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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.

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.

Death in Amsterdam

Amsterdam Map smThe last days of great men or women hold a morbid fascination for us, particularly when they are attended by mystery or just obscured by ignorance. Try as we may, forensic-standard evidence is seldom available to clarify these issues when the events took place more than two centuries ago (as we shall see, even the documents that survive can mislead and do not always bear the weight we want to place on them), and that I fear is the case with the death of Jean-Baptiste Perronneau.

We know that it happened in Amsterdam in November 1783. That much was established by the indefatigable Maurice Tourneux (1849–1917), who, despite being by profession an archivist and bibliographer rather than an art historian, wrote the first serious account of Perronneau in a series of articles for the Gazette des Beaux-Arts in 1896 which were issued also as an offprint in 1903. His work was absorbed by Léandre Vaillat (1878-1952, best known as a dance critic) and Paul Ratouis de Limay (1881-1963, a librarian with a particular interest in pastel, and Desfriches’s great-great-great-grandson), whose monograph of 1909 and in particular its reissue in 1923 became the standard work on the artist until Dominique d’Arnoult’s infinitely deeper catalogue raisonné appeared in early 2015 (but with a 2014 colophon). But every time I go back to Tourneux I discover things I had forgotten he knew, such is the unfairness of art history.

In fact, as regards Perronneau’s death, Tourneux relied on documents located by Nicolaas de Roever (1850–1893), the archivist for the City of Amsterdam who had more than a little interest in art, and was the co-founder of the journal Oud-Holland. Here is what Tourneux wrote:

Au cours d’un troisième séjour de l’artiste en Hollande, le 19 novembre 1783, le sieur Jean Martens se présenta devant le secrétaire de la ville d’Amsterdam et déclara que le sieur Jean-Baptiste Perraunot (sic), sans profession spécifiée, âgé de quarante-deux ans (sic), demeurant sur le Heerengracht, près de la Leidschestraat, était décédé « par suite de fièvre ». Bien que le défunt demeurât dans un quartier fort riche, il n’eut le lendemain que le convoi des pauvres, et fut enterré à la Leidschekerkhoff, cimetière situé près de la porte de Leyde. Lorsque l’aimable et regretté M. N. de Roever me communiqua le résultat de ses recherches dans les archives municipales dont il avait la garde, je crus à une erreur de transcription, en ce qui concernait l’âge du défunt; mais M. de Roever me confirma et me prouva plus tard de visu que le registre portait bien un 4 et un 2. Ainsi, et jusqu’à la minute suprême, tout ce qui a trait à la personnalité du peintre devait rester entouré de mystère et de confusion, et si l’allégation du registre des décès n’était pas démentie par d’autres actes non moins authentiques que celui-ci, elle serait de nature à justifier la méprise de Nagler, dont j’ai parlé au début de cette étude.

Avant d’expirer aussi loin des siens, dans quelque chambre d’auberge, Perronneau avait pu, du moins, confier ses dernières volontés à un Français de passage à Amsterdam et le charger de les transmettre à sa famille. Fils du compositeur languedocien qui, dans la pastorale de Daphnis et Alcimadure, avait devancé nos modernes félibres, Mondonville fils, né en 1748 à Paris, où il est mort en 1808, n’a pas été traité par les répertoires biographiques avec la même faveur que son père, et le récent Supplément, ajouté par M. Arthur Pougin au Dictionnaire de Fétis, se contente de nous apprendre qu’à dix-neuf ans Mondonville fils avait composé six sonates pour violon et basse et qu’il se faisait parfois entendre dans les concerts. Entre temps, il crayonnait volontiers, comme l’atteste un croquis à la mine de plomb du désert d’Ermenonville, daté du 19 juillet 1786, et annoncé il y a quelques années par un catalogue de librairie, et il ne se refusait pas à prêter en 1782 au Salon de la Correspondance fondé par Pahin de La Blancherie, le portrait de sa mère, peint par La Tour (collection Eudoxe Marcille), ainsi sans doute que celui de son père, possédé aujourd’hui par le musée de Saint-Quentin.

Chargé verbalement par Perronneau de ses dernières instructions (ainsi que l’atteste l’acte de partage de la succession), Mondonville avisa la veuve du peintre et l’Académie royale de la perte qu’elles venaient de faire. L’Académie ne s’émut guère de la nouvelle: de l’aveu même de Renou, rédacteur du procès-verbal, on « oublia » de notifier le décès de Perronneau à la séance du 20 décembre 1783, et ce fut seulement à celle du 10 janvier 1784 que la mention en figura au registre.

