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Encounters with Perronneau: Archival and other minutiae

24 June 2017

This is the talk I gave yesterday at the Colloque international Jean-Baptiste Perronneau, un artiste de son temps? in the musée des Beaux-Arts d’Orléans, 22-23 juin 2017 to accompany the fascinating Perronneau exhibition now running.  Readers of this blog will recognise a number of the episodes from previous posts (to which I refer you for longer explanations), and the Chronological table of documents, explained below, has numerous footnotes with references to the research behind the statements in the talk.


slide 1 – My theme this morning is the man behind the artist. How much do we really know about Perronneau? Unlike Liotard, he sported no beard; unlike La Tour, he was neither senile, demented nor insolent to royalty. We don’t have his palette or his box of pastels, nor have the studios he worked in survived. So I shall explore Perronneau’s largely invisible personality using archival documents that have surfaced since the appearance of Dominique d’Arnoult’s magnificent book – although I am delighted to see that a few of my discoveries have already found their way into the exhibition catalogue. The physicality of the original documents, with all their alterations and ambiguities, brings us about as close as we can hope to get to the man. Of course I’m fully aware of the dangers of reading too much into such things, but this prosopographic investigation shows that even in Perronneau’s everyday life he inhabited a world of the arts. We shall see too that his famously wide travels were actually confined narrowly within a network of francophone expatriates. And I will argue that we can locate some of the patterns of his behaviour within his own family.


slide 2 – You can find much of what I shall say on the online Dictionary of pastellists, where in addition to the articles on Perronneau and the catalogue of his pastels, there is also a chronological table of documents including full transcriptions of those I shall discuss today. I’ve published most of these recent discoveries in formal essays easily accessible from the Pastellists website (there’s a tab marked Essays on the left), but I also often announce them as soon as possible with informal posts on my WordPress blog, which you can also find from a link on the left. I mention this because I don’t have enough time to give you anything more than a summary of a dozen different topics you can find discussed fully there – with footnotes to answer all your questions.


slide 3 – Here’s an old blog post. I start with it because it perfectly illustrates something that has always puzzled me: Perronneau’s representations of women and the troubling uncertainties about their age. Pierre Rosenberg asked that question in his delightful Dictionnaire amoureuse du Louvre, where he gives her this title from another well-known lady of uncertain years.


slide 4 – Maybe Perronneau’s vagueness is deliberate: transforming portraiture into poetry: “the embodiment of the old fancy of a perpetual life”, to quote Walter Pater. If you didn’t know, you might be tempted to guess as others did that she was around 50 years old in this portrait. So here, in all its mundanity, is her baptismal entry:


slide 5 – To answer Pierre Rosenberg, by the time of the Salon she was in fact nearly 60. Remember that for art historians only the chronology (in real time, starting with the artist’s birth) matters in understanding an artist; but for portrait specialists, the aetatis, the year of the sitter’s age, is equally important. It matters because with most good portraitists, age provides useful evidence both in chronology and in confirming or rejecting possible identifications.


slide 6 – But is it obvious that one of these girls is more than twice the age of the other? D’Arnoult has the one on the left as 14; but here is her baptismal entry for September 1762, so she is actually 9 or 10. Someone writing on the back misread the date as 1777 and so deduced that she was aged 14, and then d’Arnoult read the date correctly and subtracted 14 from it to get a year of birth of c.1758. We just can’t tell from the face.


slide 7 – I struggle personally to see a woman of only 32 in this splendid painting of a lady given a new identity in d’Arnoult but who for me remains an inconnue.


slide 8 – On the other hand, for the reasons I set out in a recent article, I think the ages reinforce d’Arnoult’s tentative identification of the 1748 portrait of “M. Ollivier” as of Philibert Chanousse-Ollivier of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne. With men the artist’s ages are much sharper. These splendid pastels may be the works by Perronneau sold for the highest ever (but undisclosed) price. Recent studies of the Garde-Meuble pass over Ollivier without giving any idea of his dates or the name of his wife, but I’ve located the parish records for his birth, marriage and death. These show that he is 48 and his wife, Anne Bayoly, was 43. He came from Marseille, so the reappearance in Marseille of these works in the mid-19th century (they were not incidentally in the 1863 loan exhibition) offers further support for the identification. At the time of the salon Ollivier was a commis de l’Extraordinaire des guerres, and not yet garde-général des Meubles de la couronne, a position where connoisseurship was vital: showing these dazzling pendant portraits at the salon was a typical step in his social progression.


slide 9 – He was of course never the Intendant, a position that belonged to the Fontanieu dynasty: the difference is important, because the Intendant is an office, while the garde général is a commission – hence the paucity of information on him. Note the close parallels between the Perronneau and this posthumous portrait (on the right) of Fontanieu, who was a great connoisseur. Details such as the eyebrows are quite specific – enough to make you think the later artist had the Perronneau in front of him. There is also a general resemblance with Jean-Baptiste Van Loo’s 1732 portrait (on the left) of the marquis de Ricard, who was the principal witness at Ollivier’s wedding. Ollivier probably had a copy of Coussin’s print (in reverse), and may even have shown it to Perronneau.


