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Transporting pastels to exhibitions

Here now is the second of my talks given at the seminar Le Pastel: regards croisés sur une technique singulière on Tuesday. As before you can find full references, bibliographies etc. for the talk in the online Dictionary of pastellists, and in particular in the Prolegomena. An earlier post is also relevant. As with all posts on this blog, these are personal opinions.


Let us now turn to the issues raised by moving pastels.

I’m not going to take you through the long history of pastel damage. You can find lots of examples in my Prolegomena: Rosalba writing about broken glass; Oudry sending a picture to comte Tessin in Stockholm, with instructions to open it to remove all the pastel that would surely be found on the inside of the glass. You may at the end of this talk have some sympathy with the Duke of Hamilton who insisted that a pastel be carried 40 miles to his palace “on a man’s back”, although museums aren’t allowed to do that now.

The basic position in museum policy remains that “unfixed pastels are usually too fragile to travel.” This was formalised as far back as 1963 in a Unesco document, and it has been reiterated for example by the loan principles agreed by the Bizot Group of leading museums worldwide. It remains the standard position of most of the major museums who collect pastels.


But nevertheless we have to discuss the matter because several recent exhibitions have been promoted on the basis that the technical issues of transportation have been solved: here for example is the promise of “safe handling…through advances in methods of art transportation”; I want to challenge that claim.


You may say that large numbers of fragile works of art are being moved all the time, and you rarely see any evidence of damage: we shall see that that is to misunderstand the problem. Some people suggest that the risks of damage are outweighed by the scientific value of showing these works which would otherwise rot away in store rooms. But that isn’t how the issue is presented to lenders or museums when they approve loans. You can’t take calculated risks when you can’t calculate the risk.

During this talk I want to identify some of the biases and other cognitive errors that endanger the debate. You’ll hear later on from people involved in the scientific attempts to find solutions, but I want instead to illustrate the problem from a practical viewpoint, and I shall draw learnings from the worlds of finance, insurance, medicine, sport, natural disasters or even food logistics to inform or illuminate the discussion.

The first thing we should note is “survivor bias”: because the pastels that we study today have survived in good condition, we ignore the ones that are unexhibitable or destroyed.


The fact is that a great many pastels have suffered damage. Often we don’t know why or when or how, but we do know that it has happened. One wonders what happened to the Liotard of Lord Mountstuart at the Getty when we compare it with the replica kept safely by the family. We simply don’t have the information to say what caused the losses (the degradation was evident before the pastel left Scotland for Los Angeles, presumably by air), but we can wonder if they had anything to do with the fire which destroyed Mount Stewart in 1877, which at the very least would have required hasty evacuation.

Damage is surrounded by a wall of silence from owners and museums, fraught with conflicts of interest and covered in a veil of ignorance, as we still don’t know the exact mechanism of why pastels degrade.

Proper risk management tells you not just to look at the probability of an adverse event, but to multiply that by the consequences. That is why a pastel is so much more in danger than an oil painting. The response can be highly nonlinear and disproportionate. Think of a haemophiliac child: it’s not that he’ll fall more often than a normal child, but that if he does, the consequences are life-threatening.


A good example of this principle is when it comes to glass breakage. This is one of the biggest hazards for pastels, with far more serious consequences than for oils. Note too, since paintings usually weren’t glazed in the 18th century, any glass they have now is toughened and less likely to break. So the experience derived from moving oil paintings can give false confidence.

Pastels with broken glass appear frequently, not only in the saleroom. You can even find the frame falling apart with poor handling: joints opening, or whole sections dropping off.

The routine way to protect glass in transit is to tape it. As you can see from the picture, this doesn’t even protect the pastel. But as we now know, you mustn’t tape the glass of pastels as it creates static electricity which can lift particles of pigment onto the inside of glass.

In fact this transfer can also arise just from cleaning the glass – particularly if you’ve decided to mitigate the breakage risk by adopting one of the new specialised glass replacements: if you don’t clean them very carefully, so-called low static glazing can easily become fully electrostatic.


This SLIDE shows how this phenomenon occurs differentially with some pigments, in this case white: nothing is visible when the glass is removed and laid down against a white background, but against black, you can see that the transfer from the pastel it covered occurs up to edges in a way that shows it isn’t contact transfer. We just don’t understand the phenomenon fully.


Pastels are astonishingly easy to damage by poor handling once out of the frame. Unprotected backs can lead to smudging or tears. I’ve seen hundreds of tell-tale fingerprints near the edges: they are the pastels you don’t see in museums or exhibitions. This can happen in the auction room: dealers with little intention of purchasing insist on seeing them out of the frame. Also in the photography studio, dazzling lights increase the accident risk, and can even melt pigments.

But when they get to the framers, there’s a hazard most people aren’t aware of.


This is what the gesso room looks like. That white dust gets everywhere, and if you are mad enough to unseal a pastel anywhere nearby, it will soon be covered in this stuff which can never be removed. And even the most talented carvers and gilders are quite capable of screwing the fittings too tight, and shattering the glass a second time. Worse: some will resort to powered ratchet screwdrivers to do so. Which is what unsupervised logistics staff routinely do when your back is turned: they simply think you’re being fussy in asking them not to.

When we run through the standard insurable risks, pastels fare worse than oils because of disproportionate consequences. Thieves are unlikely to take the care required for pastels to survive undamaged, particularly if they remove them from the frame.

In a fire, pastels can be damaged beyond repair without the flames reaching the work, as was accepted in a law case concerning a Degas pastel of Grecian Dancers. The court accepted the evidence that-

The heat and the humidity had caused molecular change, the effect of which depended on the extent of the heat and the humidity. In simple terms, he [the expert witness] considered that the heat and humidity were similar in effect to an oven and the crystals were cooked and became like flour; in consequence, they lost their adhesion and shine…  Loss of adhesion: The pastel appeared in good condition, but with time each particle of pigment would fall away. He did not consider that long term damage would have been visible in 1995 [four years after the fire]

To prevent fire museums have sprinkler systems. They can be faulty: when the Mona Lisa was lent to the Met in New York in 1963, it was drenched by such a fault. It survived; a pastel would not have.


With flood, the risks are obvious, and infinitely more severe for pastel than for oil. Even condensation from humidity can cause irreparable water marks, especially on external walls. Don’t assume that museums are immune from this: here’s a major American museum which can’t control the moisture levels outside or in.

[SLIDE omitted] Worse than a damaged pastel is a badly restored one.

But unquestionably the main concern with pastel transportation is the issue of shock and vibration. From the earliest days of pastel people have tried to remedy this inherent defect of the medium by devising various methods of fixing. These were rarely successful, and it’s far from clear that fixing applied 200 years ago is still effective. But the price was too high.


You can see the change in colour from Cotes’s Chambers, which Russell wrote about and of which he probably made the copy that shows the original colour. Worse, you can get unsightly tidemarks, as in La Tour’s autoportrait. This is just one of many examples of ill-thought-through attempts to manage risk: we may even term this “iatrogenic risk”.

So what happens when an unfixed pastel is moved? We often see reports from museums that “condition checking before and after the journey indicated that there was no visible change to the work”: in other words, they’ve completely missed the point. Damage doesn’t usually result in a neat pool of powder resting on the bottom spacer which you can photograph to support a claim from your insurance company. In any case most insurance policies (including the UK Government Indemnity Scheme) offer no cover for “inherent vice or a pre-existing flaw”, which probably excludes this sort of damage even when it is visible. This is an area that is rarely discussed with lenders: if a pastel does suffer damage during transportation resulting from its friable nature, both lender and borrower may be in for a surprise. However extracting claims data is extremely difficult, even when requested from public institutions covered by the Freedom of Information Act.

Instead of the heap of powder you get at most a subtle alteration of luminosity that results from alterations to bonding at microscopic level (as the court found in the Degas case). Generally this is imperceptible. This invisible damage is one of the most important features of moving pastels. It is exacerbated by data bias: older photographic records are often too poor in quality to reveal the deterioration over time or link it to specific traumas. This is also made worse by damage denial or the causal-immediacy problem: people who don’t believe there’s anything wrong continue moving pastels. This is like boxing where a doctor examines the fighter after each match and can’t see any damage, but a decade later the cumulative brain damage becomes evident.

You can find exactly the same cognitive errors in financial markets and even with natural disasters. There is “ostrich behaviour”, where we simply don’t act on theoretical risks; “optimism bias” where we don’t take precautions believing that “it wouldn’t happen to me”; “single action bias” where implementing one precaution means we don’t bother with the others that are equally important. And “amnesia bias”: even after a catastrophe, the measures we introduce to prevent it are forgotten after a period.

But if you must move a pastel, what is the best way to prepare it for transportation?

The first question is whether to open the pastel. This is where the gap between protocol and practice can be biggest. If you don’t open it, you have no idea what’s inside: you just hope for the best. The tension of the canvas may have gone, so that if they are tipped forward the pastel will touch the glass. The spacing is usually too small. Worse, you can’t check whether the spacers are secure or liable to fall during the journey potentially destroying the work. That isn’t solved by travelling horizontally, as they can still slide across the surface.


There’s an even worse hazard, with works on multiple sheets where the paste has dried out and the paper starts to slide.

But if you do open the pastel, you not only break the integrity of what may be an original assembly, you greatly increase the risks of accidental damage. Where do you cut the backing seal safely when you don’t know what’s underneath? I’ve even encountered cases where the spacer is glued to the front of the pastel and glued also to the glass: a nightmare to open safely.


Travelling without glass raises other problems. How do you transport the unframed pastel in a dust-free environment and secure it so the surface can’t make contact? A method that effectively clamps the edges may be placing strain on the weakest spot of the pastel. But there’s an unexpected issue that emerges from recent research on the vibrations of canvas: the assembly with backing board and glass provides a very significant additional level of protection from vibration. So by trying to solve one problem you exacerbate another.

And if instead you decide to replace the glass with toughened or laminated glass, the extra weight itself can weaken the frame and increase shock levels.

The next question is what type of packing to use. Some institutions are still using large triple-lined museum cases, with up to five pastels in a case, ensuring that the boxes are too heavy to move without hydraulic equipment which itself creates vibration.


One danger is that too much packing can create an illusion of protection: it’s like boxers practising in safety helmets which have now been abandoned since they have been found to cause greater long-term damage than unprotected sparring. Twenty years ago research showed that a double case was preferable to a triple case because it was lighter, and because the foam insulation can’t be optimised for all levels. But even a 50 kg case still needs mechanical handling. The same problem can arise with clever ideas such as transport at 45°. The obvious logic is that a single case is even better.

But you need to be careful that using the lightest possible case to mitigate shock may make it harder to buffer the humidity and temperature levels adequately. These are always mentioned in protocols, but what is actually done in practice to manage them? The answer is often very little.


Yet as we know this is why joints in frames open up. And what you may not have thought about is that the same thing happens to the pastel strainer. Even if it doesn’t cause failure, warped strainers show as cockling at the corners. Unlike an oil on a stretcher, there’s nothing you can do when the pastel strainer loses tension; relining or transfer to another secondary support is always hazardous. Pastels are more likely than oils to be oval, which makes these problems worse. The impossibility of cutting the wood along the grain more or less ensures that the joints will open up, of both frame and strainer. And original glass ovals are cut by hand: their entire weight can rest on just a few sharp points, so they are hugely vulnerable to breakage from shock transmitted through the frame.


As for the transport vehicle, so-called air-ride suspension involves tail-lifts (image left) which need the engine to be running when the vehicle is stationery: you don’t need a meter to detect unacceptable levels of vibration from these.

You will say that this is mitigated by using the right kind of foam (image right). But there is still no consensus as to whether this is soft polyurethane or polyethylene such as Plastazote. And you very rarely see anti-static foam used (it is usually produced in a “shocking pink” colour), although it is close enough to triboelectric materials even with a framed pastel to make investigation into this hazard worthwhile.


Here’s a simple experiment that I did with a wooden frame supported on a standard foam, repeated by driving over the same stretch of road a second time with the addition of very soft alveolated polyurethane. This was in a passenger car which actually has far lower vibration levels than larger vehicles. You can see that the shocks were damped – by perhaps 30–40%. Incidentally the highest peak while the car was moving was when I drove quickly past some road works where a pneumatic drill was being used. These are the things you can’t control. Also getting the picture into or out of the vehicle involved the biggest shocks. We just don’t know what the trade-off is between a few big initial shocks and lots of little ones, or between shock and vibration. (That’s why experts don’t even agree about road versus air.)

We should note here “science bias”: because dataloggers conveniently collect shock levels, we assume that is the only danger: vibration is harder to record. But because there’s something which can be measured, we ignore factors that can’t. We test one modern sample, and extrapolate to the behaviour of works created 300 years ago with quite different materials. Bad science should not silence common sense.

Common sense does however tell you that when a heavy case is dropped, the energy has to be dissipated somehow, and there is a risk that some ends up at the molecular level weakening the bonds that hold the pastel together.


But the most comprehensive research on moving paintings shows that damping solutions simply don’t work, and in many cases magnify the input vibrations without reliably attenuating output. Mixing layers of foam of different hardness can’t overcome the issues. We haven’t really progressed fundamentally since the Heath-Robinson approach taken for the transport of the Saint-Quentin pastels 100 years ago: we have merely added a bit of foam here, an air-bag there like the wheels-within-wheels of Ptolemaic cosmology before Copernicus. Shock levels from road transport simply can’t be eliminated. They are always worse than the flat zero line for leaving the pastel at home.

There’s even the risk of contact between pastel and glass if the canvas tension is too loose or the space too small. When I raised this with the organisers of one recent exhibition, the response was to insert wadding beneath the pastel. But this led to polyester being placed in direct contact with vellum, despite the fact that this combination is known to generate static electricity. Another example of a poor solution creating new risks.

One of the difficulties here is the reluctance to share experience. I had to use the Freedom of Information Act to find out if pastels sent to a recent exhibition travelled horizontally or vertically, and had to pursue the process to appeal. Even when it comes to a description of the protocols and techniques people are developing, you can encounter a wall of silence.

Apart from the question of vibration, and assuming your pastel has arrived at the exhibition location unimpeded by fire, flood or theft, is everything then OK?

Not necessarily. One possible problem which I’ve never seen discussed (and may take on a larger dimension post-Brexit) concerns customs clearance. Government border agencies have extensive rights to examine any object crossing borders to safeguard against illicit substances, be they explosives or drugs (couriers may not always be present, particularly at airports where cargo handling takes place in secure areas). It is difficult to imagine that should their attention fall upon a pastel, they would bring the necessary skill to investigate it safely.

Your pastel is likely to arrive some weeks before the show. Where will it be hung temporarily?


Many museums continue to use moveable storage racks which create appalling levels of shock/vibration, not only when the pastels are viewed but when nearby pictures are taken out. Even fixed racks are often sufficiently near moving racks to be affected by the vibration.

Have all the other exhibits been put in place first, and all necessary holes drilled? Are you going to fix new hanging furniture to the back of already weakened 18th century frames, and will the staff remember to screw these by hand? Will all the pastels be moved by hand, or might trolleys be used (if so even the pressure of the tyres is an issue that has been investigated)?Slide48Or maybe this type of machine is to be used with larger pastels? When the pastels are unpacked, will all the best efforts of the transport protocol to ship at an angle of 10°, 45° or whatever be undermined to get the work out of the box?