As you can see from the passage, Tourneux must have been working on Perronneau well before the date his articles appeared, as de Roever had died several years before. But the elements of a good story are all here: a pauper’s funeral (think Mozart), a fever (if you continue thinking Mozart your imagination may be running away with you), and a chance encounter with a passing Frenchman who happened to be connected with Perronneau’s great rival.

So how much of this picture is right? By the time it was retold by Vaillat & Ratouis de Limay, Mondonville had disappeared, but the two register entries were presented in transcriptions of the original Dutch (perhaps from Tourneux’s notes). There was a ludicrous attempt to reconcile the “42 Jaren” with the age of 68 – or actually 67, since that is what is meant by the words “dans la 68e année de son âge” that appear in the Académie register soon after in the text, rather than the erroneous heading “âgé de 68 ans” that was added later (an error V&RdL perpetuated by opting for 1715 rather than the eight times more likely 1716 in the title of their book): the solution proposed was that the body that was buried was not that of the pastellist, but that of his young brother Jean-Baptiste-Henry, the subject of a (to V&RdL lost) painting exhibited by Perronneau in 1746 when the boy would have had to be 5 to be 42 in 1783.

XIR48929Needless to say d’Arnoult debunks this silliness, correctly (I think) identifying the 1746 painting as the one in the Hermitage showing a boy who was evidently more than 5, and inferring J.-B.-H.’s age from the “âgé de 25 ans” when he died on 7 April 1755. That would put his date of birth to between 8 April 1729 and 7 April 1730 (rather than the “1730 ou 1731” that appears in d’Arnoult’s pp. 208 and 365 or the 1731 on p. 367), but in fact the 1755 parish record judiciously adds the words “ou environ” after the age. As it happens I have found a conformed copy of J.-B.-H.’s baptismal record: he was born 19 June 1730, and so died at the age of 24 and five-sixths. And it will surprise no one to learn that his parrain was his older brother, the artist.

PerronneauJBH bapteme 1730

Of course there is still an untidiness in that the Hermitage boy looks rather younger than 16, but that probably just means the painting had been done earlier. D’Arnoult suggests that an estimated age of “une douzaine d’années” and her 1730/31 assumed birth put the picture in period 1744–46: but I leave you to decide which of chronology, biology, arithmetic or language is being stretched. (The point is not merely pedantic: a 1742 date would transform our understanding of Perronneau’s early career, while an age of 15 would add to the issues of the ages of his sitters.)

D’Arnoult doesn’t mention another intriguing theory that was published some time ago, and which caught my fancy for a time. In an Herman_Boerhaave,_by_Cornelis_Troostarticle[1] about a Perronneau pastel (you can find it in the Dictionary at J.582.1231) then thought to depict Belle de Zuylen (d’Arnoult is good at rooting out such fantasies, but less convincing in proposing an alternative identity), Paul van den Boogaard came up with an ingenious explanation of the 42 J beside the diagnosed “fever”, suggesting that it should be read as 42 g, for 42 degrees Celsius – the temperature that might have been recorded for a fever. My initial reaction was to wonder whether they had the technology, but Holland was quite advanced in the use of clinical thermometers for measuring fevers, Dr Boerhaave (the subject of a portrait by Troost, right, in the eponymous museum in Leiden) having pioneered the practice. D’Arnoult however was unable to find the register with the entry, and (as we shall see) Boogaard plainly hadn’t seen it either.

D’Arnoult also drops the Mondonville story, but provides the documents which were Tourneux’s only basis for it. Although there was a posthumous inventory of Perronneau’s estate shortly after his death (10 janvier 1784, his date of death being cited as 20 novembre 1783), seven years later another document was prepared liquidating the estate. (The 1791 document still gave Perronneau’s date of death as 20 novembre, suggesting that his widow also had never seen the death certificate, may not have known the cause of death, and perhaps had no more information from Mondonville than his bill.) In the 1794 document, the effects Perronneau had with him in Amsterdam at his death were included, having been omitted from the inventaire. In this liquidation (which we know Tourneux had seen), we find the paragraph stating that

Perronneau avant de mourir avait chargé verballement de ses dernières intentions un S. Mondonville

and going on to list the expenses this gentleman incurred in settling the Amsterdam funeral expenses which d’Arnoult discusses in some detail – without however telling us who Mondonville was.