slide 10 – But to revert: as a general rule I find Perronneau’s female portraits less convincing than his men. Not only are his women more difficult to age, but they are intentionally vaguer and less concrete, and perhaps sometimes unintentionally awkward and ill at ease. So I want to see if anything in his background might explain this distance between the artist and his female sitters.


slide 11 – Let’s start with the relationships between the men and women in Perronneau’s own family. The bars show the duration of their lives, and compare them with a family you know well. There is something distinctly odd here. One of Perronneau’s uncles was a witness at the marriages of both Perronneau’s grandmother and of his mother. Perronneau himself was born 100 years after his grandfather – about five years after Louis XV, although another of Perronneau’s uncles was born just five years after Louis XIV, who, as everyone knows, was the great-grandfather of Louis XV: a difference of one to three generations.

In the royal family the men and women were equally young when they married (which is why I didn’t need to include the females). As with many aristocratic matches there were dynastic considerations. But there was no such justification for the startling age gaps in the Perronneau family. When the artist married in 1754, his bride was just 13. He was three times her age, and five years older than her own father. Their first child was born when Louise was 15.


slide 12 – Incidentally Mme Perronneau’s correct forenames were Charles-Louise, even though she is always called Louise-Charlotte, as you can see from the careful amendments all the way through her marriage contract, each initialed by both of her parents. No doubt her grandfather was her parrain. (This is the official copy from the Minutier central, not the engrossment shown in the exhibition; it’s far more interesting because of its alterations.) So it’s not just women’s ages but their names that are vague in Perronneau’s world.


slide 13 – Another document I first transcribed is this copy of Perronneau’s parents’ marriage which in fact took place in 1708 – far earlier than thought hitherto – when his mother, Marie-Geneviève Frémont, was just 12. Her husband was her senior by 21 years.


slide 14 – The same age differential seems to have applied in the previous generation. In 1667 the artist’s grandfather married for a second time. The marriage required papal dispensation for “affinité spirituelle”, which is normally required when a parrain marries his filleule. That in itself would have been helpful to my theory; although in fact I think this must be the baptismal entry for his new bride, Julienne Maunoury:


slide 15 – The rules on affinité were sometimes cast more widely. Élie was not her parrain; but he was Julienne’s senior by 20 years. And she was 5 months’ pregnant.

Incidentally one of the witnesses at the wedding was Sébastien Motheron, who the document reveals was Élie’s cousin. So Perronneau was related to the Motheron family of haute lice tapissiers who were active in Tours from the middle of the sixteenth century.


slide 16 – The Motherons, if not noble, were certainly notables, and were landed (they were “sieurs de Cosson”). So, contrary to the traditional picture of the artist dragging his family out of nowhere, this was a family that had sunk before it rose again. Sébastien’s brother was apprenticed to Louis Beaubrun, peintre de la reine: evidence if you want it that artistic talent ran in the blood.


slide 17 – I can’t resist another aside, this time about La Tour: only last year I finally identified his maternal grandfather, who it turns out was also a tapissier – something to reflect upon next time you sit at the feet of Mme de Pompadour or the président de Rieux. So the two greatest pastellists were both grandsons of this industry. But Perronneau never drew a foot in pastel.

It is thought that Perronneau had only one sister and one brother. But is that right?


slide 18 – Here’s a copy of his brother’s baptismal entry – another recent discovery which has also popped into the exhibition catalogue. The artist was his parrain, but surely the marraine, named just “Anne-Charlotte fille”, must have been another sister. Should we assume she died young? Maybe not: in 1765 Perronneau exhibited an oil of “Mademoiselle Perronneau” who cannot have been the artist’s sister Geneviève since she had already married. D’Arnoult infers must have been his wife, Mme Perronneau. But evidently a process of elimination is unsafe here: “Mlle Perronneau” might simply be another sister.


slide 19 – Brother Henry’s exact date of birth was of course within the range d’Arnoult assumed, so this discovery adds little to her analysis of the Hermitage portrait. But there are still chronological tensions between his age and the 1746 exhibition date. In 2014 d’Arnoult seemed to agree that he looked more like 12 than 16, which would place the portrait as early as 1742 rather than the c.1745 she gives. I will pass over in silence the little painting included in the exhibition, other than to say that it doesn’t assist.