Aren’t they in fact often turned over when wrapping, directly contrary to most instructions? Are the pastels to go on temporary partitions or display stands which may be subject to floorboard vibrations? You might think I’m exaggerating, but footfall on parquets from groups of visitors was a sufficient hazard to oil paintings to be the subject of specific investigation with shock levels akin to transport.


More so is the possibility of the institution hosting concerts in nearby galleries with loud music: there’s even an hilarious video showing the “Met Workout” – gymnastics classes held in its galleries. The Louvre also hosts these. Vibration levels from a Formula 1 event held in Trafalgar Square in July 2017 were sufficient for “steps [to have] been taken where necessary to remove items from display” according to minutes of the next board meeting.


Lighting is perhaps the one area where almost all museums understand the dangers. It’s in fact more of a problem for watercolours than for pastels. But it is certainly an issue, as you can see from comparing both versions of the maréchal de Saxe’s green uniform with the print showing the proper colour of his uniform; or Lady Berwick’s red elbow hidden by the frame. And you need to calculate the exposure not just for opening hours, but special events, set up and even cleaning.

Even the installation of exhibition lighting can be a risk to the exhibits. Official loan standards recognise this, recommending that the lighting be installed before the exhibits arrive to minimise the risk of damaging objects that are being installed; but these guidelines are routinely ignored. This is understandable for pastels since their uneven surfaces are exacerbated by raking light, so adjustments after they are hung are often required.


And when the doors close at night, there’s the housekeeping to worry about: floor polishers vibrate and can easily touch the skirting. Even the dusting should be done by hand, not with a vacuum cleaner.


Finally the biggest risk is often when the exhibition is being dismantled. All the best laid plans can be put aside in the confusion which, for the exhibition where this painting was smashed, was described as “pandemonium” by a trustee of the institution concerned.


So to summarise. Pastel damage is a real problem. Whenever you move a pastel, you put it at risk from a large number of hazards. And the evidence is before you if you look for it of pastels which are dull or used, if not completely ruined, where by far the most credible explanation is transport.

Let me offer two suggestions. The first is a test as to whether the science of pastel transportation has reached even a basic level. The test is this: what is the equivalent of a single 10g shock, such as you might get in an airport cargo handling bay, in terms of shocks of 1g from air cushioned road travel? Demonstrating a clear answer to that question seems to me basic.

Second: all responsible museums arranging to borrow or lend pastels should insist on taking and publishing ultra high resolution images of the pastel before and after each leg of the journey and return. Only thus can we begin to identify when damage occurs.

Both of these ideas are necessary for progress, but not in themselves sufficient to support the contention so complacently displayed in the Royal Academy at the start of this talk.

For centuries pastels were protected by being too unfashionable, too boring to be borrowed. They moved only when people died, and even then not always though the salerooms. The lending exhibition is broadly speaking a recent phenomenon, and is putting our pastels through a trauma that may take many years to reveal its consequences fully, when it will be too late to reverse. Our biases and prejudices blind us to these risks just as President Trump denies climate change. Of the impact on our pastels from this revolution in museology, it is still too early to judge, in the rather wiser words attributed to Zhou Enlai.


The evolution of taste in pastels

To accompany the new exhibition of nineteenth century pastels currently at the Petit Palais, L’Art du pastel de Degas à Redon, a two-day seminar Le Pastel: regards croisés sur une technique singulière was held in Paris on Monday and Tuesday. I gave two talks yesterday morning, of which the first is in this post. The second will appear later. My theme concerned two different aspects of pastel exhibitions. You can easily find full references, bibliographies etc. for the talk in the online Dictionary of pastellists, and in particular in the Prolegomena.


Let me first of all say a few words about the scope of my talk. I am discussing only pastels made before 1800. I consider nineteenth century pastels to be completely different objects which just happen to use a similar medium. Degas and his contemporaries did not revive the dix-huitième: they may have been inspired by it, to some degree, but they were led to something far removed visually and aesthetically.

But the history of connoisseurial appreciation of the dix-huitième pastel does of course go back before 1908, and we must start with that general revival of interest in 18th century art which is so often associated with the Goncourts.


Our understanding of this has advanced considerably thanks to the excellent La Caze exhibition 10 years ago, and the subsequent colloquium at The Wallace Collection in London entitled Delicious Decadence. I’m going to assume that you are familiar with both publications. But it may surprise you to learn that the word “pastel” hardly occurs at all in the proceedings: only one pastel is actually mentioned, and that in passing.

Carole Blumenfeld’s excellent article in the La Caze catalogue discussed a number of the pioneers in this rediscovery: Daniel Saint, His de La Salle, baron d’Ivry, baron de Beurnonville, Laurent Laperlier – although Henry de Chennevières subordinated their roles to just three figures: François Marcille, Louis La Caze and Hippolyte Walferdin. To these Blumenfeld judiciously added the marquis de Cypierre and Paul Barroilhet. But how far did their interest extend to pastel?


If we look at the collections they and others formed – and exclude groups of portraits in museums or still belonging to descendants of the sitters, as well as the stock of dealers – surprisingly few people acquired pastels systematically. My figures indicate only about 120 collectors owning more than four 18th century pastels, and of these fewer than 30 owned more than a dozen. Topping the list was indeed François Marcille, with more than 50 pastels, Camille Groult a close second. Among Blumenfeld’s figures, the only others with more than half a dozen pastels were Laperlier and Cypierre, of which Laperlier’s collection was more important. The other great collections – Doucet stands out – were formed a little later, when the revival had taken hold. But in almost all these cases, the substantial pastel holdings were matched – or rather trumped – by prodigious holdings of oil paintings or drawings. Marcille’s 55 pastels for example were part of a collection numbering at least 2700 works.


I don’t have the time to offer biographies of each of these figures. What I can say is that they had surprisingly little in common: there were painters and financiers, nobles and nouveaux. Some were prodigiously wealthy, some were not. Some were politically ultra, others progressive. Curieux indeed.

There is a further aspect to this: many of these nineteenth collections included pastels only by certain big names: La Tour, Perronneau, Chardin, Greuze, Boucher, Prud’hon, Fragonard. To these were added Rosalba, and by the turn of the century the English artist John Russell, invariably misspelt. Apart from those two and Perronneau, the others were all the subjects of the Goncourts’ essays in L’Art du xviiie siecle, which started to appear in 1859. And we have to ask how deep was their understanding of pastel – indeed how many of those late 19th century records of pastels by La Tour, listed but not confirmed in B&W and now disappeared without trace – were actually correctly attributed? This was an era when ludicrous misattributions and misidentifications were endemic.


In 1863, the Goncourt brothers visited princesse Mathilde and were shown into her painting studio, which was “encombré de ces choses qui ne sont des objets d’art que pour les femmes, un faux pastel de Boucher, de faux pastels de Chardin.” Just a year later, this pastel entered the Goncourt apartment in the rue Saint-Georges:


They had seen it in a sale where, like all other competent pastels, it was catalogued as by La Tour, a description they recognised as false. The brothers were excited to find it on their return from a fencing lesson:

Un commissionnaire nous apporte des Commissaires-Priseurs un magnifique pastel de Perroneau, pour lequel nous avions donné commission, dimanche, à une vente de tableaux de l’École française. Nous nous habillons, mettons des cravates blanches, allons dîner chez la Princesse, revenons et fumons une pipe, en adoration devant notre Perronneau, posé sur la table de notre chambre.

The magic took its effect: the entry for New Year’s Eve is:

En regardant le Perroneau et nos tapisseries de Beauvais, je songe que le xviiie siècle a eu, dans son ameublement d’art, le velouté.

But of course the pastel they had bought was not by Perronneau either, despite the label they affixed to the frame. They paid Fr 330 francs in 1863; at their sale 34 years later it fetched ten times as much, Fr 3000 – still only about €15,000 after inflation in today’s money. It is in fact by Vigée Le Brun.


Remember too Reynaldo Hahn’s account of the Goncourt view on Perronneau’s superiority to La Tour and Chardin – the “other two pastellists”; and that travel to find out more about other schools was quite unnecessary. Was this based on deep understanding – or rather social bluster, claiming an exquisite sensibility denied to lesser mortals? This was 1895: although the Louvre had recently acquired its third Perronneau, Hahn and Proust had only seen La Tour and Chardin on their visit the day before this dinner. Proust wrote his unpublished essay about Chardin at this time, but he mentions Perronneau in his novel only after visiting Cent pastels in 1908.


It’s a sobering thought, but perhaps one that should not surprise us. Because quite simply the opportunity to see pastels in public collections was very limited in the mid-19th century. The collection at Saint-Quentin was barely accessible until it was placed in the Palais de Fervacques in 1856, and only moved to the present musée Antoine-Lécuyer in 1886.

The collection at the Louvre was of course the most important, and certainly well copied by the end of the 19th century. We can begin to glimpse the evolution of taste by looking at the holdings in the Louvre from its inception in 1793 when it took over the royal collections and those of the Académie royale. Excluding sheets with touches of pastel, the Louvre now owns about 200 pre-1800 pastels, representing the work of approximately 70 pastellists of whom these are the top dozen:


These names probably won’t surprise you, although the exclusions are remarkable. There was no Liotard pastel until 1982, and there is still only one. Apart from a handful of Russells, the neglect of non-French pastellists is systematic: nothing by Copley, Cotes, Gainsborough, Gardner, Hamilton, Hoare, Mengs, Rotari, Schröder or Tiepolo.

But we should also look at the date of acquisition of these holdings.


The peak in the 1820s is probably a glitch in the inventories, and should probably be added to the ancien régime endowment representing one-third of today’s holdings. That in the 1940s includes wartime recuperation. But the peaks in the 1860s, the 1910s and the last 15 years do represent waves of real interest. Of the 27 La Tours, a dozen were there at the start, another ten were added around 1910, while the 3 additions since 1950 have all taken place in the last 12 years.


Over the years numerous pastels were offered to the Louvre: there have been some astonishing refusals – among them the président de Rieux now in the Getty, as well as the abbé Nollet in Munich. Even the full length Mme de Pompadour was initially refused before the Louvre changed its mind. Mme Roslin’s self-portrait was offered but rejected in 1847. As we shall see that was a mistake with sad repercussions.

One might expect that museum acquisitions worldwide would provide a valuable chart of leading taste across all schools. Sadly that seems not to be the case. Only a handful of museums have both the funds and the skills to set trends in taste. For others the pastels they acquire have been through legacies or random acts that reflect specific interests (for example when the sitter in a portrait has a connection with the museum) rather than a planned programme of acquisition. I have records of some 6500 pastels in public collections worldwide, so to sift these I made an arbitrary decision to look at acquisitions only in the last 30 years. I can’t say I pursued this with 100% accuracy, but I found details of some 300 pastels acquired in that period by 104 institutions. But when you exclude those acquiring only a single or couple of works, the number reduces to just 20 institutions worldwide:


Even here, I’m including the V&A which received two wonderful Nattier pastels by legacy 30 years ago which have never, and probably never will, come out of storage: they are an exception to the general rule that British institutions dislike all pastels, and hate French in particular. But the names topping the list will surprise no one here.

Equally there are no surprises when we analyse the acquisitions by the names of the artist, where perennial favourites dominate:


Among the 85 pastellists, only two dozen were represented by 4 or more works, and even these numbers are distorted by special interests. Thus Guildford House and Geneva respectively collect Russell and Liotard. Perhaps the most curious phenomenon was the interest shown by a number of minor US galleries in acquiring single heads by Luti from a group that appeared at auction some years ago. Many of these acquisitions were driven by skilful dealers.

Art market

Their influence can be followed in the saleroom. You can find more detail on all this on my website, and I don’t want to get bogged down in dry statistics or arguments about inflation. But here is a summary of the pastels which sold for more than $100,000: there are 89 pastels by 29 artists.


Prices for pastels collapsed at the end of the eighteenth century and only really revived with the second wave of interest towards the end of the nineteenth century, reaching a zenith in the first quarter of the twentieth century.


We can see this clearly in individual cases, such as that of a Perronneau pastel (left) which belonged to Laurent Laperlier, but fetched a mere 48 francs (about €200 in today’s money) in his 1867 sale. Auction prices are made by two competing bids, and a sole enthusiast does not represent a market revival. The purchaser was the other enthusiast, the baron de Beurnonville. In 1925 it sold for a more respectable 17,000 francs. Marius Paulme bought, and at his sale four years later it went for 70,000 francs (€175,000) – about 1000 times more than at the Laperlier sale. Today it would be worth rather less.

The Perronneau known as the comte de Bastard in the Louvre was sold in 1881 for 5000 francs (about €23,000). Seventeen years later it was still only worth €40,000 in today’s money. But at the Jacques Doucet sale in 1912, it fetched 128,000 francs, equivalent to nearly €600,000 today.

The Jacques Doucet sale in 1912 marked the high point in French pastels, with La Tour’s Duval de l’Épinoy (right) reaching about €3 million today, double the estimate. Writing in the Burlington magazine, Robert Dell, its first editor, revealed typically British fury: “Is it in accordance with common sense that a masterpiece by Fragonard [le songe du mendiant] should fetch 137,500 francs, and a masterpiece by Latour, who can hardly be counted the equal of Fragonard, 660,000? The truth is that prices have no sort of relation to artistic value.” But they do tell us about taste.

This revolution in saleroom prices, which lagged some way behind the development of individual enthusiasms, occurred simultaneously in London and Paris, and applied to English as well as to French pastellists. At the Angerstein sale at Christie’s in 1896, the 1000 guineas (€130,000 today) achieved by a Lawrence (one which had taken him all of three weeks to complete) was the highest price ever paid at auction for a pastel. It was soon exceeded by Russell’s Persian Sibyl, for which Charles Wertheimer paid 1100 gns (Christie’s, 1899; about €150,000 today). The 1908 sale of the Gardner portrait of Lady Fawkener for 1250 gns (again about €150,000 today) brought the artist out of obscurity, and created a self-fuelling dealers’ bonanza – although in fact a Gardner had been sold four years previously, at the Townshend Heirlooms sale, when it was miscatalogued as by Reynolds.


There it fetched 35 times as much as a Rosalba, while the unattributed pastel by Katherine Read still went for four times the price of the Rosalba.

These relativities are evidently unstable, and these prices were not sustained. It was not until 1993 that a British pastel reached a level equivalent to six figures today. Since then Hugh Douglas Hamilton and chalk drawings by Gainsborough and Wright of Derby have become popular.


Perhaps the most surprising performer has been Liotard. Although known for high prices when he was working, his masterpiece, Le Petit Déjeuner des Mlle Lavergne, sold in 1801 for £89 (about €8000); in 1835 for £31 (€4000); in 1916 for £1260 (€130,000); and in 1918 for £1450 (€100,000). No other published price for a Liotard reached that level until the 1986 purchase by the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston for a reported SwFr 2 million (€2,400,000) – but that was a response to the Getty’s purchase of the little girl, Frederica van Reede, for an undisclosed sum a few years before. Thereafter some 15 Liotards have sold for over £100,000, dominating the tables by number and value.

Liotard’s market value coincides with the burgeoning literature devoted to him. But it cannot be said that academia has played a significant role in the taste for or even in the study of pastels. There is almost no appetite for object led research. So we need to turn to public exhibitions,



The salons of the Académie royale have of course been the subject of much academic research – although those of the Académie de Saint-Luc, far more important for pastel portraits, have been largely overlooked. But these were shows of contemporary art. Pastels were mixed with paintings, arranged by size and format.