La Tour Mme de Mondonville ChicagoIt would of course be fascinating to find that Perronneau’s last contact was with the son of the subjects of two of La Tour’s most important pastels (left is the Art Institute of Chicago’s version of the mother, née Anne-Jeanne Boucon: J.46.1423): just imagine the fictional possibilities for such a final conversation, whether down the pub or not. All the more so when you know that Mondonville fils, as Tourneux has him, was not merely an amateur draughtsman, but a pastellist with an entry in the Dictionary. And that his mother, also known as an amateur artist (as well as the titular La Boucon in one of the most gorgeous pieces ever written by Rameau – who you will recall from my last post was with La Tour when Mme de Graffigny met them in 1748):


was too a pastellist, as we find from her father’s estate inventory. And the link with pastel goes back to that father, Étienne Boucon, who was not merely a patron of the arts, but close enough to Crozat that Rosalba mentions him in her diary and even had lunch with him. Indeed just before Perronneau’s death Mondonville fils, by then in possession of his parents’ pastels, exhibited them at the Salon de la Correspondance, as recorded in the Nouvelles de la république des lettres et des arts for 19 juin 1782:


But there is no evidence that Mondonville fils was in Amsterdam, and I think it highly probable that the S. Mondonville mentioned in the Perronneau document was actually his cousin, Martin Cassanéa de Mondonville, whose presence in Amsterdam is attested by the baptism of three children at the French church (Catholic) between 1779 and 1783:

Cassanea de Mondonville Amsterdam 1783

I can find little further information on him (there is a genealogy here), but his mother and sister had recently returned[2] from Moscow by mid-1783 (and may have been in Russia when Perronneau was). He appears from the few records we have to have associated with French Catholic expatriates and visitors, including Marc’Antonio Missoli, an important dancer and choreographer. And of course he was also the grandson of Étienne Boucon.

But what about the cause of Perronneau’s death? Reporting de Roever’s reading of the register as “koorts” (fever), as entered by a certain Jan or Jean Martens (of whom Tourneux, V&RdL and d’Arnoult tell us nothing), d’Arnoult nevertheless introduces the possibility of the eruption of the Laki volcano in Iceland which was widely thought to account for many deaths around Europe in 1783/84, citing the paper of Thordarson & Self[3], which does indeed provide a hugely detailed assessment of the environmental effects of the eruption. D’Arnoult suggests that the large numbers of deaths it caused might account for the chaotic circumstances of the burial.

Ducreux Lalande MV4627The Laki event of course has been the subject of many investigations of more or less rigour, from the initial contemporary comments of Lalande (Ducreux’s pastel, Versailles, right), who tried to dismiss the dry fogs that appeared in June 1783 as the result of hot weather and rain, to the multiplicity of studies attempting to apply modern science to remote events where the data are not what one would gather now. Lots of famous people died that year, and one document even suggests that Laki caused Leonard Euler’s death (as it happens, from a brain haemorrhage).

So it’s time to have our own look at the evidence and see if anything can be added. Here is the 20 November cemetery burial record, which is easy enough to locate in the Stadsarchief Amsterdam:

Perronneau burial

And here is the entry from the Amsterdam death tax register known as the Gaarders Archief, which was indeed a lot harder to track down:

Perronneau deces

But to answer some of these questions, you need not only the line concerning Perronneau, but the adjacent entries. Here is the whole page covering three days in November:

Perronneau deces record-image_3QS7-99QV-T9JV

From this you can see immediately that Boogaard’s ingenious idea is simply wrong. Everyone in the register gets an age. It’s just a mistake.

What about the mysterious Jan Martens? Was he a reliable witness? Well, he should have been: Jan Martens (c.1737–1808) was a heelmeester (surgeon) in Amsterdam, in practice from at least 1761, as his name appears in the list of members of the Amsterdam committee for medical supervision:


By 1784 one source even refers to him as the “beroemde” (famous) Stads Chirurgijn. (Martens’s address, by a curious coincidence, is the same as that – “op de Prinsse Gragt, bij de Leijdse KruijsStraat” in 1735 – of one of Liotard’s brothers, Daniel-Louis, whose birth in Geneva was known to Roethlisberger & Loche, but not the fact that he settled in Amsterdam where he was a monteur de boîtes; I have been unable to establish if he was still there when his brother came to Amsterdam in 1755.)

As for the Gaarders Archief entry, the Dutch system at that time did indeed levy taxes on death registrations. They were based on assessments of income and capital, divided into five classes. The wealthiest, those with capital in excess of 12,000 guilders, paid 30 guilders; the lower rates were 15, 6, 3 and for the poorest, nothing. Based on the total numbers in the Gaarders Archief for the second half of 1783, only 0.3% of deaths fell into the first class, while 84% fell into the fifth, or “pro deo”, category. In view of the link to assessed taxable income and capital, it is unclear to me how the tax would have been imposed on visitors, particularly those without close family members in a position to make declarations of assets or income (perhaps some kind Dutch archivist familiar with these records could assist, but my attempts to find examples were unfruitful before my attention span expired).