I want now to turn to the artist’s curious relationship with money. The traditional picture of Perronneau was that he was driven out of Paris by the more successful La Tour, forced to eke out the meagre existence of a peripatetic pastellist – or even (as one recent article put it) as “dying in penury”. This myth was convincingly dispelled by d’Arnoult’s analysis of the fortune left in the artist’s estate: it was, in Daniel Roche’s phrase, “parmi les bons niveaux de la richesse parisienne”. But we need to ask how he spent that money.


slide 20 – By the time of his wedding in 1754, he had been at the top of his profession for eight years and it’s hard to believe he did not have quite significant means – even though he declined to enumerate his assets in his marriage contract, as we can see from this explicit alteration which escapes the copie nette.


slide 21 – Now I want to turn to his brother’s letter, written in November 1753. I won’t read it in full – I published the transcription in my chronological table, and I’m delighted to see it’s now found its way into the exhibition catalogue. Despite its highly personal contents, the letter is attached to the formal bundle of documents in the rectification d’erreurs file. It starts with a lengthy explanation of why Henry is writing to his brother. Put simply, there is a mismatch between his mother’s maiden name in his birth certificate (“frémont”) and the one that went onto the lettres de tonsure granted in 1748 (“fromont”), and this means that he can’t obtain the further degrees of the priesthood.

I won’t go through these first two pages. Why didn’t he simply drop in for a chat? Instead he takes an astonishingly subservient tone with his brother, and clearly regards him more as a Roman paterfamilias than as an equal. He longs to be released from his brother’s charge (there’s another 18 months left before he attains majority). The letter is also absurdly repetitive. Henry’s difficulty in explaining the problem succinctly suggests that he may not have been particularly bright: indeed he himself doesn’t know his own mother’s name.


slide 22 – The Jeune écolier tenant un livre ironically seems to have found himself in the collision between the semi-literate world of the tourangeau perruquier and the domain of clerks whose linguistic prowess was of a different order. But I don’t think this makes him an “unreliable witness”, once you adjust for some exaggeration.


slide 23 – Next he asks his brother for nine metres of coarse woollen fabric against the winter. There’s a real sense of hardship here. Then he asks his brother for a recommendation to someone of distinction like the comte de Caylus. We knew already that Perronneau had come across the famous connoisseur, but this is evidence of a deeper connection. Now comes the hardest part of the letter:

ce qui met le comble à mes maux : je vous dire que ma mère est dans la plus extrème pauvreté ; elle n’a pas de bas à ses pieds ; elle s’est défait de tout. Je ne crois pas qu’on puisse être plus malheureuse. …  ses voisins me l’on dit comment elle parle sans cesse de vous, elle sévit :  « que vais-je devenir ? mon fils ou est mort ou m’a abbandonné le jour…

Note the key word here: sévit, which I got wrong in my first transcription. It’s crossed out, then repeated. She rages; she is enraged. Then the direct appeal to Perronneau: “How can I awake in you the sentiments of nature?” He tells his brother to get their mother to come to Paris to join a religious community, or else she will be found dead in her room. Finally, that Perronneau owes it to God to ensure that she has a better death than their father – who had indeed died in the Hôtel-Dieu at Tours.

This is extraordinary stuff, however you look at it. What did Perronneau do? He didn’t bother to trouble his important friends. He rounded up just two witnesses: a local cobbler, and an obscure young painter. Henry got the four orders and the subdiaconate, but their mother never came to Paris – Henry had to go to Tours where it was he that died. Later his mother did indeed go to a pauper’s grave at the hôpital de La Charité, just as her younger son had feared.

Henry’s clear allegation is that the famous artist was hobnobbing with the likes of the comte de Caylus, and was too snobbish to be seen with his own family. That I think is how we should read the constant references to “ma mère” rather than “notre mère”.

Henry was not present at his brother’s wedding the year after the letter – perhaps because he was already ill: but nor had he (or any of their family) been at his sister’s, four years before. Apart from the Hermitage painting, there is no portrait of any other member of his own family (as opposed to the one he chose to marry into), and we may now suspect that Perronneau didn’t make any – except perhaps for that Mademoiselle Perronneau we talked about before.


slide 24 – What of the other sister’s wedding? Geneviève Perronneau married an engraver called Carton in 1749. The artist gave her away as proxy for their parents. D’Arnoult omits the list of the witnesses, as it seems of little promise: “aucun commanditaire de portraits, ni personnage influent n’assiste au mariage.” Perhaps: but it is surely of interest (albeit hugely obscure) to note that Malachi O’Donnelly was lieutenant colonel of a regiment of Jacobite foot dragoons in which another Perronneau subject, John Towneley, served; although probably too late for any connection with Perronneau’s uncle André who was a merchant in the Jacobite town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

And I should point out that “Duplessis”, who we knew later married the miniaturist Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Le Tellier (godfather to Perronneau’s daughter), was in fact Christine-Antoinette Chambellan Duplessis, daughter of the Italian-born directeur des ouvrages de la Manufacture royale de porcelaine at Vincennes and then Sèvres. He was important enough to be an “illustre”, with lodgings in the Louvre. His posthumous inventory contained a pastel representing “un cataquois”, or a cockatoo, surely by Oudry, whose portrait Perronneau had not yet finished.


slide 25 – Another of Oudry’s pastels of exotic birds was owned by Blondel d’Azaincourt, son of one of Duplessis’s best clients, Blondel de Gagny, and himself a witness at Perronneau’s own wedding – although I am sceptical as to whether the oil portrait said to be of d’Azaincourt can be correctly identified: apart from the lack of resemblance, one has to wonder whether Blondel was the sort of subject who’d want to be shown so conventionally rather than with the attribute Roslin chose ten years before.