During the 19th century, the neglect of 18th century pastels in loan exhibitions reflects that in the saleroom.


If we look at loan exhibitions including more than ten 18th century pastels, worldwide, I can find only 15; of these, the six in Paris all took place after 1874. These too were heavily dominated by pastels supposed to be by La Tour. There may have been one or two by Coypel, Rosalba or Perronneau, but no pastel by Vivien, Valade, either Vigée, Labille-Guiard, Lenoir, Loir, Lundberg, Boze, Ducreux, Glain, Nattier: these were all unknown as pastellists.


The Exposition de Cent pastels represents the start of attention on the 18th century pastel in its own terms. It changed a great deal:

  • It made collecting pastel socially acceptable
  • It introduced the medium to a broader audience
  • It introduced them to minor pastellists such as Jean Chevalier, Duplessis, Frey, Guérin, Hall, Hoin, Labille-Guiard, Mérelle
  • It even made English pastellists such as Cotes and Gardner acceptable.

Standards of scholarship however left much to be desired, as anyone can see by comparing the livret with the commemorative catalogue, where at least two dozen new “identifications” were supplied by Roger-Milès’s fevered imagination. But perfectly good works (such as La Tour’s princesse de Rohan,


now in Stockholm) were rejected as anonymes, in favour of copies and misattributions. As a quick tally, of the 118 pastels in the livret, only 102 made it into the final catalogue, not all of which are known today; I reckon that some 25 were given imaginary identities, perhaps ten were given to completely incorrect artists (Vigée Le Brun to Carmontelle or Perronneau; Valade to La Tour; Gardner to Reynolds etc.), while a dozen (mostly given to La Tour) were simply copies. The point was made by Maurice Tourneux at the time, and more recently by Xavier Salmon in the context of the 2004 La Tour exhibition. I make it again in the broader context of “not every pastellist is La Tour”.

But Cent pastels was a start. It was rapidly followed by the even larger Exposition des pastellistes anglais du xviiie siècle – but this was a dealers’ show, riddled with error and diluted with watercolour. The First World War intervened, but by 1920 there was a return of interest led initially by dealers’ shows but culminating in a re-run of Cent pastels, but with sounder scholarship: the 1927 Exposition de pastels français des xviie et xviiie siècles.


Again a livret and a full souvenir catalogue, and this time as well as including further unknowns, such as Allais, Berjon, Davesne and Frédou, an attempt was made to cover the earlier period, with pastels by Nanteuil, Vaillant and Vivien. The English interlopers – indeed all foreign pastellists – were excluded. There remained some errors: among nearly 150 pastels, about a dozen were wrongly identified and a similar number misattributed. Despite the inclusion of many smaller names, it reinforced the perception of La Tour and Perronneau as the only ones who matter. In general it established a strong level of interest in 18th century French pastel, and led to the inclusion of pastels in a series of loan exhibitions in Paris, Amsterdam, London, Vienna and Venice in the 1930s.


Paul Ratouis de Limay finally published his survey of French 18th century pastellists in 1946, but it was largely based on work done before the war (he was 65 when it appeared). And while there were similar, but even less accurate, summaries of German (Brieger, 1913) and English pastellists (Sée, deeply flawed) there remained no comprehensive study of the field until far later.


The next war cast a pall over the dix-huitième which lasted through the 1980s. You can see too what happened in terms of cross-border movement: although a couple of dealer-led shows in Paris and London like the Pastellistes anglais distorted the statistics for the 1910s, the transport of pastels for international loan exhibitions was very rare until very recently. This is a point I shall come back to.

Of course it’s not correct to say that pastel shows ended in 1939. Pastels continued to appear in more general exhibitions. The huge Marie-Antoinette show in Versailles in 1955, with over 1000 exhibits, included some 30 pastels. (In contrast the 2008 Marie-Antoinette exhibition included only 6 pastels.) A similar number and ratio for the Royal Academy exhibition of British portraits in London in 1956. But pastels in larger shows took a lower and lower profile. The Royal Academy’s winter exhibition of 1968, France in the eighteenth century, had 1035 exhibits, but only 5 were genuine pastels. Portraits publics, portraits privés at the Grand Palais in 2006 and the Royal Academy the following year included no pastel.

Apart from a few commercial shows pastel exhibitions were rare in the post-war period. Special shows of the Louvre and Saint-Quentin collections were held in the 1950s; the next exhibition with more than a dozen pastels was that of the Carnavalet’s permanent collection in 1984. After that you had to wait 13 years for the Versailles exhibition, again of its own holdings. In 2001 the Hermitage did the same.


By far the largest was the Warsaw exhibition of 2015 with some 250 of its own pastels from all periods.


2004 saw the tercentenary celebrations for La Tour with 50 pastels from public and private collections travelling to Versailles and exhibitions of permanent collections at Chantilly, the Louvre etc. with a joint catalogue: the simultaneous hub idea which never really caught on. But the event gave a huge fillip to pastel exhibitions.


Recent years have seen a number of monographic exhibitions: Rosalba, Tiepolo, Liotard, Perronneau.


The Vigée Le Brun show had some 32 pastels in Paris, although only 5 made it to the US leg. But a feature of this and the Liotard and Perronneau shows which may be termed “availability bias” is that for these artists, the relative strength of their œuvre in pastel compared with their oil paintings may have been distorted by the difficulty of borrowing their best work in the more fragile medium. Some people left the Liotard exhibition thinking he was a far better miniaturist, painter and draughtsman than pastellist.


The most important recent shows devoted exclusively to the eighteenth century pastel by multiple artists was held by the Met in New York in 2011: 44 pastels of its own and local collections, mainly focused on big names, but mixing pastels from all schools.

But the need has remained for loan exhibitions so as to extend knowledge beyond domestic boundaries and the inner circle of the big names.

This survey prompts questions:

  • Should French pastels be mixed with British, Italian, German and other schools?
  • Should 18th century works hang with later ones?
  • Should pastels hang among oil paintings, drawings or miniatures?
  • Should they be hung sparsely in single rows, or in dense multi-level displays?
  • How should they be lit (ambient or directional), and against what colour walls? Should there be shows with different levels of illumination: one night a month reserved for pensioners, or fifteen minutes each hour at general low levels?

Let me try to draw some conclusions.

  • Taste is influenced but not formed by individual enthusiasts. Whether they are ahead of their time or remain disregarded is, like treason, a question of dates.
  • Museum purchases, saleroom prices and social acceptability are all driven to a far greater extent by dealers and perhaps increasingly by auction houses.
  • Taste has been and remains strongly name-driven. A Gardner or even a Liotard is nowhere until someone pays a spectacular price.
  • European collections largely remain national. Only from America is Europe viewed as a single country.
  • Neglect and ignorance persist, and exhibitions are crucial in breaking this down.
  • But fragility remains the big barrier to those shows…my next talk.

Banning the sale of ivory

DEFRAMichael Gove is secretary of state for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The departmental logo is as illiterate as that of DCMS: both presumably have a teenage graphic designer who believes you can’t have commas at the end of a line. It may be the end of the line for more than the comma however if the latest plans for banning the sale of ivory are implemented as currently envisaged. They would kill the portrait miniature in private collections.

The stated purpose of the rules is to …

send a global signal that trading ivory is not acceptable. We will send a strong signal that the UK does not condone continued demand for ivory

The repetition of the phrase tells you that this is about signalling, not thinking. No one is going to defend the obviously revolting trade which results in the slaughter of elephants, nor take issue with the accurate statement that–

Sales of ivory products, including larger items of solid ivory, present a risk in terms of opportunity to pass off illegally-sourced ivory as legitimate

But there is nothing here that leads to the conclusion that any of this would stop if we ban the sale of antique portrait miniatures. I won’t attempt to summarise the history of the various recent attempts to deal with this problem, but my view is that Gove has adopted a plainly populist measure which will find favour with animal rights campaigners, and has done so oblivious of the concerns of the small minority of private collectors.

You can see the consultation here, and reply to it either by email or by completing the online form. I’ve done so, and set out below my answers to some of the questions.

 Do you have any evidence on how our proposed ban would affect the arts and antiques sectors, or individuals who own ivory items?

As an art historian specialising in pre-1800 portraiture I regard it as imperative that the exemptions from the proposed rules are strengthened so as to exclude totally and unambiguously all works of art of more than 100 years of age. Including them in the ban serves no useful purpose and will save the lives of no elephants. Failing to do so is merely a cover for the incompetence of draftsmen framing the legislation. But such a sledgehammer will amount to the greatest act of peacetime vandalism since the dissolution of the monasteries.

Antique works of art caught by such a ban will become unsaleable, except to museums. It is however highly unlikely that museums placed in such a privileged position will pay anything like the market value established before the ban. Worse, some valuable works may struggle to find a museum interested in acquisition at all. The history of art is often subject to such fashions (I myself have particular expertise in pastels, which were highly fashionable in the 18th and again in the late 19th century, but are now of no interest to museums in the UK – although today some US museums have started to collect again). So it is not inconceivable that works once, and potentially in the future, regarded as of serious aesthetic importance might fail to find any museum home.

With no other market, collectors will lose interest. When they die, works will presumably be given to relatives who in most cases won’t know how to look after them. The proposals are far from clear as to the restrictions on works caught by the ban. If they can be given to non-museums, you will simply find that a barter market emerges which will undermine the point of any ban, and result simply in great inconvenience to owners. When this happens (demonstrating the absurdity of the measures) the rules will then be tightened, ultimately making it illegal to own such objects at all.

Antique ivory must be kept in conditions of carefully controlled humidity, failing which they will deteriorate (ivory is prone to splitting). Professional restoration and conservation are expensive interventions which few collectors (and fewer subsequent owners) will undertake for works which have effectively been rendered valueless.

Collectors will find that their works have been appropriated, potentially in breach of their rights under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights. This gives every person the right to peaceful enjoyment of their possessions. A ban would only be lawful if it achieved a fair balance between the general public interest and the protection of collectors’ rights. You may expect legal cases to be fought on whether a pointless measure that cannot possibly save elephants’ lives does strike such a balance.

Do you agree that the Government should include a de minimis exemption to an ivory ban?

The black pigment most widely used by all artists (in oil paint, pastels, miniatures etc.) of all periods since Roman times is ivory black. Today it is made by charring bones of other animal species, but until recently the highest quality black was made (as the name suggests) from burnt elephant ivory. As the chemical formula is simply carbon, and the process kills DNA, there is no way of telling whether a particular painting has a tiny quantity of ivory incorporated in it. Were this ban not to include a de minimis exemption, the entire world of old master painting would be affected. It is the absurdity of that suggestion that should make legislators pause before imposing the ban on portrait miniatures just because the support has not (yet) been burnt.

Do you have any views on what the scope of the de minimis exemption should be? Should it be qualified, or refined, further than proposed in the consultation document?

The exemption should extend to any case where the value of the object derives primarily from the workmanship rather than from the materials incorporated.

What thresholds of ivory content should be set for a de minimis exemption, by either percentage, volume or weight?

As argued above the test should rather focus on the source of value. Where a portrait miniature is worth say £1000 but the thin sheet of ivory on which it is painted is worth say £50 the position will be clear. It will be said that since there is no market in unpainted ivory sheets the second value cannot be provided, but it is obviously underpinned by the price of the lowest value miniature of the same size. However it would be helpful if the Government were to produce a fixed scale showing the material value of ivory sheets of various sizes and weights which would make it simple to see that specific items gained exemption on this basis.

As a further illustration of the definitional problem, consider the portrait miniature which consists of a thin layer of watercolour weighing less than 1 gm applied to a small oval sheet of ivory (of say 3×2 cm, weighing perhaps 5 gm) set in a gold box weighing perhaps 100 gm. Or the same miniature removed and set in a cheaper, smaller and lighter mount. All that will happen with any set of rules based on such parameters is the vandalism of removing mounts to pass specific tests.

Consider further the problem of some miniatures executed on card where the artist has inserted a small slip of ivory underneath the faces to achieve a certain luminosity. I describe this technique in my catalogue of the works of Jacques-Antoine-Marie Lemoine (Gazette des Beaux-Arts, February 1999). Should these miniatures fall on a different side of the line than the rest of his oeuvre in miniature?

How should the de minimis exemption operate in practice?

It would be helpful if there was a general exemption for things like portrait miniatures where it is obvious that the test I propose above would be fulfilled. Any system of expert certification (for fees) is likely to interfere with owners’ quiet enjoyment.

What do you think the scope of the items of artistic, cultural, or historic significance exemption should be? How should artistic, cultural, or historic significance be defined?

Any object valued primarily for its artistic, cultural or historic significance rather than for its intrinsic material content.

 Do you agree that the Government should include an exemption to allow continued sales of items containing ivory to museums or between museums?

Yes and no – i.e. only on the general approach set out in my other answers.

I am puzzled that there should seem to be specific encouragement for deaccessioning.

I am also sceptical that “museums” should enjoy special rights over private collections, which are sometimes owned by specialists who take at least equal care over their objects. Museums are not the only sources of cultural validation. Museums often store unfashionable objects out of sight and measures which simply result in expanding these storage facilities and deprive those really interested in these possessions cannot be in the broader public interest. Private collectors can serve a vital role in preserving heritage which happens not to be valued by current museology. When tastes change, loans from private collections often turn out to be significant items in exhibitions, and in most cases private collectors will make their work accessible to serious academic researchers.

Has thought been given as to the definition of museum? Would it for example permit me to sell (or even donate) my miniatures to the Louvre (who have a far greater interest than any UK museum would have)?

It should be observed too that the international dimension seems to have been ignored wholly in this consultation. Even for exhibition loans, the existence of different sets of rules for each jurisdiction (including those in transit) vastly complicates the paper work and administration. But if works can be given or bartered with parties unaffected by UK rules, they will be completely ineffective.

Do you have any views as to which public body should be responsible for enforcing the ban?

If as proposed in the paper the exemption extends only to “significant artistic, cultural or historical value”, it will as the paper suggests require some form of control. The paper suggests a “certification scheme administered by a panel of licensed specialists”. I very much doubt that will be workable in practice. Where (as in the case of portrait miniatures) much of the expertise is with the trade, how are conflicts of interest to be avoided?

Similar proposals in the field of copyright have led to expensive and bureaucratic collecting agencies being formed for the purposes of extracting profit from silly rules. This has nothing to do with protecting wildlife.

It will be tempting to suggest that such a panel operate on a similar basis to the Arts Council’s Reviewing Committee for the Export of Works of Art (a committee on which I myself have served). But even there, where the Waverley Criteria have been honed over many years, they can be difficult to apply. Setting the new criteria for ivory objects is likely to be exceedingly difficult. Further, the RCEWA works effectively because the committee is large enough to represent a wide range of views, and these members serve for no fee because the works they consider are of national importance and we regard it as our public duty to offer our advice.

Assembling similar committees for a vastly larger number of cases would be extremely difficult in practice. It would be harder to recruit specialists to serve since most of the items will be of far more specialized interest than those referred to the RCEWA. This will lead to bottlenecks, delays and expense that would be devastating to the antiques business and highly detrimental to London’s position as the centre of the world’s art trade.

Do you have any views as to the sanctions that should be applicable to those found to be in breach of this ban?