The second baffling thing in these entries is the phrase “Is Gehaalt” which appears in the cemetery register. D’Arnoult merely translates literally “a été enlevé”, while V&RdL expand as “on a cherché le corps, sans frais funéraires l’enterrement a eu lieu.” On its own the words are wildly ambiguous; perhaps again a kind Dutch archivist can assist. But a perusal of the entire cemetery register shows that the phrase is used very rarely. The nearest example I could find was two months before. Since 84% of burials were exempt from tax it hardly seems likely that V&RdL’s construction of the words was correct. Could it mean that the body wasn’t buried at all, but reclaimed – perhaps by Martin de Mondonville, to be buried elsewhere? If so I have found no trace of it in any Amsterdam church or cemetery, under any misspelling of the artist’s name; and this seems very unlikely.

Another question concerns the use of a cemetery rather than a church. D’Arnoult wonders whether his being Catholic in a Protestant city restricted his choice, but in fact there were plenty of Catholic churches available; there was even a French Catholic chapel (as opposed to the Walloon church for French Huguenots) where Mondonville’s children had been baptised. A rather different suggestion occurs in the biographies of the famous bookseller and publisher of Rousseau, Marc-Michel Rey, who was also buried in the Leydse Kerkhof, five days after his death (incidentally Gaarders Archief and history agree that this was due to a chest complaint, “borstziekte”, long before Laki had erupted), on 13 June 1780, “met vier Koetzen” – with four coaches, evidently an ostentatious display. One source[4] suggests that his choice of cemetery rather than church meant that he was suspected of atheism – something of which no one accuses Perronneau.

HerengrachtWe should also consider the basic geography. Perronneau – as d’Arnoult notes – was staying in a wealthy area of town, on the Herengracht. You can see his lodgings marked in green in the contemporCaspar Philipsary map of the city (confusingly north is about 7 o’clock) at the top of this post; they stood on the spot occupied by the modern corner house (no. 396) as seen in this photograph of the Herengracht, looking roughly northwards (in a house very similar to the old one, bearing the date 1665, still standing two doors away, as can be seen in the drawing by Caspar Philips, left). The map also shows the residence of Dr Martens (in blue) and the location of the cemetery (in red). As the documents attest, Perronneau was ill enough to confide in Mondonville, so he probably was able to consult Martens, as a local doctor, before his death. And from his lodgings to the cemetery was but a short distance, by canal.

So what about the cause of death? Again the vital document is the Gaarders Archief: but not just the entry for Perronneau alone (where I confess the handwriting is unclear, and “koorts” looks more like a number of other possible words), but all the adjacent entries. I have tried to reconcile these with burial records in the various churches, although I confess I ran out of patience fairly soon. But one salient fact was that while Perronneau was buried the day after he died, in all the other cases I matched up the delay was between 2 and 5 days.

Armed with the Gaarders Archief figures, I found that there was indeed a significant increase in deaths in Amsterdam immediately after the eruption. Taking just the pro deo monthly totals, July 1783 showed a 66% increase on the average of the previous ten months, so this looked very plausible.

I turned not only to the paper about the Laki eruption d’Arnoult cites (Thordarson & Self 2003), but also some other studies – notably one specifically addressing mortality attributable to it.[5] This sets out to apply the work of Thordarson & Self to England, where detailed county-based mortality figures allow a sophisticated statistical analysis of the epidemiology. No one doubts that the effect of the disaster on Iceland was devastating, with up to 20% of the population dying (but more from hunger than the direct effects of inhalation), but were there more deaths in total in more populous countries like England?

The paper contains some useful cautions: “it is important not to confuse coincidence with cause”, although the evidence for the Laki eruption causing the dry fogs throughout northern Europe in June–July 1783 was strong. However “adverse health effects from exposure to volcanic gases are generally acute in nature, so any impacts would be expected to occur and be noticed during the period of contact with the gas.” In other words Perronneau would have suffered more when he was in Bordeaux that summer and during the journey to Amsterdam (although of course, following his trips to Poland etc. he could have been expected to be weakened generally). But Witham & Oppenheimer note that many other causes – epidemics, the extreme weather conditions of a very hot summer in 1783 followed by a very cold winter – are as likely to explain any increases in mortality figures in countries like England. Specifically they note that the lack of uniformity in different counties’ figures suggest local, rather than global, explanations are required.

One of the difficulties Witham & Oppenheimer faced was that the English figures gave no individual cause of death. The Amsterdam tax registers however do – most (but not all) of the entries contain some cause, however accurate the diagnoses may be. Perronneau’s “koorts” (for that is I now think how the word must be read) was in fact fairly constant as a proportion: about 11-14% in each of the months I counted. I found few instances of “borstziekte” or anything that looked closely related to inhaling sulphurous particles. But what I did find, rather to my surprise, was a sudden epidemic of measles (“Masel” for mazelen) coinciding with (rather than I think being caused by) the eruption: in July 1783 34% of the deaths were from this cause. But by November, the numbers were back to normal (513 pro deo deaths recorded in the full month: Amsterdam had had to cope with more than a thousand in a single week during some seventeenth century plague epidemics), so there was no likelihood of disorder at the cemeteries.