Duplessis’s son succeeded him; and another sister married a Parisian graveur en bijoux based in Geneva. Thus already Perronneau had access to a truly international network of top craftsmen.

Carton’s sister Mme Terman as it happens was great-grandmother to the mistress of Napoleon and gave him his first child, the comte Léon. So Perronneau, peintre du roi, may never have painted the king, but he was in the loose sense great-great-uncle to a bastard of the Emperor. Mme Terman was also mother-in-law to the maître d’hôtel de l’ambassadeur de Naples and sister-in-law to another maître d’hôtel, and it may be that these links, which are sub rosa, seldom documented and impossible to explore, may have been of assistance to Perronneau.


slide 26 – Jumping forward to Perronneau’s own death, in Amsterdam, and another missing document which I’ve now located. Until now we only had Maurice Tourneux’s single line transcription: Jan Martens v Jean Baptiste Perraunot 42J koorts.

You can see some of the questions. Was koorts even correctly transcribed? Ratouis de Limay thought “42 J” must be the age, and inferred that the death was of Perronneau’s younger brother, which would have made the Jeune écolier of the 1746 salon only 5. But another author suggested that this was Perronneau’s temperature in degrees Celsius. D’Arnoult blamed the Laki volcanic eruption in Iceland which darkened the sky over Europe for months, and repeats in the catalogue that the sulphuric gas cloud reached Amsterdam on 3 November 1783; but the source she cites actually quotes two contemporary reports fixing this date as late June/early July.


slide 27 – To answer some of these questions, you need not only the line concerning Perronneau, but the adjacent entries. Here is a brief summary of the conclusions I reach in my article. The ingenious idea about temperature is simply wrong; the age is just a mistake.


slide 28 – The mysterious Jan Martens turns out to be a “famous state surgeon”. Despite the erratic hand the cause of death is correctly transcribed as “koorts” or fever. Perronneau probably did not die from inhaling volcanic particles which lead to chest disorders, which are separately recorded as “borstkwaal” etc.


slide 29 – What I think happened is partly explained by the basic geography. Perronneau was staying in a wealthy area of town, on the Herengracht: his lodgings are marked in green. Dr Martens’s residence is in blue and the cemetery is in red. The delay between death and burial in all other cases was between 2 and 5 days, but Perronneau was buried the day after he died. Surely this was because the state surgeon was afraid his fever might be a contagious disease, so he ordered immediate burial in the nearest possible location, and before any possibility of realising the possessions Perronneau had with him in Amsterdam to pay for a higher class of funeral.

But there is another aspect of all this which strikes me as more interesting and sad. It concerns those possessions including 20 pictures worth over 4000 livres, and is confirmed by the statement in the 1791 liquidation of his estate that

Il faut observer que ledit Inventaire [the posthumous inventory taken in 1784] ne contient aucun effet à l’usage personnel de feu S. Peronneau. Ces effets avoient eté par lui emportés à Amsterdam….

All his personal possessions removed? Apart from anything else the sheer logistics of travelling round Europe with such a cargo take on a quite different perspective than that of the itinerant artist with a box of crayons. Let us remember that his widow remarried less than two months later, to Jean-Baptiste-Claude Robin, whose Paris address Perronneau gave when writing to d’Angiviller in 1779 – indeed they may have been living together as early as 1770, when Perronneau lodged with one Gaston Buret in the rue de Jussienne: the very same address is found in Joseph Vernet’s notebook for Robin. One can only wonder about this ménage à trois, and whether there is not a very simple explanation for the profound melancholy expressed in so much of Perronneau’s work.


slide 30 – I say that Louise remarried: d’Arnoult notes the marriage contract dated 13 February 1784. But another document I turned up in the Archives shows that a hitch was discovered the following day, where they had to apply for dispenses de consanguinité, based again on “affinité spirituelle”. This time we know the reason: “le Supliant a tenu et nommé sur les fonts de Bapteme un fils d’Elle [la Supliante] et de son deffund mari”. Since neither of the recorded boys was called Jean-Baptiste or Claude, evidently the Perronneaus had yet another unrecorded child.


slide 31 – Was the state of Perronneau’s marriage the cause of his travels? Not entirely: one can’t blame Mme Perronneau for all his Wanderlust, as before his marriage he had confessed “grande envie de voyager en Allemagne” in a letter to the Markgräfin Caroline Luise.


