart-André pastel by him which M. Salmon admits is in a poor state of repair (while astonishingly considering that the Louvre pastel “a conservé toute sa fleur”). But comparing the face of the Louvre pastel with one of another Frey in better condition (J.329.133, identified by Laurent Hugues, left; Mme de Rozeville is right) shows why the technique is completely different from Frey’s whatever the compositional similarity:

Salmon dismisses my proposed attribution to Lefèvre on the basis that his work is less “psychological”. Judge for yourselves whether there is (as I suggest) a similarity of facial expression (both the Louvre pastels share rather bovine, dim demeanours), of composition and of technique with the pastel by Lefèvre signed and dated 1743 (J.47.12, right; M. de Rozeville is left):

M. Salmon also provides no account of the social situation of these clients. Frey worked for the court; Lefèvre for a Parisian clientele, including people just like M. de Rozeville, who was an avocat au parlement de Paris.

RF 4241/J.103.126. M. Salmon has previously published the pastel of Nicole Ricard as by Lenoir, several times. I’m glad he’s retreated to École française, noting merely similarity with the Boston pastel by Lenoir (who in fact has a completely different technique – as you can now see for yourself as the pastel hangs immediately opposite the Louvre’s new Lenoir). My attribution to Allais in 2012 remains I believe far more plausible. M. Salmon rejects this on the basis that Allais’s technique is more graphic, less modelled. But those are precisely the reasons for my attribution, together with the characteristic treatment of the hair and the use of black chalk in the passementerie, as is evident to some degree from the other pastel by Allais[3] in the exhibition, but perhaps more clearly in this example signed and dated 1741 (J.103.221):


Much as we owe to the Louvre and to the many people involved in so large a project for the opportunity to see these wonderful treasures, I think it will be clear that I should have favoured a more accessible and collaborative approach in presenting it to the public. You must of course see it for yourselves.


[1] The Avertissement goes on to justify the exclusion of almost all reference to my website Pastels & pastellists ( on the basis that M. Salmon’s bibliographies do not cite dictionaries – despite the fact that he does cite, for example, Audin & Vial’s Dictionnaire…, and has extensive reference to Ratouis de Limay’s Le Pastel en France, 1946, which is nothing other than a dictionary with a few of the longer articles placed in the front of the book. Everything in that book will be found included or corrected in my “dictionary”, which has 15,000 reproductions in place of Ratouis de Limay’s 100 – and a great deal of information about the artists whose work M. Salmon catalogues which I suggest might well be of interest to his readers.

[2] In the catalogue M. Salmon makes it clear he does not think it can be by La Tour. He is right; neither do I. I list it among French school. Because it was originally referred to as by La Tour, I have a brief cross reference in the La Tour chapter to the entry under J.9.1147. M. Salmon does not cite the real entry, but does cite my La Tour chapter where the cross reference is placed. Anyone reading this page of his book would conclude that I think the work is by La Tour, and that M. Salmon is correcting me when in fact he is following me.

[3] REC 9/ J.103.186. I first reattributed this work to Allais, which had traditionally been attributed to Heinsius. I inserted a cross-reference from Heinsius to Allais in the Heinsius article. Bafflingly M. Salmon cites the cross reference but not the entry in the Allais article, making it appear that I retain the Heinsius attribution.

Antoine Levert, maître menuisier-ébéniste

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LevertV enfants tutelles 1780i

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

LevertHonoreAntoine mariafe DijonND16ix1734

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

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

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

Levert sigs 1780 1734

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

Levert renonciation 1785

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

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

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

Levert cadre rect Par15x2015 L157

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

Levert Cadre ducreux fill

and Mosnier:

Levert Cadre Mosnier

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

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

Perin JF hst Cadre Levert

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

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

An. ms de Corberon Bruges29iii2018 L497

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

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

ar Leprince Astronome Vendome20ii2017 L67 fr

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

An. D cadre Levert o

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

Greuze Saint-Paul rijksmuseum

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

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

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

Pastels in Lausanne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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



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

Michel cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technical note to publisher

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

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


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

Prenoms c

Nattier’s portraits of M. et Mme Royer

Nattier M. Royer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Carmontelle Filles Royer Carnavalet

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

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

Royer L Ch deces2

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

Clement Beliard 1736edf

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

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

Nattier famille

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Sources and acknowledgments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vleughels comp

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Rosalba D au chapeau

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Identifying Russell’s other child with cherries


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

Nutter ar Russell Mrs Jeans

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

Kotzebue Pizarro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BS will

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

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

SpringerB Mary Short 1765

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

SpringerMary dau of Benjamin 1766

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

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

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

JeansT Mary Springer 1786

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

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

Postscript (20.xii.2017)

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Identifying Russell’s petite fille aux cerises

Russell frame Vikery

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

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

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

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

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

VickeryAD death

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

VickeryAD marriage

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

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

Vickery Joseph Paice mariage 1813

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

VickeryAlfred Dehany birth Somerset 1819

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Jones Hall ( –1814)

Catherine Jones Hall ∞ 1829 George Bowles

Sarah (1755– )

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

Eliza Ann (1789–1831)

Dehany (1759–1822sa)

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

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

WestB Mary Hall as Una 1771 Wadsworth Atheneum

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


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

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

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

Postscript – 7 December

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

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