Amsterdam as a busy seaport was of course vulnerable to infectious diseases, and it seems to me that a more plausible explanation of Perronneau’s death and burial was that he had a contagious fever which caused sufficient concern, perhaps even alarm, for the state surgeon to be called in, and for him to order the immediate burial in the nearest possible location. In the absence of any family to certify income and pay the tax, a pro deo burial was inevitable. That notwithstanding the fact that Perronneau had with him in Amsterdam possessions (including 20 pictures) worth over 4000 livres, which alone would have taken him into the chargeable bracket if regarded as taxable capital.

But there is another aspect of all this which strikes me as more interesting and in a way sad. It is the statement in the 1791 liquidation 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? Taken together with the fact that his widow remarried – or tried to remarry, as I discussed before – less than two months later, with Gertrudian alacrity, one can only wonder whether there is not a very simple explanation for the profound melancholy expressed in so much of his work.

Aschenbach? Not really; more Rameau than Mahler. And certainly not Agatha Christie, if that is what you wanted.


[1] Paul van den Boogaard, “An unknown portrait of Isabelle de Charrière (1773)”, Cahiers Isabelle de Charrière, 6, 2011, pp. 62-66.

[2] This is from Roberte Marchand’s biography of his uncle.

[3] “Atmospheric and environmental effects of the 1783–1784 Laki eruption: A review and reassessment”, Journal of geophysical research, cviii, 2003. This cites a report in the Odense Adresse-Contoirs Efterretninger, no. 36, 18 July 1783 confirming that the sulphuric gas cloud reached Amsterdam on 11 July, while another report commented on the sulphuric odour noticeable in late June. (Arnoult 2014, p. 183 reports this date as 3 November with no other source.)

[4] P.-J. Kapteyn: see Karl Rudolf Gallas, “Autour de Marc-Michel Rey et de Rousseau”, Annales de la Société Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1922, p. 76.

[5] C. S. Witham & C. Oppenheimer, “Mortality in England during the 1783-4 Laki Craters eruption”, Bull. Volcanol., 2005, 67:15–26.

La Tour and Mme de Graffigny

Clavareau Mme de Graffigny LunevilleFor anyone reading this blog, the name of Mme de Graffigny will immediately suggest an image of an Enlightenment blue-stocking – a woman writer with connections to Rousseau, Voltaire and other such figures. Perhaps you conjure up a portrait of a lady with a book – rather like Mademoiselle Ferrand. You might recall that Graffigny was the author of the fictional Lettres d’une Péruvienne (1747), but have you ever read it – or indeed any of the 2518 real letters which have, over the course of more than 30 years, been published by team of scholars in a project between the Voltaire Foundation and the University of Toronto? The final volume of the letters appeared last year, while a comprehensive index is planned for next year. There is in the meantime an extremely useful working index online, as well as a wealth of explanatory material about the project which obviates the need for me to explain its overall aims or scope. These are freely available: the books themselves however are understandably rather pricey, and perhaps – with library cutbacks and so on – less available, and less consulted, than they should be.

You will of course have read the extract from her letter about Mme Supiot which I included in my last post. But while I was trying to find a copy of the volume that contained it, I noticed that the British Library (which had a copyright copy) hadn’t got round to cataloguing it (that has now been rectified), while the London Library only had some earlier volumes in the set (that too has now been rectified). However the reason for this post is my astonishment at discovering some key passages about one of my favourite subjects – Maurice-Quentin de La Tour – which have been (please do correct me if I’m wrong – I welcome any opportunity to update my bibliographies) completely overlooked by art historians.

Mme de Graffigny wasn’t perhaps as intensely interested in art as say Diderot, but she attended the Louvre salons and usually had something of interest to say in her letters (albeit they do not appear in standard bibliographies of salon criticism). But the artist who interested her most – and whom she knew personally – was La Tour. I’ve included their encounters in my chronological taLa Tour Mme de Graffigny BW166 f76ble of La Tour documents, and won’t repeat all of this here (just search Graffigny in the linked pdf). There are of course several references to Graffigny’s own projected portrait, possibly to be engraved to enhance her publications, and those have set off many fantasies. The pastel from the Marcille collection (J.46.1855; left), once thought to be of the dancer Mlle Sallé, was reidentified by André Michel in 1884 with no logic beyond enthusiasm, and subsequently included without qualification as of her in B&W, Adrian Bury’s monograph and the Paris 1927 exhibition (even the reference to that in the 2004 La Tour exhibition expresses no reservation).