Significant sanctions should only be imposed on those who deliberately or dishonestly seek to avoid the rules. Dependent on the final form of the exemptions, inadvertent breaches seem highly likely (this is the usual result of absurd and draconian legislation) and should not incur criminal penalties.

Do you think that it should be for those involved in the sale to demonstrate that an item falls into an exempted category?

No. It is this which is the most chilling feature of the proposals. Almost all other criminal law requires the state to prove its case. The proposal seem to envisage that collectors should be required to go to considerable expense to justify what in most cases (assuming a sensible exemption system is introduced) is blindingly obvious. If you own a miniature by Smart or Hall why should you have to pay someone (who probably knows less than you about it) to confirm the fact?

 Do you have any views as to the sanctions that should be applicable to those found to be in breach of this ban?

Significant sanctions should only be imposed on those who deliberately or dishonestly seek to avoid the rules. Dependent on the final form of the exemptions, inadvertent breaches seem highly likely (this is the usual result of absurd and draconian legislation) and should not incur criminal penalties.

Do you have any other comments about this proposed ivory ban?

No measure in relation to antique works of art will save any elephant. The proposals have been revived purely because the minister hopes to secure the animal welfare vote, not because they will assist London to maintain its antiques trade. If implemented as envisaged, they run the risk of inflicting hardship on that trade, and misery on the collectors whose enthusiasm, knowledge and dedication to their interest would under all normal circumstances be regarded as wholly laudable.

It is time for ministers to abandon populist measures and revert to intelligent government. The proposals should be dropped.

Postscript, 14 October

An eminent Continental miniatures expert has drawn my attention to a similar issue in France. Last year a blanket ban on ivory trading was proposed, but after vigorous lobbying the proposals were amended to restore sanity to the antiques business. All works made before 1947 (as self-certified by vendors) are exempt. Here is the account which appeared in La Tribune de l’art on 15 May this year:

Patrimoine – Ivoire et isolation par l’extérieur – Un arrêté paru le 17 août 2016 au Journal Officiel traduisait dans un texte ce que la ministre de l’Environnement avait annoncé : rendre illégal tout commerce de l’ivoire. Certes, cet arrêté prévoyait des dérogations pour les œuvres fabriquées avant 1975. Mais la dérogation devait être demandée systématiquement, pour chaque objet, selon une procédure très lourde. Le préfet avait quatre mois pour répondre faute de quoi la décision était réputée négative. Il était presque impossible pour les antiquaires et sociétés de vente aux enchères d’entamer une démarche aussi chronophage pour des objets qui souvent ne valent que quelques milliers d’euros, et l’administration n’aurait de toute façon pas pu traiter toutes ces demandes si elles lui étaient parvenues, faute d’effectifs. Du coup, le commerce d’œuvres en ivoire était devenu pratiquement impossible ces derniers mois en France. L’arrêté interdisait également « l’utilisation commerciale » de l’ivoire ce qui en toute logique empêchait par exemple les expositions d’œuvres d’art en ivoire dans un musée sans que celui-ci demande une autorisation (en trois exemplaires, avec un délai de quatre mois pour la réponse).

Les différents syndicats du marché de l’art – aidés par le ministère de la Culture, nous a dit Jean-Pierre Osénat, président du Symev – ont donc entamé de longues discussions avec le ministère de l’Environnement et les associations de protection de l’environnement afin de leur expliquer pourquoi il fallait faire évoluer ce texte. Et ce travail a été efficace puisqu’un nouvel arrêté a été publié, qui corrige en grande partie les défauts du premier. Seul le commerce de l’ivoire brut ou des objets modernes exécutés en ivoire (et en corne de rhinocéros) est interdit, l’achat et la vente d’œuvres d’art anciennes étant autorisé dans les conditions suivantes :

  •  les objets fabriqués avant le 2 mars 1947,
  •  les objets fabriqués entre le 2 mars 1947 et le 1er juillet 1975 composés en tout ou partie d’ivoire ou de corne, lorsque la masse d’ivoire ou de corne présente dans l’objet est inférieure à 200 grammes.
  •  les touches et tirettes de jeux en ivoire des instruments de musique à clavier ;
  •  les archers des instruments à cordes frottées.

Par ailleurs, l’utilisation commerciale est autorisée « lorsqu’elle a pour seul but leur présentation au public à des fins scientifiques ou culturelles par des musées ou d’autres institutions de recherche ou d’information scientifiques ou culturelles ».

Remarquons néanmoins que toute vente et utilisation commerciale d’un objet en ivoire ou en corne devra faire l’objet d’une déclaration qui sera entrée dans une base de données nationale. Le vendeur devra également garantir l’ancienneté de l’œuvre. Ces deux dispositions ont pour objectif de suivre le commerce et de s’assurer que les objets vendus sont bien anciens. Des dérogations sont également prévues pour les restaurateurs qui peuvent travailler à partir d’ivoire importé avant 1975.

Des orgies de couleurs: Degas at the National Gallery

coverEveryone loves Degas, and everyone will love the new exhibition of the Burrell pastels at the National Gallery which opens on Wednesday, marking the centenary of the artist’s death. I’ll leave it to other reviewers to come up with adjectival encomia (all in the superlative), but we are assured of massive attendances and a measurable increase in visitor numbers. (The only thing lacking is a hefty entrance fee – always a reliable way of making the public feel they are getting value.) All good things, even if it slightly feels as though an opera house has opted for La Bohème instead of a Rameau revival or an Alban Berg. Degas’s popularity means that he is represented in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of shows; the National Art Library holds catalogues for nearly 100 monographic exhibitions of his work (this is the fourth the National Gallery has hosted since 1996).

That of course is not quite fair: imagine instead an undiscovered, or little known, Puccini, as I suspect few visitors will be familiar with the Degas pictures in the Burrell. (Or perhaps a chamber work, as the exhibition, with only 30 pieces, is of admirably manageable size: I am a great fan of small exhibitions.) No one of course will now remember the exhibition at the Tate of the whole Burrell Collection in 1924.

As the exhibition literature reveals, there are some 22 works by Degas in the Burrell Collection, all reproduced in the catalogue (alongside others from the NG’s own collection, and one which Burrell gave to another institution), although two weren’t allowed to travel. The 20 that did are described as “13 pastels, three drawings and four oil paintings”, although of course Degas’s obsession with experimentation strains such rigid classifications (where do you put “pencil and oil on paper”?). But much of the point of the show is the extraordinary series of late pastels with their immediate, vibrant colours, so it is a little strange that the press release chooses an early-ish oil (albeit a great one, The Rehearsal, no. 11) as the exhibition image (it was seen in London as recently as 2015, and in the meantime has travelled to Melbourne and Houston). The girl on the cover (above: no. 29) is however more typical; but is she really a “Dancer adjusting her shoulder strap” when she wears no costume?

There is a highly readable, beautifully produced and affordably priced catalogue, which includes the missing works and is obviously intended for a longer shelf-life than just the exhibition. The title page identifies the authors as “Vivien Hamilton, with Julien Domercq and Harriet K. Stratis, contributions by Sarah Herring and Christopher Riopelle”, while the final page gives the exhibition curator as “Julien Domercq, with Christopher Riopelle”, the press release giving this role to Domercq alone. In any case all (and the teams behind them) are to be congratulated.

The press release promises that the catalogue “includes new technical analysis of his pastel works”, and you may imagine that I turned to this with some interest. The literature on Degas is simply enormous, and a great deal of attention has already been given to technical analysis of his work. Stratis’s essay deserves reading as closely as she has evidently looked at the pastels, and she brings a depth of experience from her association for many years with the Art Institute of Chicago which holds one of the great collections of Degas works on paper.

For previous publications on Degas’s pastels the contributions of Anne Maheux are particularly relevant, and it is curious that her small catalogue of the 1988 exhibition in Ottawa included much more scientific information, including chemical analysis of a kind the National Gallery presumably thought too specialised for readers of the new catalogue. Maheux’s approach also included far more about the historical influences on Degas’s interest in the medium (reproducing works from Bassano, Rosalba, La Tour, Chardin, Delacroix and Millet), while the new catalogue simply reproduces the Geneva version of La Tour’s autoportrait à l’œil de bœuf, the reference to which (p. 35) seems to have slipped out of place; it does not seem to relate to any broad discussion (if it is intended to illustrate eighteenth-century pastellists’ non-use of fixatives, it may not be the best example, as La Tour did, unusually for that time, employ them in various ways).

It’s a trivial point – although as the claim is frequently made, and in two of the present essays, a short digression is in order – as my own view is that whatever inspiration Degas derived from the dix-huitième, he used pastel in a completely different way (the exhibition is properly entitled “drawn in colour”; La Tour and his contemporaries painted in pastel). It is true that the early no. 12 comes closest to a painterly technique (chronology is easily lost as the organisers have opted for a thematic arrangement), but to me this is worlds away from the Enlightenment tidiness and immaculate finish of La Tour, the “machiniste merveilleux”. It’s closer in a way to Bassano with its exploration of the fall of light on multiple figures.

Degas Preparation Burrell

No. 12. Preparation for the class. The Burrell Collection, Glasgow (35.238). © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

Degas of course was brought up among his father’s collection, which included work by La Tour and Perronneau (my only contribution to Degas studies is the tiniest of footnotes in Theodore Reff’s Burlington Magazine article in May 2011 where I identify one of the pastels Degas had inherited from his father, wrongly attributed to La Tour; it was actually by Ducreux). As Reff points out in his book, Degas: the Artist’s Mind (1976, p. 115), Degas’s friends were also interested in these works: the painter Émile Lévy bought this Perronneau pastel. Curiously the only work which crept into his own pictures was the Perronneau oil portrait, formerly known as Mme Miron  (Dominique d’Arnoult’s re-identification of the sitter as Mme Hogguer seems unconvincing as the eyes are a different colour), also part of his father’s collection; it appears in the background of Degas’s pastel portrait of his sister Thérèse of around 1869. But to me much the most revealing thing is Degas’s rather clumsy attempt to copy a La Tour pastel of an unknown Homme en habit marron. The original (left, below; no. J.46.3192 in the online Dictionary of pastellists), again from his father’s collection, is now in the musée Jacquemart-André (an attribution to Valade has recently, but incorrectly, been suggested; in 1918 however the experts thought the copy was an original eighteenth-century work):

Degas’s copy (right), now in the musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts in Lausanne, was, bizarrely, attempted in oil. It cannot be explained as juvenilia: his father only bought the La Tour in 1873, when Degas was already 29. What it shows is that, at heart, Degas was no dix-huitiémiste: his work took off when he was liberated from the control and precision of the art of the past, and his pictures became literally inundated with colour and light. As you see triumphantly in the current show.

Or at least you may be able to, once your eyes accommodate to the low levels of lighting permitted by the conservators. For pensioners like me, this is a real struggle; and I think museums showing exhibitions of works on paper should seriously consider offering an evening with access restricted to the over 60s where the light levels are increased from the 37 lux I measured this morning to say 75 lux. For 2-3 hours that will have no material impact on the light log for these works. It is however worth noting that light damage for Degas pastels is a far more serious problem than for most eighteenth century pastels, bar the few that made extensive use of lake pigments; Degas’s use of recent aniline dyes is probably responsible. And while it is difficult to assess the impact under exhibition conditions, I suspect quite a lot of wall-power has by now been lost. Would we today agree with the reviewer in the Spectator in 1924 who thought Les Bijoux (no. 10) the best?

The catalogue’s production values and price are however only achieved by the omission of the critical apparatus that one used to expect from all exhibitions in major galleries (that for the 1988 exhibition in the Met, New York is exemplary, and even now available online at no charge). This is particularly regrettable for the Burrell pastels as there is no single place to trace their numerous discussions in the literature or even their exhibition history since the publication of the Lemoisne catalogue raisonné – before most of us were born. There is a brief mention of the importance of the frames which Degas designed for his work, but none is illustrated. (They stand in contrast to Durand-Ruel’s penchant for taking old Louis XV or Régence frames, often stripping back the gilding; and because Degas’s pictures have a different aspect ratio than the art of the ancien régime, slips, often quite wide, have had to be used.) There is no index. I may have missed it, but nowhere could I find the artist’s name given in full (elsewhere in the gallery, and throughout the press material, the full Hilaire-Germain- continues). Since the titles of the works are rarely Degas’s own, it is perhaps excusable that they are given only in English (in contrast to Tate’s practice in 1924: does this say something too about assumptions about visitors’ knowledge?).

The essays on Degas and on Burrell are both fascinating. To our astonishment we learn (from Hamilton) that Burrell never displayed his Degas at home, preferring his mediaeval tapestries (of which a full catalogue raisonné has just been published). Curieux indeed. Domercq’s biographical note on Degas manages in a few deft strokes to distinguish Degas from his cohort of Impressionists; in observing that “the medium almost becomes a subject in itself” he summarises the exhibition astutely. I’ve hijacked his quote from Julie Manet’s Journal for my title (I can’t help mentioning, from the same source two years before, 1897, Julie’s trip to Orléans, which she found a really sad town, lifted only by a Perronneau I’ve discussed before in this blog, and their version of the National Gallery’s Drouais of Mme de Pompadour).

Domercq may regret mentioning the artist’s anti-Semitism, which, in the current fevered mood of political correctness, is likely to be picked up by reviewers (most of France thought Dreyfus guilty, although Degas’s position was extreme), while it is as irrelevant to the brilliance of these pastels as would be the politics of a mathematician who proved the Riemann hypothesis to the validity of the demonstration (remember however Michael Dummett’s shock on discovering Frege’s diaries). Or nearly so: perhaps you take the line that Degas’s art is a commentary on the hardship faced by ballet dancers, a sort of social realism – while of course these abstract works of pure colour, still lifes in motion, bear the same relationship to this subject matter as Puccini’s waves of luscious sound do to Mürger’s novel. Degas was no Zola.

Degas’s views on Dreyfus offer perhaps further evidence of his eccentricity. This was a painter who, astonishingly, detested flowers; and, for someone whose art involved constant innovation and experiment, it is even more surprising (remember that a section of the exhibition is entitled “Modern Life”) to discover that he had a strong dislike of recent inventions such as aeroplanes or even bicycles, and dismissed the telephone as “ridicule”.

But there are a couple of other things that the catalogue does not discuss. Burrell was a canny Scot who knew a thing or two about transportation (that’s where his money came from, and his brother was an engineer). In the terms of his will he stipulated that his collection shouldn’t be loaned outside the UK, since he was worried about the hazards of moving precious and fragile works of art. While the gallery is closed for rebuilding, in order to be able to lend the objects to exhibitions worldwide, the owners needed to pass an act of parliament to override his wishes. Of course that wasn’t required for loans to London (there have been previous loans, for example five pastels were lent to Liverpool in 1989: nos. 9, 10, 19, 23, 32), but the Burrell Collection (Lending and Borrowing) (Scotland) Act 2014 has permitted some of the Degas pictures to travel overseas already. Four were lent to the major retrospective Degas: A New Vision held in Melbourne and Houston 2016–17; of these, condition issues apply in particular to the two pastels (nos. 17, 19). Much has been said (look up the press and parliamentary records of the debates and committees leading up to the 2014 act: here’s a link to the views of the previous NG director, who was also renowned for his opposition to popular blockbusters) about the spirit of Burrell’s bequest, and how transport has improved – but is air travel for pastels today safer than sea transport for tapestries in Burrell’s day?