slide 32 – Indeed we can also note that his parents showed an unusual propensity for travel: his father comes from Tours to Paris, marrying Geneviève Frémont in the parish of Saint-Sauveur, although she came from ND de Bonne Nouvelle. But she was actually born in Saint-Sulpice. By the time Henry is born they are living in Saint-Benoît, rue des Cordiers; by 1749 they are back in Tours, paroisse Saint-Saturnin, where the artist’s father Henry dies the next year (Hôtel Dieu), although young Henry dies at Saint-Venant where presumably his mother had moved. And so on. This is not the typical pattern of artisans many of whom lived their entire lives in a single parish. These parishes are so far apart that a perruquier would have had to establish new clientele.


slide 33 – There’s a better version of the artist’s European odyssey in the exhibition catalogue. Most of us anyway have a good intuition as to how far St Petersburg is from Madrid. All I will add is to observe that he retraced his steps fairly often, and it is almost more surprising to see which countries he didn’t visit – most notably Austria and Switzerland, both of which had strong markets for pastels. Did these journeys simply arise from the hazard of personal contacts? As we see, he had many Swiss contacts but never went there. Was he frightened of competing with Liotard? You will remember the rude letter which Liotard fils wrote to his mother about Perronneau in 1778, calling him a “petit barbouillon qui ne scait faire que des croquis gagne ici 30 ducats par portrait et regrette le temps où lon lui donnait 14 Reyere.” Two precisions: the letter places Perronneau in Delft, not Amsterdam, so we can add that to the map. And the currency was Reyere, not Beyer as so often mistranscribed: In other words the decline in Perronneau’s prices was just under 20%, hardly as severe as you might infer without the right conversion rate.


slide 34 – But there is as much to be learned from plotting Perronneau’s Paris residences. Even in his native city, Perronneau was effectively rootless, just like his parents, but more so. Again it’s also remarkable to find, in yet another mundane aspect of daily life, how Perronneau remains almost trapped within the world of the arts in these property transactions. A few more examples:


slide 35 – D’Arnoult reports that in 1772, the Perronneau property at Petit-Charonne was let to a certain Jean Lemoine: but it turns out on delving further that he is René-Jean Lemoine, a retired soldier, now a member of the Académie de Saint-Luc.


slide 36 – In 1762 Perronneau lived in “rue de la Madeleine, Fauxbourg S. Honoré, dans la Maison de M. de la Chapelle”. This was Louis Cheveny de La Chapelle, architecte et dessinateur pour les jardins. He was also an art collector: Beauvarlet engraved a Gerard Dou “tiré du cabinet de Mr Cheveny de la Chapelle Architecte de Jardins”- an artist for whom Blondel d’Azincourt also had a “faible”.


slide 37 – Whether Perronneau had any help in forming his collection I do not know; but one curious drawing recently emerged on the market which must have formed part of Perronneau’s own collection: it’s by Claude-Guy Hallé, recteur at the Académie during Perronneau’s time as a student and engraver, and there’s a version of it in the Rijksmuseum.


slide 38 – I want to turn now to a completely unexpected episode in Perronneau’s life, which again shows how closely the families of Parisian artists were connected. This is the rather disturbing case of a certain Mme Supiot who for several years had suffered from a hideously painful condition resulting in deformation of the bones. We would recognize it today as an extreme case of osteomalacia (the adult form of rickets), caused by malnutrition and exacerbated during pregnancy. A ghoulish interest in the spectacle of deformity attracted the attention of Dr Morand, who in turn called in all the leading doctors of the day. He wrote up the case in gruesome detail in a book published in 1752, where we read– “on peut voir la gravure de cette femme par Peronneau”. I advise those of you of a queasy disposition not to look at the print, of which I have found only one copy.


slide 39 – Even outside medical circles the case of “la femme fondue” attracted much attention – for example by Mme de Graffigny. Of course the patient died soon afterwards, but Perronneau’s drawing was “Dessiné sur le Sujet vivant agé de 35 ans en Aoust 1752 par Peronneau”. It can’t have been easy for Perronneau to handle a naked rather than nude female subject, commissioned by a physician who required maximum exposure. This was not what he was taught at the Académie royale. But nor was this some student exercise. He was shortly to be reçu at the Académie. Why in the world was he doing it at all?


slide 40 – I wondered first about the engraver, the virtually unknown Austrian Anton Schlechter, who was in Paris under the supervision of Johann Georg Wille. This copy by him of a painting by his master, Martin van Mytens, shows that he was quite competent to have made the drawing as well as the print, and his engraving of a Chardin portrait of André Levret, one of the gynaecologists involved, is later and must have been the result, not the cause, of his involvement. (When he returned to Vienna, the plate was relettered, and Schlechter written out of history.) But in fact the solution lay in the name of the publisher of Morand’s book: veuve Quillau.


slide 41 – She turned out to be Agathe Cars, sister of Laurent Cars, Perronneau’s former teacher and friend, and the Supiot drawing must have been a personal favour for him. More happily Perronneau’s magnificent pastel of Cars is now in the Louvre. Cars left it to a relative in his will, together with a now lost pastel of his mother (whose name was Marie Barbery, not Babuty – it was one of Laurent Cars’s sisters who married Greuze’s brother-in-law).