It was however judiciously rejected by Colin Harrison in his 2004 SVEC article on the iconography of Mme de Graffigny. Excellent though that article was at debunking the ridiculous claims of a number of similar inconnues, it fell into exactly the same trap of wishful thinking by promoting, to the much wanted position of the lost La Tour, a rather modest pastel connected with a minor artist called Garand which it was suggested was a copy after the great master. In fact (as you can see in vol. XIV of the Correspondance, reproduced above, at the top of this post) the source of this image is the signed oval oil in Lunéville by the actor/painter Augustin Clavareau. (He was not only a protégé of Mme de Graffigny, but the father of the pastellist Victoire Clavareau.)

But it’s time to turn to a couple of extracts from the correspondence which are of far greater interest, and which illustrate just how significant Graffigny’s testimony is. Remember that, unlike the other biographies of La Tour (see here), these passages are immediate reportage, not the repetition of others’ stories with the propagation of error that I set out in my analysis.

The first comes in a letter to her friend Devaux (as almost all the letters are) of 14 September 1742. She has been two days before to the salon, noting that there was nothing there so extraordinary as the La Tour pastels, all masterpieces,

Schmidt d'a La Tour Auto BW243

surtout le sien, peint avec un chapeau a point d’Espagne, detrous

sé d’un coté, qui lui fait un ombre sur le visage. C’est un morceau parfait: je ne pouvois m’en arracher.

We’ll come back to that: it’s the famous autoportrait au chapeau de clabaud, now known only from the Schmidt print (right).

Three years later, she again reports to Devaux after a visit to the salon, in a letter of 7 September 1745. She is disappointed, particularly as the artists have had two years since the last salon (they had previously been held annually). Once again however it is the La Tour portraits that captivate her: “La Tour empeche de regarder les autres.” She picks out two in particular: one the famous, and much written about, Duval de l’Épinoy (here is my essay on this masterpiece of Western art, now in the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon), of which she thinks “rien n’est si admirable”.

La Tour Duval de l'Epinoy

But she then picks out another:

Disenteuil y est de sa façon, si singulièrement ressemblant que je pensai lui aler parler.

“Disenteuil” is her pet name for Henri-Ignace de Chaumont, abbé de La Galaizière (1706–1784), a particular friend, and brother of the intendant who was, as it happens, married to the sister of Philibert Orry, whose portrait La Tour also exhibited that year (no. 166; below left).La Tour Orry Louvre 27613 As far as I am aware, art history has not yet recorded this mention of a new, if lost, La Tour portrait, evidently one of the “Plusieurs autres portraits, sous le même numéro” [168] at the salon. But it may also unsolve another mystery: when the abbé’s nephew (and Orry’s) emigrated, his goods were seized by the state in 1798 including “un grand portrait d’Argenson, fait au pastel par Latour, monté sous glace, hauteur 3 pieds 6 pouces sur 2 pieds 7 pouces environ.” It was apparently deposited in the Muséum central, and it has for long been regarded as the portrait of Orry now in the Louvre (the known La Tour portraits of d’Argenson are smaller, and done when he had abandoned the larger format): the Orry pastel measures 116.7×89.5, near enough to the 114×84 of the saisie de l’émigré; but could the latter not equally well be of the abbé (unless we believe that its entry to the Muséum central was definitive)?

We must now move on to the most important encounter between Graffigny and La Tour, which took place on 7 July 1748 at Passy in the home of the famous fermier général La Pouplinière, in the company of Rameau and Vaucanson. The next day she wrote a second letter about this to Devaux, in which she included “deux anecdoctes toute fraiche de ce maitre peintre et plus, maitre fol.”

The first goes back to the autoportrait au chapeau de clabaud which she wrote about above. (The editors helpfully cite Trévoux’s Dictionnaire to explain that “on dit qu’un homme secoue les oreilles, quand il se moque, quand il ne soucie pas de ce qu’on lui dit”.)