19 Red skirts

No. 19. The Red Ballet Skirts. The Burrell Collection, Glasgow (35.243) © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

When no. 19 returned from Houston it was reported that undulations in the lower area appeared to have increased. That is after at least 20,000 miles in the air (apart from the 440 miles trip to Liverpool, and of course the original journey from France) – and before the second 700 road miles round trip to London (it had already made that journey in 1924 when Burrell lent his collection to the Tate). No one knows how to compare the dangers to pastel (see my earlier blog post) from travelling by air (where the main hazard is the possibility of a few severe shocks in the cargo handling area, while the constant vibration during flight doesn’t register on shock meters and so is usually ignored) with the very frequent but lower shock levels throughout a road journey, even with air-ride suspension and foam-lined cases. Whether polyurethane or polyethylene is the better type of foam is disputed between their proponents as vigorously as the conflict of the Big-Endians and the Little-Endians, but to me both factions are Pollyannas.

The National Gallery did pioneering work on methods of crating pastels some twenty years ago (Saunders & al. 1999: see my Prolegomena for a full discussion and detailed references), demonstrating that their double-case system was better than the Art Institute of Chicago’s triple-case system, while acknowledging that you couldn’t optimise the vibration damping for both upper and lower tier trays. Curiously the National Gallery are using the same two-tier system for transport to this exhibition, even though the logical conclusion – that a single case is even better – has been adopted by other institutions for pastels (it’s also easier to move these by hand than a 54 kg double crate). As readers of this blog will know I am yet to be convinced that the problems of transporting pastels have been solved. (There are differences between 18th century practices and those of Degas, but there are also common issues.) Nor can I explain why it was decided to ship one of the pastels (no. 32) vertically while the others travelled horizontally. (The conservator recommended addressing the tension problem by tapping out the keys in the stretcher; I find it difficult to see how to do so without endangering any loose pastel. The vertical/horizontal/45°/10° debate continues among specialists, whatever the tension problems.)

The new catalogue also is coy about questions of condition which of course overlap with decisions about suitability to lend. (Here’s a paradox: do you lend the work which is in perfect condition (and so has everything to lose) or the one which has already lost its fleur (demonstrating its vulnerability)?) Of no. 23, for example, we are told only that “this pastel has a wonderfully dense textured surface.”

23 Theatre box

No. 23. Women in a Theatre Box. The Burrell Collection, Glasgow (35.231) © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

Perhaps that is because it was unfixed; the pastel was however worked very densely and heavily compacted. But there is substantial fading of colour and suggestions of previous mould and possibly water damage in parts. And when the pastel travelled to Liverpool in 1989 (although not mentioned in the catalogue or the new conservation report), there was only a 3mm gap between the glass and the pastel surface, leading to a substantial transfer of material to the inside of the glass. You can see this from a photograph taken after the pastel’s return from Liverpool in 1989:

Burrell 35_231 1989

Photograph taken in 1989 reproduced in Norville-Day & al. 1993

The transfer of pastel to the inside of the glass has been known since the earliest times (see for example the 1747 Oudry letter I quote in the Prolegomena: “le transport détache toujours quelque partie qui s’attache à la glace et ternit l’ouvrage”), but the mechanism for it is not fully understood (static from perspex or other polymeric glazing substitutes, or just protective tape on the outside of traditional glass, can cause it, but it can arise without either). This outing would have been a good opportunity to add to our knowledge, but I am told by the National Gallery that no scientific investigation (e.g. involving deglazing) of the kind conducted and published after the Liverpool exhibition is taking place.

Since it is reproduced in the catalogue, I mention also what may be the most important work in the collection (after The Rehearsal), namely the portrait of Edmond Duranty. This is executed in a curious mixture of media using pastel and a paint described in the present catalogue as gouache but in earlier sources as tempera (perhaps using the white rather than the yolk of the egg). Whatever the medium, it has not adhered to the support, and so what (for me at least) would have been one of the stars of the show has prudently been omitted (“le pastel ne veut pas être tourmenté” in the words of a mid-eighteenth century critic). According to the review in the The Nation & The Athenæum, 29 March 1924:

The Burrell Collection, which is at present on loan at the Tate Gallery, consists mainly of pictures by French and Dutch artists of the latter half of the nineteenth century. There are several pictures by Degas, not, on the whole, at his best, except in the fine portrait of M. Duranty.

One should be careful at drawing inferences from photographs, but a comparison of a detail from the reproduction in Ian Dunlop’s 1979 monograph (the earliest colour image I could find) and the present catalogue (I am informed that the image in the new catalogue was taken in 2009) does seem to show some loss of definition:

Duranty 1979v2017

No. 2. Edmond Duranty. The Burrell Collection (not exhibited). Details reproduced from photographs taken before 1979 (left) and in 2009 (right)

But some of this may be due to different quality reproduction. (Incidentally I don’t approve of bleeding reproductions over the centre fold.) You can’t assess condition from photographs (unless the losses have become literally catastrophic). (An Artwatch sequence of images of a Degas pastel in Denver which appears to show a loss of pastel in a sequence of images should be treated with similar caution; the same pastel appears in the rather larger Degas exhibition opening in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge next month – an event which will surely be of interest to all visitors to the National Gallery show, but is seemingly not mentioned at all in the NG catalogue.)

This isn’t the place for a full debate about the wisdom of moving pastels, nor about the sharing of information and scientific data when it happens. Modern labour law prevents us from insisting that pastels “be carried on a man’s back”, as another canny Scot, the Duke of Hamilton, insisted (Hamilton Palace was some 40 miles from Edinburgh). But perhaps these are issues that should be debated, since there is an expectation at the Burrell that the National Gallery will reciprocally lend its Degas pictures when the museum reopens.

Postscript – 25 September 2017

I’ve now received revised information from the National Gallery indicating that conservation findings from the present exhibition will be published at some stage. This will helpfully supplement the now rather old findings of Norville-Day and Saunders mentioned above.

Vigée Le Brun’s “Italian girl”

Vigee Le Brun gA little detective work has unlocked the story of one of Mme Vigée Le Brun’s quick pastel sketches.[1] The identification of the “Italian girl” and the full history follow from this apparently enigmatic label on the back of the work:


The pastel dates from Mme Vigée Le Brun’s London trip in 1803 to 1805. Here she had resumed her travels despite being allowed back to Paris. She was not received with universal enthusiasm: although Reynolds had called her paintings of Marie-Antoinette and Mme de Polignac “as fine as those of any painter…either living or dead” (Northcote 1819, ii, p.100), Edwards (1808) decried the fact that her portraits commanded “thrice the sum that Sir Joshua Reynolds received”, while Hoppner criticised “the imposing quality of smoothness…spread over the works of the insipid, as a kind of snare to catch the ignorant”, and that upon this and on “a feeble, vulgar, and detailed imitation of articles of furniture and dress, rests the whole of Madame Le Brun’s reputation.” (Oriental tales, London, 1805, p. xi). But that quality was completely absent from the immediacy and directness of her sketches of friends.

The circles she moved in are well documented, in her own Souvenirs, in recent biographies (such as that by Geneviève Haroche-Bouzinac) and in the 2015 exhibition organized by Joseph Baillio, and in particular included a group of internationally renowned musicians and performance artists, among them Giuseppina Grassini, Angelica Catalani, Viotti and the Chinneries: indeed the withdrawals from William Chinnery’s bank account[2] with Drummonds reads like a Who’s Who of the musical and artistic talent of the day – including a payment of £100 to Vigée Le Brun, presumably for her 1803 portrait of Margaret Chinnery, now in Bloomington, Indiana.

They also included payments (totaling some £400) to the Italian composer Francesco Bianchi (1752–1810) and his wife, the singer Jane Bianchi (1776–1858), who both enjoyed considerable celebrity at the time.[3] Bianchi, from Cremona, wrote nearly 80 operas in his career, and came to London in 1795 to direct a revival of one of the most popular, La Vendetta di Nino; during his stay in London he put on another fourteen operas at the King’s Theatre. Jane was the daughter of John Jackson, a surgeon/apothecary in Sloane Street, and had appeared at the Concert of Antient Music from 1798 on. On 15 November 1800 she married the composer at St James’s, Piccadilly.

Shortly after a single child was born to the union, baptized Caroline Nelson Bianchi (1801–1807) – a name which reflects how closely they moved in the same circles as Vigée Le Brun, and evidenced further by the drawing by Thomas Baxter, a protégé of the admiral, who depicted Mme Bianchi and Emma Hamilton (on the right) seated at a square piano at Merton in 1805 (Royal Museums Greenwich):

Madame Bianchi and Emma Hamilton

Vigée Le Brun’s portrait of Caroline, hitherto unknown and identified by the somewhat obscure label discussed below, was probably executed the year before.

The following year we can conjecture that Caroline was a guest at the birthday party held for Nelson’s illegitimate daughter Horatia, reports of which appeared two days later in the Morning Chronicle (31 October 1806):

Morning Chronicle Fri31x1806 Horatia Nelsons party

Sadly however Caroline died just two months later, an event recorded in The Gentleman’s Magazine for February 1807 (p. 180):

Gentlemans Mag ii1807p180

She was buried at St Mary Abbots Church in Kensington on 2 February 1807. Bianchi had by then been separated from his wife, and never recovered from his young daughter’s death. Three years later, on 27 November 1810, he committed suicide, “broken-hearted for the loss of his child” in Leigh-Hunt’s phrase.[4] In accordance with his will,[5] he was buried beside her:

Bianchi will

A stone in the churchyard (now long gone) recorded (inaccurately):

Kensington stone

Jane remarried the following year, in Brighton. Her second husband was another singer, William Pardy Lacy (1788–1871), and she continued to perform under the name Mme Bianchi-Lacy. Another child would play a crucial role in identifying the portrait of her half-sister: she was baptized (at St Marylebone) Angelica Elisabeth Lacy (1814–1891), quite possibly after La Catalani.

Angelica herself would have a distinguished performing career as a singer and pianist. The Musical Library (April 1835, p. 31) recorded the debut, with the Antient Concert, of “a new candidate for vocal fame – Miss Lacy, daughter of Mrs Bianchi Lacy…This young lady greatly resembles her mother in delicacy of style and correctness of intonation”. An international career followed, taking her to Vienna, where (15 May 1838) Liszt played at a concert she gave. In 1846 she married Graf Lothar Aurelio Karl Leopold von Rothkirch und Panthen (1822–1903), later a Generalmajor in the Austrian service. The marriage however does not seem to have been a success: while he continued in the army (he commanded the Austrian army at Tobitschau during the Seven Weeks’ War with Prussia in 1866), by 1855 “Countess Rothkirch” was recorded in Ealing in the Post Office Directory. Soon after she moved to Clifton, Bristol, where she remained until her death in 1891 (her name appears as Angela, Countess Rothkirch in the registers and census that year). She left the Vigée Le Brun pastel of her half-sister to Joseph Griffiths Swayne (1819–1903), a celebrated obstetrician at the Bristol General Hospital. It remained among his descendants until 2017, the label above being initialled “FLS” for Swayne’s daughter Frances Louisa.


[1] The pastel, hitherto unpublished and unrecorded, is J.76.14  in the online Dictionary of pastellists (the description and attribution here are subject to the usual qualifications on that site). It appeared at auction in Somerset in August.

[2] It is reproduced in extenso in an appendix to Warwick Lister, Amico: the life of Giovanni Battista Viotti, Oxford, 2009, pp. 401ff.

[3] There are useful biographies in the Oxford DNB, in Grove and in Highfill, Burnim & Langhans.

[4] The old court suburb: or, memorials of Kensington…, London, 1855, i, p. 178.

[5] Prerogative Court of Canterbury, prob/11/1517, 14 December 1810.

Reflections on the Perronneau exhibition

For lovers of pastel, the event not just of the year, but of our lifetimes is currently on in Orléans (until 17 September [now extended to 22 October]): the first ever retrospective of Jean-Baptiste Perronneau, who many of us believe was the towering genius in that medium – as important as, and a better colourist, than La Tour; an artist more sophisticated than the now-fashionable Liotard and more profound than the ever-fashionable Rosalba.Perronneau Desfriches Cp78 copy

Were those claims validated by the current show? That will take time to answer fully. And apart from the reassessment of Perronneau’s art, how did the exhibition itself do in more mundane terms – loans, presentation, catalogue etc.? That question is easier to answer: very well indeed. The staff at the musée des Beaux-Arts (headed by Olivia Voisin, but with paper conservator Valérie Luquet playing a vital role) deserve our warmest thanks, as does Dominique d’Arnoult on whose 2014 monograph the exhibition is founded.

The exhibition space is a suite of rooms in the basement of the musée, attractively designed and lit: the light levels are well within conservation limits, but the works are still clearly visible. The lighting is not so harsh as to distort the subtleties of Perronneau’s palette (the vogue for ever increasing temperatures has thankfully been arrested). Directional light can throw up occlusions in glass (with shadows appearing as blemishes on surface) and can highlight surface imperfections, but few troublesome examples were evident.

More important is the intelligent arrangement, which is chronological, with sensible divisions: five phases of Perronneau’s career laid out in seven rooms, with a further space for his posthumous reputation. Each room is given its own wall colour, from a range of pastel shades (do not judge them from images on social media, as the tones are a metaphor for the elusive nuances in Perronneau’s art). This colour coding helps overcome disorientation within the complex enfilade of openings and vistas, but I could not help feeling that these attention-seeking hues were more Ladurée than La Tour, and that their sugar-plum hyperactivity was at odds with the high seriousness of Perronneau’s art: he may have been a rococo painter, but he was not a painter of the Rococo.

Exh shots 14

That raises one of the particular issues for any Perronneau catalogue: he doesn’t reproduce well, because of his subtle nuances, to a greater extent than any other pastellist, and a fortiori any oil painter of the time. One of the issues with the 2014 catalogue raisonné was the decision to print half the book in black and white. But the exhibition catalogue hasn’t completely avoided criticism: despite the use of digital images of exceptionally high quality, the choice of a silk rather than gloss paper stock seems not to have optimised the colour settings, and the result is that many of the reproductions look too dark.

There are two approaches to organising monographic exhibitions of this kind. One is to court popularity by including only the artist’s best (or best known) work, often arranged thematically according to the latest vogue. The other is to take a scientific approach, including the widest range within the œuvre, however difficult, telling the story coherently (usually chronologically) and clearly; every autograph work extends our knowledge of the artist, and should be included. This exhibition firmly establishes its scholarly credentials with the latter approach. The chronology throws up few problems, and was largely well established even before d’Arnoult’s work (a couple of possible anomalies are noted below).

The show adds an excellent range of didactic and contextual aids. Boxes of pastel, displays of fabrics and touchable samples that bring out the haptic element of Perronneau’s materials are used to good effect, as are maps and archival documents which are all of real assistance in drawing visitors into Perronneau’s world. The final section is devoted to the nineteenth and early twentieth century connoisseurs whose love for Perronneau created the mystique, not to say shibboleth, his name has since enjoyed, albeit for an élite that this exhibition now seeks to democratise. It was, if we believe Reynaldo Hahn, Edmond de Goncourt’s view that Perronneau ranked “très au-dessus [de Chardin et de La Tour]”; while in 1884 Henry de Chennevières, a conservateur at the Louvre, dismissed Liotard’s pastels as not worth “le moindre ouvrage d’un élève de Perronneau.”