Let’s return to some more examples of Perronneau’s daily encounters which turn out unexpectedly to involve another artist.


slide 42 – Here’s the receipt given by Perronneau in 1750 when he received payment from Caroline Luise (at that stage von Hessen-Darmstadt, just before she became Markgräfin von Baden). The word is neither “hier” nor Vien but the name of the Strasbourgeois pastellist (and associate of Wille) Johann Wilhelm Hien. This pastel made by him in Darmstadt two years later seems to me distinctly perronnesque. Perronneau may have had no pupils; but that does not mean he was without influence.


slide 43 – And of course when Perronneau travelled he mixed mostly with French or other francophones. You will remember for example that Perronneau was involved as a witness in the trial of Théodore Gardelle, a Swiss enamelist who murdered his landlady in London. Apparently she didn’t like her portrait, which shows excellent taste judging by the couple of examples of Gardelle’s work that have survived. But the other witnesses were also mostly Swiss miniaturists – not just John Mussard, whom d’Arnoult mentions, but Jean-Robert Le Cointe and Louis du Thuillay. Even the translator at the trial, Paul Vaillant, was “the French bookseller on the Strand” (Horace Walpole’s phrase). Indeed John Mussard was the brother of Robert Mussard, a witness at the 1749 wedding of Perronneau’s sister Geneviève.


slide 44 – And it has hitherto escaped attention (because the name was mistranscribed as Mullard) that Mussard was surely the winner of the 2ème prix de quartier for April 1735, beating Desfriches into third place and six months after Perronneau’s success. All three must have known one another, and Mussard may well have been the point of Perronneau’s entry into the world of his future wife.

In the exhibition catalogue, in the context of his trips to Bordeaux and London, d’Arnoult mentions the American family in Charleston that shared his name. In case you think they were related, we can trace that family back to La Rochelle in 1588, 100 years before they emigrated, without a link. Even more insidious: Perronneau’s great-grandfather was called Abraham, as was a well-known merchant and collector of old master paintings in Amsterdam. But again there is no immediate relationship. Remember too the mysterious M. de Mondonville to whom Perronneau confided his intentions just before his death. Maurice Tourneux assumes that this was the son of La Tour’s famous couple of musicians, although he was in fact their nephew, Martin Cassanéa de Mondonville, who had been living in Amsterdam for some time. But he was not a Huguenot: he was a member of the French Catholic church in Amsterdam (very near Perronneau’s lodgings). So Perronneau didn’t take refuge in Holland so often because he was a secret Protestant.


slide 45 – But I should just comment on Perronneau’s mother-in-law, Marie-Antoinette Rapilliart du Clos, who we know came from a family of goldsmiths in Château-Thierry. They were Huguenots, and Paul Rapilliart was denounced by the curé there, and fled to London with his wife and a son who married the daughter of the pastor at the French church in Spitalfields; their goods were confiscated and given to two daughters who converted. Some of the other children settled in Lausanne.


slide 46 – I want soon to turn to Perronneau’s trip to London. But first, a Dutch red hering. This is his portrait of Colonel Joseph Yorke, one of the most expensive Perronneau paintings ever sold (in 1929), although Agnew’s who bought it ended up with a big loss when they finally sold it to Lord Wharton; it is now in a London museum. It has always been assumed that the award of the Order of the Bath (the red riband) in 1761 must be a terminus post quem. But to me Yorke looks no more than 30, certainly not a man who fought on the bloodiest battlefields in Europe 20 years previously, and since he is a man I attach more weight to this apparent aetatis. Moreover, five years before that 1761 date, France’s declaration of war on England was handed to Yorke himself: it would surely have been impossible for Yorke to display a large portrait by the painter of the enemy king while minister in a foreign country. (Although a pastel for his private apartments might have been a different matter.) I guessed that the portrait had been misdated, and the riband was a later addition. So I looked into it further. Yorke is wearing the uniform of the Coldstream Guards which he left in 1755.


slide 47 – And when I went to see the portrait to check my theory, I found that a recent conservator had decided to remove the later paint. The signature in fact reads “Perronneau peintre du roi t.c. [for très chrétien]” with on the second line of the signature: “1754 a La Haie”.


slide 48 – Incidentally another portrait bears exactly the same inscription and date: the pastel of Jacob van Kretschmar, who had also fought alongside Yorke at Fontenoy nine years previously.