Tu m’as peut-etre entendu parler d’un portrait qu’il avoit fait de lui, qui reellement me ravit en admiration quand il l’exposa au Louvre il y a quelques années. Je lui en demandai hier des nouvelles. Il secoua l’oreille et me dit qu’il etoit perdu. Je voulus en savoir l’histoire. La voici. Il avoit d’abort fait cette tete pour la galerie de Florence, où sa place est marquée. Il trouva qu’il avoit si bien reussit qu’un sentiment de patricien l’engagea a faire voir cette piece au roi, comptant comme il le dit, que son excelence le fraperoit et qu’il le metroit dans sa chambre. Le roi dit : « Cela est beau, » et le rendit. Ce fou, ce archifou, le mit en piece. Il s’en repend mais le mal est fait. Je l’ai bien flatée en ne lui parlant presque de cette piece, ou du moins en lui donnant la preferance sur ses autres ouvrages. Il ne l’a pas moins eté de mon entousiasme pour elle, que je rendois comme je l’ai sentie, car jamais rien ne m’a fait une plus vive impression ; mais il a bien flaté mon dissernement en m’avouant qu’il n’avoit jamais rien fait d’aussi bon, et qu’avec ce morceau il ne craignoit ny la posterité antecedente ny la subsequente. Aussi etoit-ce en verité un chef-d’œuvre. Il n’y avoit que la tete, coeffée d’une peruque et d’un chapeau clabot avec un vieuxpoint d’Espagne. C’etoit une espece de prix. Ah, la belle chose !

The lost pastel has been discussed many times, including in the La Tour 2004 exhibition catalogue, but this fascinating story has never (as far as I am aware) been cited in the art historical literature. It provides I think the only evidence that he was asked to send his portrait to the grand-ducal collection at the Uffizi (the pastel there purporting to be La Tour’s self-portrait seems in my opinion neither to be of nor by him). It again reinforces his proximity to the king and his patriotism (“patricien” has however been correctly read; Mme de Graffigny used it to mean “haughty”) that are picked up in other stories in his hagiography. Of course it reinforces the trope of the fastidious artist willing to destroy anything which was less than perfect.

So does this final story, continuing the same letter . Having extracted an invitation to dinner from the painter (a rare privilege), she continued:

Je lui dis que j’etois fort curieuse de voir un portrait de Mde de Pompadour, dont j’ai beaucoup entendu parler, comme d’une merveille non achevée. Le boureau secoua encore l’oreille, baissa les yeux, et dit: « Il n’est plus. » Il l’a encore brulé parce qu’il avoit donné un faux trait. Il etoit en grand. C’etoit un tableau de la taille de ceux dont il prend jusqu’à dix mille francs. Il est brulé. Avez-vous une idée d’une tete aussi folle ? Je lui chantai pouille. Il me dit que j’avois bien aise de peindre a l’ancre, que j’en etois quitte pour une feuille de papier quand il me faloit retoucher une phrase, mais qu’il lui faloit des mois pour raccomoder un faux trait, et qu’il aimoit meux reccommencer. Voila l’homme; au demeurant, de l’esprit et des sentimens.

Indeed. Again this passage is not mentioned in Jean-François Méjanès’s monograph devoted entirely to the portrait of Mme de Pompadour, which was finally exhibited in 1755 and is now in the Louvre. As you can see if you look closely, the head has been done on a new sheet of paper pasted over the rest of the work.La Tour Pompadour Louvre Apart from the claim to have destroyed the picture (which we can neither prove nor disprove, although it is more likely that he relented and effected the correction on the new sheet), we find what La Tour had in mind for its price (his later demand for 48,000 livres, nearly five times as much, was famously rejected). And we have evidence that the work was not merely well under way, but already destroyed before the date when we thought it had been commenced – even to the point that Mme de Graffingy had already heard so much about it.

Brava Mme de Graffigny for telling us so much. Bravi Oxford, Toronto and all those involved in this important project.

Another side of Perronneau: Mme Supiot and her doctors


by permission of University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections

Just when you think you have understood an artist, something comes along that reminds you how impossible that task is 250 years later. Readers of this blog will be aware of my interest in Jean-Baptiste Perronneau (c.1716–1783), of the research you can find in the Dictionary of pastellists and in Dominique d’Arnoult’s 2014 monograph, and in my various minor subsequent trouvailles posted on this blog (e.g. here, here, here and here – or just type Perronneau into the search box for more). But I confess the latest discovery (above) made me wonder if there weren’t an as yet unidentified homonym at work: not just because the reproduction I first saw (the woodcut from Morand, below) was so bad, but also because I could at first see no reason why Perronneau would have undertaken such a commission.

In 1752, Perronneau was at the height of his powers. Six years before he had been agréé to the Académie royale, and his exhibits to the subsequent salons had revealed him to be the true competitor to La Tour. He would be reçu just the following year (1753). But at the moment when you would have expected him to be focused on completing his morceaux de réception (canvases of Adam l’aîné and Oudry) for the Académie, he wrote to Caroline Luise expressing a “grande envie de voyager en Allemagne” (17 August 1752). All of this of course is generally known.