That brings us to the crucial issue for this show, and to the first question – the reassessment of Perronneau’s art. Everyone knows that borrowing pastels from major collections is next to impossible, for conservation reasons some of us continue to think are valid (by way of disclosure, I did not lend for this reason), so it is inevitable that a Perronneau show will omit some of his greatest work. That is no criticism of the superhuman efforts of the organisers. And while specialists may know those works and adjust expectations for their absence, others may not be able to do so, and will reach a potentially distorted assessment of his merit. It’s a tricky point, but it is the reviewer’s unhappy responsibility to make it with some clarity lest the general viewer goes away with the wrong impression.

Inevitably with pastellists who were also oil painters there is a further selection bias (as we saw in the Liotard 2015 exhibition in London) that exaggerates their skills in oil over pastel, as the former are more readily borrowed from major institutions. The 48 pastels by Perronneau, including the substantial holdings of the host museum (one hors catalogue), represent about a fifth of the known œuvre, while the 24 of his oil paintings constitute about one third of his surviving output in that medium. Nevertheless, we cannot blame this alone for the fact, as the exhibition makes all too apparent, that Perronneau was capable of producing works of the widest range of achievement (both in oil and pastel). One of the surprises here was that, in addition to some great masterpieces in oil (Orléans’s own Jousse or the National Gallery’s Cazotte, which looked really well; among the greatest oils, only Oudry was absent), there was a succession of frankly rather dull paintings which failed to sparkle. Who would think that the author of Mme de Sorquainville could also be responsible for Houbronne d’Auvringhen? And even the excitement of Dominique d’Arnoult’s important discovery of the painting of Charles de Lorraine, by far Perronneau’s most ambitious undertaking, must, it is sad to say, be accompanied by a certain disappointment that it is not more lively. One senses why he did not do more on this scale. For me too this is further evidence that while Perronneau was often a good, and occasionally great, painter, he was usually better in pastel, and (except where ruined) even his less inspired pastels have a something extra.

From the time when the artist himself sent his works to Paris from remote towns to the Salon, they have been moved relentlessly. He did not fix them (two at least we know were fixed by Loriot, one certainly years after Perronneau had delivered it, and after it had been sent to Paris to the Salon and returned to Orléans). This means that a great many of his pastels are now compromised. In this note I have tried to avoid too much discussion of the condition of works in private collections (the lenders rather deserve our gratitude for sharing their treasures with the public). But it is fair to say that the exhibits from museums as well as private collections showed condition issues to varying degrees.

Perronneau Mme d'Arche copy

While it could never be more than pure fantasy, one has to imagine how this exhibition would have left us feeling had it been possible to borrow more of the great masterpieces in pastel: among those a dozen that immediately come to mind, from the Louvre, Huquier, Mlle Huquier, Cars, “Bastard”, Bouguer, Van Robais, Tassin; from the Met, Olivier Journu (indeed the absence of any Journu portrait from his most fruitful trip was painfully felt); from Chicago, the enfant “Lemoyne”; from private collections, the Ollivier pendants or the 1772 man wrongly called Miron (J.582.1623). Among the pastels in the exhibition, perhaps only the superb Desfriches (reproduced at the top of this post) matches these in both quality and condition: all will surely agree that this is one of the supreme achievements in eighteenth century portraiture. (Coming close must be Drouais, the gorgeous Chevotet pendants, and the delightful Mlle Pinchinat en Diane all from Orléans; and five pastels from private sources (nos. 24, 38, 61, 66, 100) – three of these from just one Swiss collection, of which my personal favourite is the exquisite lady (no. 38, just above) formerly known as Jacquette d’Arche.) For however strong a pastel may have originally been, in any calculus of wall power today it is the product (not the sum) of quality and condition that matters. Think too of the last opportunity to see even two dozen Perronneau pastels together: the great 1927 exhibition in Paris. But those two dozen included six of the best.

To assess Perronneau, there must also be some point of reference. What does one do about his rivals? Are they to be omitted altogether, or a representative sample included? Can one do it by reproduction in the catalogue? Not really, any more than reproductions of the absent Perronneaus would suffice; the best alternative is the simultaneous hub idea, where several institutions with significant holdings arrange coordinated shows – an idea that seems invariably to fail at the hurdle of museum politics.

Perronneau Drouais Orleans copyThe approach taken here is a little strange. Of the vast number of pastels by more minor artists, there is no example – although Orléans might easily have supplied from its own collections examples by artists such as Coypel or Valade (the former’s self-portrait would neatly have faced Drouais, right; for the latter, see figs. 40a, 40b in my essay in the catalogue). They have however chosen to display, towards the end of the exhibition, in a room containing several quite weak Perronneaus, two of their own pastels by Chardin and La Tour. The latter is the one formerly known as the abbé Réglet (hors catalogue), and although run-of-the-mill for La Tour, its stunning characterisation and precision make it clear immediately why La Tour always had the edge in Paris (it is only when you see larger numbers of La Tour pastels together that the narrowness of his art can begin to pall). Of the beauty and profundity of the Chardin nothing further need be said.

An earlier room contains the other pastel interloper: La Tour’s famous self-portrait, in the Amiens version. Perhaps this was intended to serve as foil to the Perronneau portrait of La Tour in Saint-Quentin, which in the event was not lent. The La Tour, which never struck me as the best of his self-portraits, sat oddly isolated, its point lost. But surprisingly the opportunity for an even more compelling comparison was also lost: from its own recent acquisition, should Orléans not have put side by side Perronneau’s Mme Tourolle (for the dating of which, see under cat. 13 below) and La Tour’s Mme Restout from only a few years before?

The confrontation would have perfectly illustrated the differences. Perhaps the organisers thought better of rerunning the competition from which Perronneau spent the rest of his life escaping: to submit his posterity to the same ordeal a step too far. But while Perronneau would never win a direct confrontation with the obsessively neat and prodigiously talented La Tour, even this very early piece shows a propensity for fantasy and colouration that took him in a different direction. This exhibition allows us to follow him at least on a good part of the way.

Errata and suggestions for the exhibition catalogue

There follow some minor points on the catalogue. (Disclosure: I am the author of one of the essays in it, but while I should have preferred to offer these notes before the catalogue went to press it was not possible to do so.) Some of these points are discussed in my lecture at last week’s Perronneau colloque. The comments represent my personal opinion.

p. 9 It is odd to refer to Liotard as Étienne without the Jean. On his rejection from the Académie it is worth citing here my recent discovery of the original competition [, p. 18] which significantly revises the date.

p. 15 “Perronneau ne possède rien”: after 8 years of his most productive period this seems unlikely. Rather as the correction in the notary’s copy of his marriage contract suggests, he simply refused to enumerate his assets.

p. 19 The gas cloud from Laki arrived in Amsterdam late June/early July according to the two contemporary sources in the article (Thordarson & Self) Arnoult 2014 cited in support of the date “3 November 1783”. By then deaths in Amsterdam were at a normal rate as my research in the Gaarders Archief showed.

p. 21f Ollivier was the Garde-Général, never the Intendant (the former is a commission, the latter an office, which is why there is so little biographical information on him until my research).

p. 25 Beaujon: why not cite Baillio’s original article, or my essay with the rediscovered pastel , or even just the Dictionary J.76.139 where readers can see the pastel and follow the links?

p. 27 Fig. 18. It is worth noting (since Cahen mistranscribed the name) that another prize winner was the Genevan miniaturist Robert Mussard (not Mullard) who was another friend.

p. 32 For Mlle Besnier see the Dictionary of pastellists where she has her own article and the sad biographical details of her and her sister.

p. 39 Christian Michel is more equivocal than d’Arnoult about the suggestion that this is an autoportrait. A comparison with the Cochin print in my opinion rules this out.

p. 40 Liotard fils letter: for “Beyers” read “Reyere”.

p. 48 The labels for fig. 39a / fig. 39b / fig. 39c are missing.

p. 49 The photo reproduced as fig. 40b is in fact a cropped version of J.47.307, not J.47.304 as described in the footnote. They are close replicas.

p. 53 The treatise on miniature is attributed to Boutet, but not the later appendix on pastel which is generally thought not to be by him as I discuss elsewhere:

p. 54 The identifications of the Michel de Grilleau couple are not settled, and there are good arguments both ways.

Catalogue (by number)

1          “Il pourrait figurer l’un de ses proches parents”: why, particularly if it is not by Perronneau himself? There is nothing to suggest his immediate relations would have been the subject of such a portrait from any other artist.

13        This soft, beautifully modelled and harmoniously coloured pastel looks much more sophisticated than other early work, and I am sceptical about the logical inference from the inscription. I would probably put it a few years later purely stylistically. A general note on J numbers (i.e. those cited in the online Dictionary of pastellists) might have been helpful to explain the otherwise obscure reference to J.46.133. However considerable caution is required with the far-fetched story of the Fozembas pastels which I think are more likely later pastiches than evidence of updating hairstyles. (See also J.46.1329. Desmaze mentioned both Mme Fozembas and “Mme Nata Roux”; Goncourt picked up the latter as different person, but this was probably a misspelling of Mme Fozembas’s maiden name. Her husband was a painter, a pupil of Delaroche, admitted to the Salon only after numerous attempts; the story may have been invented; and there is no obvious connection between the Fozembas and Cuvillier/Boucher families. There were no pastels or other portraits de famille in the posthumous inventories of Mme veuve Boucher or of Mme Cuvillier.)

16        Georges de Castellane, and his wife née Florinda Fernández y Anchorena [no hyphen before y]: the pastel was bought in London in 1936 by André Weil, not the Castellanes. It is unclear when and where “83 Pa” [J.582.1881] was purchased, as d’Arnoult conflates this with J.582.1854.

18        The text omits the location (Oréans, mBA).

20        This painting was (presumably upon reconsideration) omitted from the exhibition. The text of the entry seems to envisage that it might be an autograph study for the Hermitage portrait, but it is in my opinion a later copy. There still seem to be issues with the chronology of Perronneau’s painting: Arnoult 2014 seemed to accept the suggestion that the sitter was about 12 rather than 16, but still dated the Hermitage painting to c.1745 (the caption to fig. 25 now states 1744–46). For cat. 20 a date of c.1744 is proposed. The baptismal entry for the sitter, not in Arnoult 2014, as well as the letter was first transcribed and published by me.

21        There’s a lengthy discussion on the problems of the portraits of or not of d’Aubais in my essay, although of course the original objection was d’Arnoult’s.

22        It would be helpful to be clearer about what is actually claimed for this pastel. Is it that 128 Pa might possibly be a reworking of the 12 Pa (in which case it should appear in the later section) or that is probably is the same picture (in which case it should be renumbered as 12 Pa). The absence of the earlier pastel seems inadequate evidence to suggest that this is an altered version: is there any indication of erasure apart from the signature? Why change the date without changing anything else? Perronneau had a habit of fiddling with his signed dates. The technique here strikes me overall as too late for 1746; to me it fits perfectly for the 1754 date which it bears.

23        The signature is unusual, as is the colour of the coat. The technique of the jabot is unlike Perronneau’s normal handling. The damage to the forehead does not appear in the recent photographs.

24/25  The comparison of the prices of pastel and oil versions is a little dangerous. The initial payment includes the sittings etc., and will always be higher than any repetition whatever the medium.

26        Mlle is unambiguous; Louise-Suzanne de La Roche ( –1750) was Mme de l’Épée.

29        The identification as Aubert remains conjectural.

32        It may not be clear how much of the new information on this sitter was published on my blog in 2015, the definitive version of which is my article at

33        I express no view as to whether this oil painting is indeed by Perronneau (it is difficult to suggest any other name); but should it have been exhibited?

34        La Fontaine was born 1704.

36        Both La Tour’s birth and death dates are known exactly. The correct url is

37        This is on parchment, not paper. The catalogue photograph reveals some curious markings all over the face which I saw in natural light in 2013; they are not so easily visible in the exhibition lighting.

38        Does the puzzling inscription refer to the date of execution or of reception? One month before reception, it cannot be that of contemporaneous execution; the error in the month suggests that the inscription may have been later.

39        The puzzling links between this pastel and the San Francisco pastel 411 Pa cannot easily be explained. I have not seen the latter, and wonder if it is completely “right”.

41        Jean Valade was born in 1710, not 1709 (baptised 27.xi.1710, Poitiers, Saint-Paul). He advanced to full reception at the Académie in 1754.

42        “Johan George Wille” [sic] indicates a certain confusion regarding foreign names which recurs elsewhere.

47/48  Although I may have suggested the new identification of the sitters, the proposal remains problematic, and requires too much space to set out all the (inconclusive) evidence.

49        Pierre Buffereau de la Varenne: the (1658) is unattached, but is presumably a revised date of birth. His dates were 1656–1721 according to Cuénin, but the birth is uncertain.

54        It is unclear to me why d’Arnoult assumes the 1755 pictures (132 Pa, 133 Pa) were in pastel.

55        There are important differences with the notary’s paper version of this contract, which includes significant alterations not present in this engrossment, including the alterations of his wife’s name initialled by her parents throughout and the deletion of the list of his assets. For my annotations of the various people included, see Just a few examples: “un Sieur Isaac Van Ryneveld hollandois” is the subject of a Tocqué portrait. For “Laurent Laroche” read “Sauveur Laroche”. The banker “Louis Daniel” and the allegedly missing “Raguenaud de Lachainaye” are the same person, Louis-Daniel Ragueneau de La Chenaye (not his grandson Armand-Henri Raguenaud de Lachainaye, as indexed in Arnoult 2014); he was the son-in-law of Jean-Louis Babault.

58        Dimensions omitted: probably c.60×48 cm, although the sight size is smaller.

59        Lycett Green has no hyphen.

62        193 Pa is of M. Eymard. A link to might have been helpful. The identification of 195 Pa and 196 Pa is speculative.

67        For more information and a possible identification of Moule see The Perronneau chronological table has more biographical information on Maelrondt. And for more information on the prices of pastel materials (this was evidently a price for royals), see my Prolegomena: There is more on Stoupan at The claims of the Maison du pastel to date back to 1720 are considered at

68        For more on Chaperon (not de Chaperon), see A searchable transcription of much of the treatise appears on

70        Pierre-Honoré Robbé de Beauveset was not born in Vendôme, at an uncertain date, as so often stated, but in Paris, on 29 mai 1714, and baptised 5 juin 1714 at Saint-Leu-Saint-Gilles (AN LXVI/416, 7.i.1730: I don’t think this is to be found in any published source).

71        Laurent Cars was born/baptised at Lyon, St Nizaire, 28 mai 1699. His mother was Marie Barbery, not Babuty – it was one of Laurent Cars’s sisters who married Greuze’s brother-in-law.

75        This is probably not of Lucy (not Lucie) Young, Countess of Rochford, but a birth in 1714 would make this even less likely. GEC states that she died in 1773 aged 50, and I am unaware of any recent evidence to the contrary.

76        Markgraf, margrave or Margrave? Karoline Luise here, but Caroline Louise elsewhere (de Bade p. 130 etc). If Baden-Durlach, then “HessenDarmstadt”.