slide 49 – I’m sure that one of the motivations for Perronneau’s travels was that he enjoyed the higher social standing of such clients compared with the provincial bourgeoisie in France. Of course Yorke knew all the diplomats in The Hague, including the Austrian envoy Baron Reischach, in whose house at The Hague lodged Desfriches’s dealer –


slide 50 – Joseph auff der Muer. I see that this too is now in the catalogue. But Reischach is worth a moment’s diversion. He must have had an art collection – a painting by Schenau was engraved by Schwab in Paris in 1765 with a dedication to him; it was published by Joullain from the quai de la Mégisserie, an address Perronneau had lived in until 1762.


slide 51 – More to the point in 1751, in the Roman Catholic Spanish chapel in The Hague (before a French priest) Reischach’s 18-year old daughter Josepha married the Spanish ambassador, the 70-year old marques del Puerto, while the same day her younger sister married his 32-year-old son, the marques de Puente-Fuerte, giving rise to this witty summary of transgenerational confusions in an English newspaper: it’s the Perronneau family habit in spades. It was of course the younger Spaniard who was portrayed by Perronneau on his return to The Hague in 1761, and hard to believe that Perronneau’s previous connections had not led to this commission. That of course was just after his trip to London.

Perronneau’s close links with Swiss miniaturists, his mother-in-law’s family and his connection with Joseph Yorke provide more than enough to induce him to try his lot in England. Surely a sign of his other-worldliness, Perronneau forgot about the war. But he found a very different reception than that promised by his predecessors. Most French artists had fled in the light of anti-French hostility.


slide 52 – Let’s turn to the record by Horace Walpole of his visit in 1761 to Lord Royston’s house in St James’s Square. There he saw a portrait of Sir Joseph “painted in France” on the ground floor – probably the Perronneau, despite the wrong country, now regarded as an indiscretion to be banished to his brother’s out of sight. But Walpole also saw a portrait of Lady Anson in crayons by “a French painter, lately here”. Lady Anson and Lord Royston were both siblings of Sir Joseph Yorke. She was an amateur pastellist.


slide 53 – The connoisseur Daniel Wray had previously written to their father recommending La Tour, noting that he had painted Sir Joseph: so everything points to these being discerning clients who would only have engaged an artist of the calibre of Perronneau. No other French pastellist I can think of can have been meant. Since Lady Anson died suddenly on 1 June 1760, in London, this would place Perronneau there earlier than any other evidence.


slide 54 – There are the Westminster rent books which Fran Whitlum-Cooper discovered and which I’ll leave her to speak about, but the entries are ambiguous since they are annotated with a symbol meaning Empty. Incidentally the previous lessee, John Benedict Durade, was another Huguenot, naturalized just three years previously; his brother was a senior official in the Geneva post office, and Durade would bequeath his library to the Swiss botanist Daniel de La Roche.


slide 55 – Remember too summing up his life’s work in a letter to Caroline Luise of 1780, Perronneau wrote: “Les anglois men ayant enlevé une partie [de mon fortune] par mon imprudence”, a sentence still to be explained in full.

From the same letter to Caroline Luise, Perronneau wrote: “J’ay voyage en differens Endroits, Sur tout en Hollande en Espagne”: yet d’Arnoult could find no evidence of what he was up to in 1774-76, les “trois années mystérieuses”.


slide 56 – A chance discovery made while I was in Lisbon can answer that: his portrait of Mlle Michel: with an inscription on the backing board which proves that Perronneau was indeed in Madrid in 1776.

Or does it? Could the artist possibly be guilty of these spelling mistakes: niesse, royal etc. What about “spulture” – twice? They are not recorded variants, and I can find only a handful of other occurrences, three bizarrely in manuscript letters by Mme de Graffigny. But exactly the same spelling is found in an autograph label on a 1770 Perronneau pastel here in this exhibition. This is not something anyone would have faked.

The sitter in the Lisbon portrait was yet again drawn from among the community of expatriate French artists in Madrid. Robert Michel was trained in France but settled in Spain in 1740 where he rose to be first sculptor to the king. The girl is one of the many daughters of his brother Pedro, either Dorotea or Cecilia; Dorotea became a pastellist.


slide 57 – But there’s a second piece of evidence identifying Perronneau’s arrival in Spain, as early as February 1775. This comes in a letter from Madrid from Frederick Robinson, brother of Lord Grantham, to their sister Anne, reporting the enthusiasm of the French ambassador in Madrid (the marquis d’Ossun):

We have a French painter in Crayons lately arrived here, he is much cryd up by the Embassador, but I have not seen any of his performances, which are a much surer test of a Frenchman’s merit than the opinion of his countrymen.

