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Lost & found: some absent-minded pastellists

28 February 2015

The pages of eighteenth century newspapers can occasionally yield unexpected nuggets, throwing a rather different light on the daily lives of artists than we find from studying only their works. If, that is, we can find those works…for who remembers “M. Lemembre, Peintre en miniature & au pastel”? Little did he realise that his entry into the Dictionary of pastellists would be based not on any evidence of artistic merit, but on the misfortune he describes in the Affiches de Bordeaux for 21 January 1779:

Lemembre AffichesBordeaux21i1779

Snuff-boxes of course were particularly subject to such loss. Because princes preferred to make gifts rather than use cash, they were often used (particularly when enhanced with jewelled settings) as diplomatic presents, and it was accepted practice for them to be converted back into money on presentation to the jeweller who had supplied them. (There is an excellent account of this almost incredible practice in Sir Francis Watson’s introduction to the Wrightsman collection, 1970.) Losing even an ordinary one was a tedious business, as Maurice-Quentin de La Tour would discover when, on 25 August 1763, crossing the King’s apartments at Versailles, he was robbed. The subsequent paperwork in the archives du Châtelet (Y 9689) must have irritated him as much as my encounter with Plod as previously recounted in this blog:

L’an mil sept cent soixante trois, le Samedy vingt sept aout en l’hotel et par devant nous Pierre Chenon, conseiller du Roi, commissaire au Chatelet de Paris, est comparu S. Maurice-Quentin Delatour, pensionnaire du Roi, conseiller de l’Academie royale de peinture, demeurant aux galeries du Louvre à Paris. Lequel nous a dit que jeudi dernier fête de St-Louis, sur les dix heures du matin en traversant les appartemens de Versailles, il lui a été volé dans la poche droitte de sa veste, une tabatiere de chasse en or ayant des Trophées, dont celui de dessus sont des attributs de la chasse, le dessous les attributs de l’amour, les deux cotés des attributs de musique et les deux bouts des rosettes de fleurs, lesdits attributs en or de couleur; de laquelle déclaration nous lui avons donné acte et a signé en notre minute.


Vu la déclaration, je requiers pour le Roy être informé des faits contenus, pour, l’Information faitte à moi communiquée, requérir ce que de raison, fait ce premier septembre 1763.


Soit fait ainsi qu’il est requis fait, ce deux Septembre 1763.


And so this was followed by (Châtelet, Y 9689) –

Information faitte par Mons. Pierre Chenon, Conseiller du Roy, commissaire au Chatelet de Paris, à la Requeste de Monsieur le Procureur du Roy, au sujet du vol fait au S. Delatour, suivant sa déclaration en datte du vingt sept aoust dernier.

En execution de l’ordonnance de M. le Lieutenant Criminel,
Du Mercredy vingt in septembre Mil sept cent soixante trois, dix heures du matin,
Sr Maurice-Quentin de La Tour, agé de cinquante neuf ans, pensionnaire du Roy, Conseiller de l’Académie Royale de painture, demeurant aux galeries du Louvre à Paris, assigné par exploit du jour d’hier dont il nous est apparu après serment par luy fait de dire vérité et qu’il a déclaré n’être parent, allié, serviteur, ny domestique des parties, lecture a luy faitte de sa declaration.

Dépose que le jour de la feste de St-Louis dernier, sur les dix heures du matin, en traversant les appartements de Versailles, il luy a eté volé dans la poche droite de sa veste une tabatiere de chasse en or ayant des Trophees dont celuy de dessus est des attributs de chasse et dessous des attributs de l’amour, les deux cotés des attributs de musique et les deux bouts des rosettes à fleurs, lesdits attributs sont en or de couleur qui est tout ce qu’il a dit savoir. Lecture a luy faitte de sa deposition a dit icelle contenir vérité, n’a requis taxe et a signé en nottre minutte.


Vu la Déclaration et l’Information, je requiers pour le Roy icelle être continuée. Fait le 23 septembre 1763.


Soit fait ainsi qu’il est requis, fait ce 27 septembre 1763.


I hope he took more care next time. Of course miniatures were equally easy to lose, as Samuel Cotes, who also worked in both pastel and miniature, found. Here is his plea in the Public Advertiser for 9 October 1769:

CotesS Public advertiser9x1769

It’s too late to collect your guinea, but do let me know if you recognise the object. Cotes had married the year before the advertisement; let us hope the infant was not Samuel’s own daughter, whose death was recorded in 1774 in the Town and Country Magazine:

Miss Cotes

Back in France, the great pastellist Jean-Baptiste Perronneau was known for his life as a “gyrovague”, travelling around provincial France and across Europe in search of business. One of the vignettes discovered in Vaillat & Ratouis de Limay’s 1923 monograph was an advertisement in the Affiches de Bordeaux for 9 April 1767 which we repeat as their transcription was not quite accurate:

Perronneau Etui Bordeaux1767An instrument set by Michael Butterfield would have been a deluxe object at the time (and an antique, as Butterfield himself died in 1724: but perhaps the misspelling suggests that a later set had been passed off as his). In any case, since abandoning engraving many years before, Perronneau had scarcely drawn a straight line, let alone needed a set square or compass. A misfortune nevertheless; but a pattern amounting to carelessness emerges with the same artist, this time in Orléans, as his notice in the Annonces, affiches, nouvelles et avis divers de l’Orléanois for 30 May 1766 indicates:

Perronneau annonce Orleanais 30v1766

Here I claim my guinea: the pastel described corresponds to that now found in the musée des Beaux-Arts at Orléans, representing the artist’s wife:

Perronneau L'aurore Orleans copy

As it is signed and dated 1767, the year after the advertisement, we cannot be sure if he recovered it and made some further changes (it was already “sous verre” when lost), or whether this was a repetition. But we do at least know the name, Le Réveil, that the artist himself gave to a work which has usually been called L’Aurore or Le Matin.


The daughter of Samuel Cotes who died in 1774 was Mary Elizabeth Eleanor, baptised 31 July 1770 (her mother died at the time of the birth). She may of course have had a sister who died earlier and would have been ignored in 1774.


From → Art history

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