84        There is an entry on Jules-Alexandre Patrouillard Degrave, with his year of death (1932), at .

86        Mme Perronneau was actually baptised Charles-Louise Aubert, presumably with her grandfather as parrain. The date can be fixed to between November 1740 and February 1741. Mme Gabriel was the sister-in-law of the celebrated architect, Ange-Jacques Gabriel. The advertisement which I found may not have led to the recovery of the lost pastel, as I find it surprising to think that Perronneau would have opened the sealed work and added a new date; unless of course it had been damaged. There has been some confusion about the identity of the sitter caused by an erroneous label on the back of a photo formerly in the files in Orléans: the eye colour confirms this is not of Perpétue-Félicité, Mme Cadet de Limay, as d’Arnoult justly corrected. Alexandre-Joseph-Urbain Perronneau was baptised 10 novembre, not septembre (cf. chronologie, p. 179; three different months are given in Arnoult 2014: cf. pp. 158, 184, 365, 369).

p. 152: “Karl, prince von Hessen-Kassel” [sic]

87        This appears to be on parchment rather than paper.

88/89  According to various sources, Denis MacCarthy, seigneur de Beaujé et Fonvidal came from Castle Cloghan near Skibereen; his wife was Jane Fitzgerald from the Waterford family. An inscription on an old cloister wall in the rue Saint-Louis, Bordeaux gives Denis’s exact dates, 13 avril 1719 – 18 juin 1796. Although they had no son, a daughter Anne (born 1756) was educated by the Blue Nuns in Paris. His elder nephew was Donal, or Daniel, not Donald.

90        It is unclear why this is thought to have belonged to Dumas père. The longer discussion in Arnoult 2014, p. 297, appears to rely on the preface to Dumas fils’s 1892 sale in support of this, but the passages cited do not refer to Dumas père but to Dumas fils. Indeed Ytriarte says that Dumas père did not have the time or money to buy many pictures etc. The miniature appears rather to be signed “C. Lebelle”, not E. Le Bel; its relationship with a 1783 watercolour by Ch. Le Bel, engraved by Gaucher (v. Saunier 1922, p. 26 n.r.) is unclear. He is surely the “Lebel” listed, with the address left blank, in the Étrennes orléanaises in 1775 (p. 86) as a “peintre en mignature”. It does not seem that he should be conflated with the pastellist Antoine Lebel.

92        The identification of the Saint-Aubin sketch in the salon livret is ingenious, but leaves open the question as to whether the rectangular pastel in the exhibition was originally framed with oval spandrels or is a second version. The “joüe brullée” may still refer to the Mademoiselle Gaugy: that would be consistent with my tentative identification of her as Ursule-Rose Gaugy (1754– ), fille des parents mariés à Martinique.

93        The stencilled code on the back indicates that the pastel was sent to Christie’s for evaluation but not consigned for sale.

95        This was also in Amsterdam 1934, no. 37. (95, 96 & 107; p. 18 B): all the names ending sz are abbreviations of patronymics and need a full point (if they should appear at all). Claude de Narbonne-Pelet, baron de Salgas was born in 1728; he was the subject of a pastel by Belle de Charrière.

98        The 1918 sale, albeit much delayed, was the posthumous sale of the collection formed by Albert, vicomte de Curel rather than of his son (no doubt he was by then the beneficiary).

100      Pauline Isnard-Laurent was baptised in Saint-Denis-en-Val 3.ix.1762; she is 9 or 10, not 14 at the time of the portrait. The confusion may have arisen because the person who wrote the inscription on the back misread Perronneau’s date as 1777, and deduced she was 14; this age has now been subtracted from 1772 to yield a birth “vers 1758”.

101      There are a number of fragile steps to reach this suggested identification. By deleting (from the original notice in Arnoult 2014) the reference to the Nonnotte portrait of Jean-Pierre, the logic looks even stranger.

102      This is not “Arnoult, 2014, 358 Pa” as stated, but 367 P.

103      While indeed the identification is conjectural, it is mildly supported by the fact that Jacques-François Chéreau’s aunt was married to Jacques-Gabriel Huquier, and that he was present at the inventory of veuve Huquier in 1775. “Chéreau” with an accent seems to be the commoner spelling (although accents weren’t written at the time).

104      The combinations of languages in the names and titles of Karl von Hessen-Kassel and his wife, recte Lovisa (Luisa on p. 166, Louisa on p. 180), are confusing.

p. 170   Both 1909 and 1923 editions were co-authored with Léandre Vaillat. “Jacques Émile Blanche” elsewhere is hyphenated.

114      For “Non repr. in” read “Non repr. In” or better, reword. “Russel” may have been misspelled at the time, but shouldn’t be now (the 1908 livret was correct).

Additions to the exhibition not in the catalogue

(Only paintings and pastels are noted here.)

Nonnotte, portrait of Desfriches, huile sur toile (Orléans, mBA)

Anonyme, portrait de Jean Hupeau et de sa famille, huile sur toile (Orléans, mBA)

La Tour, portrait d’un abbé (dit abbé Réglet), pastel (Orléans, mBA; see Dictionary, J.46.2679 where full details may be found)

Perronneau, Mme Boyetet de Boissy, pastel (J.582.1056 )

Chronologie pp. 177ff

1708, 1730 &c  these entries based on the new documents I first transcribed

1760     for “hospice” read “hôpital”

1766    “9 novembre” Various dates given throughout Arnoult 2014, pp. 134, 158, 365, 369. Although he was baptised 10.xi.1766, is it certain that he was born the previous day?

1772     for “16 avril” read “6 avril”; the tenant is René-Jean Lemoine.

1781     for “de sir Harris” read “de Sir James Harris”. Delete “Gazeta” (that’s what Vedomosti means).

1783    for “40 ans” read “42”

1784    The application for dispensation was published on my blog and essay.

Lettre p. 182

For a slightly different transcription and gloss, see my Perronneau Documents file


A number of copy editing issues (including those with italics in titles) remain despite my previous corrections.


There remain a number of confusions, with separate entries for “Bade, Caroline Louise de”, and “Hessen-Darmstadt, Karoline Luise von”. “Leszczynska, Marie” [sic] appears before “Le Grix”. “Maupeou, René Charles-Augustin de” appears to combine elements of father and son. Although supposedly an index of proper names, a long list of entries such as “Portrait d’un homme…” appears, under P (this is a peculiar convention rather bafflingly followed by many French publishers).

Encounters with Perronneau: Archival and other minutiae

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.


Perronneau in Orléans


The event dix-huitiémistes have been waiting for is nearly upon us: the first retrospective devoted to Jean-Baptiste Perronnneau, mounted in the town which he visited so often and which has its own unparalleled collection of Perronneau pastels. Here are the details (they do not seem to have made it into the calendars of The Art Newspaper or La Tribune de l’art):

Jean-Baptiste Perronneau, portraitiste de génie dans l’Europe des Lumières

17 juin – 16 septembre

Orléans, musée des Beaux-Arts

I haven’t yet seen the catalogue (apart from my own small contribution), but it promises to be attractive and affordable. Of course for the full Perronneau immersion to prepare yourselves for the exhibition (or for the many works which cannot travel to it), you need to read Dominique d’Arnoult’s catalogue raisonné, published by Arthena at the end of 2014. But as it’s quite expensive and not widely available in libraries, you might also want to consult the extensive information available on Pastels & pastellists (the website of the online Dictionary of pastellists with ancillary material).

As the information is spread over a good many different files on the site, here is a short guide as to where to look.

The principal Perrronneau article is divided into the following pdfs:

The essay provides a general introduction and biography of the artist, together with a full bibliography. It is followed by complete extracts of all contemporary salon critiques mentioning his work. The following four files include the catalogue of his pastels arranged in accordance with the Dictionary’s rules, i.e. by name of sitter (the Dictionary does not catalogue his oil paintings, which represent nearly a fifth of his work: for those you will have to consult Arnoult):

A separate file rearranges the images of dated or dateable pastels in chronological order, here.

The approach taken in Arnoult, particularly in relation to works known only from mentions, is different, and to compare the different coverage you may find this Concordance with Arnoult 2014 of help.

Pastels & pastellists also has a useful

which contains full transcriptions of a great many biographical documents, a number of which are not in Arnoult.

There are also genealogies for the Aubert; Marteau; Perronneau families.

Pastels & pastellists also contains a great many essays which are indexed from this page. The following relate to specific works by Perronneau or about him:

Perronneau, Les trois “marquis d’Aubais”, 1746

Perronneau, M. & Mme Ollivier, 1748

La Joconde du XVIIIe siecle [Perronneau, Mme de Sorquainville, 1749]

Perronneau, Col. Joseph Yorke [oil], 1754

Perronneau, Two portraits of the Journu family, 1756–57

Perronneau, Pierre-Lazare Dumas, 1768

The fixer fixed: Loriot in Orléans

Perronneau: rectification d’erreur

Perronneau’s trip to Lyon in 1759

In search of Perronneau’s lost years (in Spain)

Mme veuve Perronneau’s second marriage

Some absent-minded pastellists

A few of these are expanded versions of posts that have appeared on this blog (the versions on Pastels & pastellists are the ones of permanent record and should be cited in preference to the blog).

Among more recent blog posts that have not (or not yet) been transferred into essays on the site are:

More Perronnoia: his brother’s letter

Death in Amsterdam

Mme Supiot

Some further minutiae are signalled from time to time on my Twitter feed.

How do you solve a problem like Maurice-Quentin de La Tour?

DeLaTourWarning: unless you are a lexicographer, copy editor or bibliographer, don’t read this post. It has nothing to do with art history (nor for that matter with musical theatre). It may be the most boring post I have ever written. And the answer is given away in the title.

In fact there are two problems – although both have the same solution. They are, in inverse order, how to print the artist’s family name; and whether to hyphenate his forenames.

Just to confuse you further, it is the hyphenation problem that is of more general interest, so let me take it first after all. For general purposes, French publishers employ any of the three possible hyphenation conventions: (a) don’t hyphenate any forenames (e.g. Jean Baptiste or Maurice Quentin); (b) hyphenate only compound names (Jean-Baptiste, Maurice Quentin); or (c) hyphenate all forenames (Jean-Baptiste, Maurice-Quentin). But which is best?

I’m assuming you all realise (although many older writers seem not to have known) that Quentin is a forename, not the family name (but see below): i.e. his siblings were not called Quentin. It was in fact quite a common forename in Saint-Quentin. Maurice was the name of his parrain at baptism. Thus the names came from different sources; there is no saint Maurice Quentin (well, there is for some of us, but not in the established church). And (although this is the tricky bit) if you knew him intimately, you probably wouldn’t have called him Maurice-Quentin at every turn (although we don’t in fact have any idea whether his friends called him Maurice or Quentin, as such oral uses were not recorded; and people in those days didn’t use forenames the way we do now).

So put simply, he had two forenames, Maurice and Quentin, rather than a compound name (or “prénom composé”) of the kind borne by his rival, Jean-Baptiste Perronneau (saint Jean Baptiste was one saint). But what of the third pastellist, Jean-Étienne Liotard? Authorities are split down the middle. When he signs he does so in full, or abbreviates to “J. Etienne” or “J. E.”, suggesting that he did not see his names as severable. His twin was “Jean-Michel”, and an older brother was simply Jean. Another case is that of the pastellist Jean Pillement, who signs thus, but was actually baptised Jean-Baptiste. While one would never now separate Marie-Antoinette, she was of course baptised Maria Antonia Josefa Johanna.

The fact is that there is no way of determining now which apparently compound eighteenth-century forenames are “composés” or just a series of simple forenames. You can’t appeal (as many people assume) to documents in which people signed their name, as this simply reveals how aleatory eighteenth century orthography was: people often signed with just their family name, they almost never used accents; spacing and capitalisation were random, and hyphens never appear even in names like Jean Baptiste or Marie Antoinette. Notaries sometimes did separate names, often with ambiguous marks which look like commas or strokes: e.g. Jacques/Antoine/Marie. But in contemporary printed material, the broad (but not universal) consensus among genealogical tomes (the only area where forenames habitually appear) was to hyphenate all forenames.

What confuses the matter is that France is a country with legislation that we in England would regard as bizarre. In 1803 Napoléon brought in a law restricting parents’ choices of names to those of calendar days and those from ancient history (that of course is why prénoms composés became popular), relaxed finally in 1993 (although you still can’t have silly names or ones with foreign diacriticals such as ñ). But for prénoms composés laws remain in place that govern their punctuation in legal documents: the parents can choose whether to separate them with a hyphen or a space – but all other forenames are separated by a comma. So for example “Jean-Baptiste, Marie” or “Jean Baptiste, Marie”. (But outside these legal documents, the commas are never used, thus undermining the case for following these styles more widely.) Further, prénoms composés can only have two components. So to a modern French person a name like “Jean-Claude-Gaspard Sireul” needs to lose a hyphen (the second invariably chosen because “Jean-Claude” “sounds right”, even though as we have seen Jean and Claude came from different sources). And Marie Antoinette needs one, even though she never had one when she was alive.

These modern rules simply didn’t apply in the ancien régime, although there is a growing trend to try to impose them retrospectively. This is in effect the result of one or another category confusion; neither autograph signatures nor modern legislation are of any help here, in what properly is simply a question of a publisher’s choice of printing convention.

One would have thought that the matter was settled by bibliographers and lexicographers in the nineteenth century when convention (c) above was almost universally adopted. The Lexique des règles typographiques en usage à l’Imprimerie nationale is categoric (3e éd., p. 151):

Les prénoms français ou francisés se lient par des traits d’union.

That, for example, is what you will find in the BnF Catalogue general. The benefits of the rule are obvious: you only have to know which is the family name (which you need to know anyhow – as in Jean-Claude Richard de Saint-Non, where, without the policy, you might think that Richard was a forename; it is not) and there is no further ambiguity.

I can see that convention (a) can at least claim to match holographic evidence, and is just as easy to use as (c). But the continued encroachment of convention (b) is to be deplored, not only because its intellectual justification is based on error, but because it is almost impossible to apply consistently. Any book (not only multi-author exhibition catalogues) that tries to follow it seems invariably to end up with dozens of errors. It requires an iron discipline for copy editors to achieve consistency, and I have rarely seen the task succeed. It cannot in short be recommended for books relating to the eighteenth century.

* * *

Let me now turn to the similarly pointless debate over the proper spelling of La Tour’s family name (de La Tour, de Latour, Delatour etc.). You’ll all be aware of the basic rules for French proper names: if the particle is separated, you capitalise and alphabetise from the bit containing the definite article (La or Du, but not de). The “de” normally introduces a territory or estate which at some stage has been acquired by a member of the family, and (if noble) is usually assumed as the name, with the family name dropped when their ascent is sufficiently clear (something only peers do in England, although Scotland makes more use of estates, without driving out the family name); this gives rise to some flexibility and a great deal of aspiration which I’ve discussed before. Thus for example a M. Legendre becomes Legendre de Villemorien, and then signs (as a witness to Perronneau’s marriage in this example) simply “De Villemorien”. But that doesn’t mean that anyone would index him under D. He remains under L until he (or his descendants) might move to V (but never D) if they became really grand. (This all reverses after 1789, with many former aristocrats rapidly closing up the spaces to conceal their status: but that’s another story.)

But some names beginning De aren’t noble and should be spelled solid (and filed under D) – although the owners may like to pretend. And when roturiers have names that come from places (that they didn’t own, but by which they have always been known), there’s no right or wrong answer: just convention and usage.