I’ve analysed this in my blog. The only possible confusion is with Pillement, but we know that “Fritz” Robinson already knew Pillement’s work.


slide 58 – Talking of Robinson, I can’t resist showing you the bill of lading for the children of his brother-in-law Lord Malmesbury, the British ambassador to St Petersburg showing how the known Perronneau pastels travelled back by sea (possibly accounting for their present condition).


slide 59 – Here again Perronneau left little trace, although a painting of Walter Shairp, the British consul general there and a close associate of Malmesbury, was sold in 1970; no image has survived. Perhaps this is just as well as Shairp was a member of “The Most Honourable and Facetious Society of Ugly Faces”. But we do at least know what to look for should the painting re-emerge. Shairp was typical of this expatriate breed: he had married a Russian of Danish decent in 1751, and would certainly have spoken excellent French.


slide 60 – One final group of minutiae brings us here to Orléans and this amusing advertisement which I published two years ago. It’s from the Annonces, affiches, … de l’Orléanais for May 1766:

Peronneau a prêté à quelqu’un une Tête en pastel, sous verre, représentant le Réveil, ayant une étoile sur la tête, & tenant un coq: les personnes qui l’auront, sont priées de vouloir bien la remettre chez Madame Gabriël, rue de la Lévrette, à Orléans.

Starting at the end, based on the address, we can identify his landlady as yet another member of the world of the arts: she was the sister-in-law of the famous architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel. We know of course from the similar advertisement that Ratouis de Limay found in Bordeaux that Perronneau was absent minded enough to lose an étui containing drawing instruments, no doubt a misfortune; but to lose a pastel of his wife looks like carelessness. Is it any wonder that relations may have been strained? Incidentally while the description leaves no doubt that this is the pastel here in the musée des Beaux-Arts, the date causes a problem: yours is signed 1767, while the advertisement was for 1766 and for a glazed picture that he had presumably finished. Did he have to recreate the work? Or had it been damaged by careless handling, and needed to be opened to be retouched and redated?


slide 61 – If he did have to repaint the work, one wonders as to where he would have obtained supplies. There is so little information on pastellists’ suppliers in the eighteenth century that one falls on every possibility. It may have been less economy than the shortage of oval strainers in the provinces (see my essay) which led to his reuse of one in Valérie Luquet’s fascinating discovery (in the most literal sense). Here’s an advertisement from a few years’ later in the Annonces, affiches issued by a certain Mme veuve Huquier. The name of course is familiar to anyone who knows Perronneau’s great masterpieces in the Louvre of the engraver Gabriel Huquier and his daughter, so cleverly identified by Dominique d’Arnoult as Marie-Anne because she returned to Orléans, where her father had been born in 1695. But it was Gabriel’s nephew André-Aimé (not Edme) whose wedding Perronneau attended in 1748. Who knows if he was the parrain of Jean-Baptiste-Gabriel Huquier born ten years later. But André-Aimé died in 1763, and it was his widow, Geneviève Morice, who ran a business as a marchande clincaillière.


slide 62 – We have I hope time for just one more detail gleaned from the same Annonces, affiches and which I needn’t discuss in too much detail as Thea Burns has already discussed fixing pastels. There’s also an essay on my website devoted to the famous inventor Antoine-Joseph Loriot and his secret method, which attracted almost as much mystery as Stradivarius’s varnish. Here’s an amusing incident that befell Loriot when he was lured out of Paris by his great patron, the marquis de Marigny (Mme de Pompadour’s brother), to install a hydraulic machine at the château de Menars. We can follow what happened when he stopped off on the way, in Orléans, from a series of pieces that appeared in the Annonces, affiches.

One of those “curieux” was the connoisseur Charles Le Normant du Coudray: it was evidently on this visit that Loriot fixed Perronneau’s portrait of him. According to a lengthy inscription on the back, “J’ai fait fixer ce portrait par le sieur Loriot qui avoit ce secret, le 23 juin 1772.” There is apparently a similar label on the back of the so-called enfant Lemoyne now in Chicago, but unfortunately they can’t produce an image of it, which might help us date or identify the sitter.

Just two months later, the pastellist Marguerite-Thérèse Leprince, Mme Laperche (1743–p.1798) and her relative (probably her brother), the marchand bonnetier “Sr Leprince”, whose address Loriot had offered and who presumably had witnessed him at work, stole the secret and offered it at half the price.


I’ve tried to make several points about Perronneau in this talk. One has been to reinforce the degree to which he was embedded in a network of Parisian craftsmen who worked at the highest level and on an international footing from an even earlier date than we knew before. Documents which seem at first sight entirely banal reveal that Perronneau lived in a tightly connected world binding apparently disparate elements. Then I’ve tried to grasp some elements of the artist’s personality from the rare glimpses the documents afford: in particular I’ve looked at his attitude to money and the gender gap which I think is perceptible in Perronneau’s œuvre. And in looking at his family and closest relationships, we’ve found patterns of behaviour that seem to have set the agenda for the artist’s own conduct and propensities. I hope these observations will intensify your enjoyment of his work as you spend time in this wonderful exhibition.



From → Art history

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