Working out just what contemporary usage was is of course tricky, and raises the same ambiguities as discussed above re hyphenation of forenames. People didn’t often write their names in full, nor did their family names normally start sentences: you would write to “M. de Villemorien” without dreaming of a capital D, which only appears when he signs. For the same reason, dozens of examples of La Tour’s signature (almost all of which take the form shown above, Dela_Tour, although there are also a few cursive De_la_tour examples) tell you nothing about whether the D should be capitalised or be the point of alphabetisation when the name is given in full or set in twenty-first century type. The flexibilities of handwriting allowed subtleties such as the linked but discernable gaps between the components, as well as internal capitals which no modern copy editor would tolerate.

And in print (e.g. almanachs or annuaires of the Académie), La Tour appears as “De la Tour” (alongside “De Lagrenée”, “De la Joue” and “De Larmessin” although no one is threatening to file them under D), or, as in the salons livrets, as “de la Tour”:


Among contemporary critics, the overwhelming preponderance was for “de La Tour” or “de la Tour”. Even that ultimate snob, La Font de Saint-Yenne, who had a nose for imposture and pretension, consistently uses that form, as in this famous passage:

La Font

Indeed he refers in places to “l’ingénieux la Tour”, which defeats the idea that the “de” was considered integral at the time. I personally find that “les pastels de La Tour” “sounds right”, while “les pastels de Delatour” does not.

The hunt for the family name in previous generations also fails to justify putting La Tour in his place as peasant. He was of course the son of a writing master, and a progression may be seen in his father’s increasingly elaborate penmanship: whether on La Tour’s own baptismal entry

La Tour birth cert doc

or by the time (1726) of the baptism of the pastellist’s half-brother Jean-François:

LaTourJeanFr naissance StAndre 1726

his father was clearly separating the particle from “La Tour”, as did his own father Jean de La Tour, a maître maçon. Jean’s signature is found in numerous parish registers, usually accompanied by his monogram (which may also be his mason’s mark), JLT in a circle:

Jean de la Tour marie Gerbe mariage Laon st Michel 2ii1669

The invariant in all of this was some separation (by space or capitalisation) of the Tour or La Tour element; never does the form Delatour appear.

But whatever the arguments, they were conducted in full in the nineteenth century when a clear consensus was established in favour of “de La Tour”, indexed under L. That is where you will find him almost everywhere: in the last great catalogue raisonné, B&W (1928), in more recent monographs such as Debrie 1991 and Debrie & Salmon 2000, as well as the major retrospective La Tour 2004, and in all standard art historical dictionaries, the BnF and Getty ULAN. There would have to be a very good reason to try to overturn such weight.

But I wouldn’t have written this post if there were not some who disagree. A former head of the drawings department at the Louvre felt strongly about the issue, and insisted on labelling his work “Delatour”. At Saint-Quentin the formulation “De La Tour” is in use.

The idea that the commonly accepted form is “wrong” and should be “corrected” springs I think from a similar category error as the hyphenation confusion. It frankly doesn’t matter whether La Tour was or was not entitled to something that might be confused with a noble particle, even if we could work out any basis on which such a debate could be decided. It does matter that when you go to a library you get out on the right floor to consult all the books on this artist together, and that you need only take out one volume of the reference works in which he appears. We should challenge authorities when they are wrong factually – to root out error and confusion – not when they have adopted conventions which are now well established when we might have preferred the other choice: that merely sows confusion.

Postscript (February 2018)

This debate was revived by the new introductory note to Christian Michel’s Académie royale (2018): see the note at the end of my blog post.


More Perronnoia: his brother’s letter

lettreDo great artists have to be nice? In a word, no; and a good many of them demonstrate personality traits that border on the sociopathic. We explain (but not necessarily excuse) this by reflecting on the intense effort and focus required to achieve greatness in any creative field; but all too often we find our heroes driven by ambition to the point of turning their back on their origins or behaving tyrannically in their immediate family. That is not the traditional impression one has of Jean-Baptiste Perronneau, whose correspondence suggests a mild man with a tendency to melancholy – much like so many of his portraits. But it is time to consider a different side of him, as revealed – or at least alleged – in a letter by his younger brother written towards the end of 1753.

You will remember the brother because of the wonderful painting of him at a date I discussed in my last post, and you may remember the discovery I announced two years ago (courtesy of the wonderful site which includes scans of many neglected genealogical files in the Archives nationales) of the deed of rectification concerning the spelling of their mother’s name. That you will recall was a formal application to correct certain registers, accompanied with supporting documents, among which were conformed copies of lost parish records of Jean-Baptiste-Henry’s baptism (1730) and of their parents’ marriage (in 1708 – when Marie-Geneviève Frémont was no more than 13 years old: no wonder her eldest son was not born until rather later). The baptismal register reveals not only that Henry’s parrain (godfather) was his elder brother, but that his marrain was one “Anne Charlotte fille”: quite probably an unrecorded sister, older than the one at whose marriage, in 1749, the pastellist acted as proxy for his father, and presumably dead soon after Henry’s baptism.

You can find all these documents as well as the letter I’m going to discuss transcribed on my site here (as always I try to reproduce what I find without adding punctuation or correcting spelling, but sometimes there are words which are completely illegible: corrections will be welcome). You might want to read the letter there (it’s currently at p. 8 in the pdf, but just look for 1753) and draw your own conclusions without my commentary below. (That document should be cited as the version of record as it is kept up to date and has much fuller glosses on the people involved.)

The letter is attached to the formal bundle of documents in the rectification d’erreurs file although one would not expect to find such a personal document in this context. It is four pages long (the fourth is shown above), and 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 and the one that went onto the lettres de tonsure granted in 1748, and this means that he can’t obtain the further orders he needs:

Mon cher frere

je prend la liberté de vous ecrïre pour un sujet important.

je nai pas recües les ordres mineurs parceque mes lettres de tonsure ny mon papier baptistiare ne sont pas en regle. je ne puis m’adresser a autre qu’a vous pour cette affair. vous penserez ce que vous voudrez de la difficulté qu’on me fait a ce sujet mais elle sera toujours capable de m’empecher de recevoir les ordres tant que les lettres de tonsure ny le papier baptistaire ne seront pas rectifiés premierement le papier baptistaire n’est pas legalisé il faut qu’il le soit pour que je recoive le sousdiaconat pour les quatre moindres que j’ai manque de recevoir ou me l’auroit passé pour cette fois mais cequi a esté le plus decisive, cest que les lettres de tonsure que je vous envoie portent fils de marie genevieve fromont aulieu que le papier baptistaire porte fremont et voici la difficulté car ou je nai pas de papier baptistaire si je fais recevoir mes lettres de tonsure ou je nai pas de lettre de tonsure si je fais recevoir mon papier baptistaire, par ceque le fils de fromont marqué sur les lettres de tonsure n’est pas le fils de fremont du papier baptistiare il faut que vous remarquiez que ce papier baptistaire est en second, que les lettres de tonsure ont eté faites sur le premier que sans doute il portait fromont ou pour rectifier tout cela il faut voir premierement si le registre baptismal porte fromont sil sepeut faire vous ferey mettre fremont par consequent faire demander au Secretaire de l’archeveché dans les lettres de tonsure qui soient absolument conforme au papier baptistaire rectifié ou pourra vous en donner dautres dautant que lles sont fort delabrées si le registre porte fremont il y aura pas tant de peine mais neamoins il faut que les noms soient ecrits avec exactitude vous ferez ecrire perroneau[1] tel que le voila et tel que mon excorporation que larchevesque de paris a envoiée porte vous verrez les fautes des noms du papier baptistaire ou celui qui le fait mal perronault au lieu que les signatures portent perroneau perroneau, il faudra toujours neanmoins d’autres lettres de tonsure et les faire insinuer cequine sepent faire sur les autres pour la raison que vous voiez. Voici ce quon madit de vous expliquer je ne puis le faire mieux on madit aussi afin que cela soit mieux fait que vous prier quelques ecclesiastiques de faire cela comme Mr Lecure de St Germain[2] dautant plus quil faut une personnne a qui on puisse accorder le denouement de ces difficultés ou bien quelqu’autre prestre.

Je vous aurai une obligation infini, je ne voudrois pas manquer la prochaine ordination qui se sera peut etre a noel et par laquelle on m’accordera et les quatre moindres et le soudiaconat.

faites en la diligence je vous prie au plustot.

So far there is nothing too extraordinary about this – at first sight. But he does seem to take an astonishingly subservient tone with his brother, and clearly regards him as a paterfamilias rather than an equal. Why otherwise would he feel the need to write rather than simply drop in to chat about this? The letter also seems to me, even by the standards of the day, overly long-winded: the discrepancy between the documents could be explained in a few lines; Henry’s difficulty in doing so suggests that he may not have been particularly bright, an impression reinforced by the fact that he seems not himself to know the correct spelling of his own mother’s name. Does this make him an “unreliable witness” or diminish the interest of his letter (particularly what follows)? I rather doubt it; to me it suggests a naiveté incapable of distortion beyond an element of exaggeration.

The next paragraph turns to domestic matters, a request for nine yards of coarse woollen fabric against the winter (the letter is undated, but no doubt written in November or very early December 1753):

je suis tout nud en verité obligez donc votre frere en quelque chose je ne serai pas longtant a vos charges, priez votre l’ qu’il vous leve six aulnes et demie de cadidagnau c’est une grosse etoffe de duree. la Saison approche je ne scai qu’emploier pour vous toucher me voilla a la veille de n’avoir plus besoin de vous.

je vous lerendrai en le rendant a ma mere.

Equally surprising here are Henry’s poverty and his longing to be released from his brother’s charge – the “emancipation” of minors, at the age of 25, which was still 18 months away for him. Now comes the hardest part of the letter, which I won’t interrupt:

Si vous avez encore quelques bontés pour moi faites moi recommander a Monseigneur ou au doien de St Martin qui se nomme de prunarelle par Mr de lovendal[3] ou par quelqu’un de distinction comme Mr de Kelus[4] qui connoissent notre archevesque comme aiant demeure aupres d’eux aux tuilleries vous etes en estat de me rendre service par vos connoissances. ce ne sera pas vous deshonorer mais pour achever de vous temoigner ma peine et ce qui mal le comble a mes maux je vous dire que ma mere est dans la plus extreme pauvrete elle na pas de bas a ses pieds elle s’est defait de tout. Je ne crois pas quon puisse estre plus malheureuse je verse des larmes elle perd l’esprit, ses voisins me l’on dit comment elle parle sans cesse de vous, elle sevie que vais-je devenir mon fils ou est mort ou m’a abbandonné le jour, elle vat chez ses voisins elle ne fait que leur parler sans cesse ou la montre au doigt a cause de sa situation. Mr gigandet lui a presté douze francs elle en a paye son terme. Elle na plus rien. Cest un homme dure et austere il a cepandant un bon cœur mais comme lui mesme s’est trouvé bien embarrassé il voit d’un œil tranquille la misere d’une femme qui ne devroit pas y estre. Elle se trouve souvant mal, lui mesme laretenne a sa port preste a se fendre la teste que puis je vous dire pour remuer chez vous les sentiments de la nature, excusez moi c’est la nature chez moi qui vous parle – vous aimez ma mere mais elle est eloigné de vous et vous ne voiez que de loin ce quelle souffre elle devient infirme et vat devenir dans un estat avoir besoin d’un quelquun qui pour ainsi dire la leve dessus sa chaise, il faudroit que vous la fissiez venir a paris et la lafaire mettre chez quelque communaute de filles vous ne pouvez faire autrement car on la trouvera morte dans sa chambre comment voulez vous qu’une femme si puissante puisse agir si vous lui parlez d’un courant a tours premierement il faudroit que Mr Gigandet vit de largent secondement que vous lui fassiez signifier que vous ne voulez pas lui rien envoier quelle n’aille dans lendroit qu’on lui trouvera je ne scaurois vous dire d’autres moiens que de la mettre a paris car ce sera toujours la mesme chose elle voudra vous aller voir au lieu que vous seriez aportée de la voir quant elle ne seroit eloigné je suppose de trois leiues vous lui rendrez un grand service. Vous vous acquitterez devant dieu de l’obligation ou vous etes de la voir mourir dans un etat plus avantageux que j’en ai vu mon père.

Je suis

Mon cher frere avec toute lamitié possible

Votre tres humble et tres obesissant serviteur


That heartfelt plea needs no comment from me. But what happened subsequently?

As the rectification documents show, Perronneau did indeed support the application which was duly granted. It does not seem that Henry obtained all the degrees of ordination he sought that Christmas: when he died, Henry was still a “clerc minoré”, which means only the four lowest orders (the “quatre moindres”) but not (I think – but I am not well versed in Catholic theology) the subdiaconate. Instead of getting testimony from important clergymen, however, Perronneau rounded up just two witnesses: one a cobbler from his own street, rue Froidmanteau, the other an obscure 25-year old painter, Claude-Jérôme Saussay, who would join the Académie de Saint-Luc eight years later.[5]

Perronneau did not arrange for his mother to come to Paris – perhaps she was too infirm to undertake the journey, but 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 “my mother” rather than “our mother” (if we didn’t know otherwise, we might wonder if they were half-brothers).

Indeed Henry himself was not present at his brother’s wedding the following year (the arists’s bride was herself only 13, just as his mother had been at her wedding, while Perronneau was 25 years older) – perhaps because he was ill: but nor had he (or any of their family) been at his sister’s, four years before.

In fact it was Henry who went to Tours to see his mother. He clearly was worried that she would end up in a pauper’s grave like his father, who died in the Hôtel-Dieu at Tours. But in fact it was Henry himself who died, and was buried with his mother in attendance at Saint-Venant, Tours, on 7 avril 1755:

PerronneauJBH inh Saint Venant Tours 8iv1755

Marie Geneviève Frémont, veuve Perronneau, lasted until 1760, when she too died at the hôpital de La Charité at Tours, just as her younger son had feared.

One of the revelations of Dominique d’Arnoult’s 2014 monograph on Perronneau is that the artist did not himself die in poverty, but, in Daniel Roche’s phrase, “parmi les bons niveaux de la richesse parisienne”. Much of that wealth must have been accumulated by 1760.


[1] There is an ink blot on one n in the manuscript.

[2] Presumably the cure of Saint Germain l’Auxerrois (Étienne de La Brue).

[3] Guillaume-Gabriel de Benoist de La Prunarède (p.1716–1793), doyen de Saint-Martin de Tours, vicaire-général, abbé commanditaire de Jouy. Ulrich Friedrich, baron, puis abbé de Löwendal (1694–1754), associé libre de l’Académie royale de peinture, chambellan du roi de Pologne, doyen de l’Église de Saint-Marcel; Tocqué exhibited his portrait in the salon de 1748, alongside the pastel of his brother Ulrich-Frédéric-Waldemar, comte de Löwendal (1700–1755), maréchal de France, by La Tour.

[4] Le comte de Caylus, who had played a role in commissioning Perronneau’s pastel of Mapondé. He lived near the Orangerie des Tuileries.

[5] While somewhat irrelevant to this post, except on the general theme of female subjugation, I note that Saussay hired a young domestic servant from a small village in the country, one Françoise Vincent, who fled after two months in his service. He took procedings at the Petit Criminel to pursue her; she pleaded homesickness (AN Y9665, 1754: see Julie Elizabeth Leonard, “A window into their lives: the women of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, 1725-1765”, Marquette University, dissertation, 2009, p. 194.

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