What isn’t is that that very same month he had been commissioned to document a bizarre medical condition, the unfortunate case of Anne Supiot who was dying from a monstrous disease. I found this from the book about her condition by Morand,[1] Histoire de la maladie singulière, et de l’examen du cadavre d’une femme devenue en peu de tems toute contrefaite par un ramollissement général des os, Paris, 1752, where, on p. 38, we read–


Evidently suspecting that many would not buy the print, the book itself included a wretched fold-out woodcut taken from it:


Anne-Élisabeth Queriot or Queriau (1716–1752) was the wife of Pierre Supiot, a cardeur de laine in the parish of Saint-Roch. For several years, following each confinement, she 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 (vitamin D deficiency) and exacerbated during pregnancy (the overwhelming number of cases are among women).[2] Needless to say its cause and cure were not understood fully at the time, and there were joined to a general distaste for such things a suspected (false) link with insanity and (in this case) a ghoulish interest in the spectacle of deformity.

Morand called in all the leading doctors of the day, and conducted a meticulous autopsy. His very full investigation and documentation was printed in full in December 1752, signaled at the time in various periodicals, including the Journal des sçavans, and cited in medical texts for centuries. This elicited a few years later a response from Dr Pierre Toussaint Navier (1712–1779) who correctly identified the link with rickets in his Observations théoriques et pratiques, sur l’amollissement des os, en général, & particulièrement sur celui qui a été observé dans la femme Supiot, dont l’histoire a été communiquée à la Faculté de médecine de Paris, en 1752, Paris, 1755.

Even outside medical circles the case attracted much attention – it was for example taken up by Mme de Graffigny.[3] She interested herself in it long before the medical reports were published. On 2 August 1752 she wrote to her friend François-Antoine Devaux:

Il y a ici une femme dont les os se sont fondus, en comensant par les pieds et les jambes. Quand cette maladie plus que singuliere n’etoit qu’au genoux, elle a encore fait un enfant. A present les bras, les cotes, et les clavicules du col sont fondues. Elle paroit grasse parce que son corps s’est ratatiné, n’ayant plus de soutien. Elle etoit d’une grandeur ordinaire. On la couvre a present toute entire d’un mouchoir. Elle boit, mange et digere. Tu pense bien qu’elle ne sort pas du lit et qu’elle n’a aucun movement. L’Accademie de chirurgie la visitent tous les jours et font leur remarques. Elle jase et n’a point du tout l’air triste. …Voila, je crois, une maladie unique et dont ny encien ny moderne n’avoit jamais eu de connoissance d’une telle folie de la nature. Eh mon Dieu, elle n’avoit pas besoin d’inventer de nouveaux moiens de nous tuer; il y en avoit assés.

Evidently many people were suspicious that this was a freak or a hoax: Mme de Graffigny reassured Devaux in a letter the next month that he should tell sceptics to go and see for themselves: “la femme fondue” lived in the “rue et but Saint-Roch” (near Sireul).

Unsurprisingly however the patient died shortly afterwards, in November, as reported even in the Affiches announces et avis divers, 16 November 1751:


But as noted above Perronneau’s role took place while the patient was still alive, in August. The legend is quite specific: “Dessiné sur le Sujet vivant agé de 35 ans en Aoust 1752 par Peronneau“. We don’t know what medium he used: dessin might just mean black chalk, or it could possibly have involved pastel. Unlike the genre of anatomical drawing which was well developed in the eighteenth century (among pastellists, see Gautier-Dagoty, Wandelaar, Gamelin, Rymsdyck, Blakey etc.), working from a patient who was still alive (albeit in great pain) was a very different process. Nor can it have been easy for Perronneau to handle a naked rather than nude female subject, with a physician who required maximum exposure. This was not what he was taught at the Académie.

What can have induced him to take on the job?

I wondered at first whether there was any family connection: Pierre Supiot after all was a cardeur de laine, and Perronneau’s family were tapissiers back in Tours (at his parents’ wedding in Paris in 1708,[4] the guests included a Tapissier et Brodeur du roi – but he had died in 1712, and in any case occupied a far grander position in the fabric business than M. Supiot, whom Mme de Graffigny described as a matelassier). I wondered then if Dr Morand might have had an interest in portraiture: but an engraved portrait said to be of him is in fact of this grandfather, and the Ambroise Tardieu who engraved it was from a much later period.

There is I think a clue in what may seem even more puzzling: the choice of engraver, the virtually unknown Anton Schlechter. I have pieced together some information on him. He was in Paris as a pensionnaire of the Austrian empress Maria Theresia. In a letter (Archives nationales) of 26.ii.1752 to Johann Georg Wille in Paris from Martin van Meytens (1695–1770), Hofmaler und Direktor der Kunstakademie in Wien, he adds a postscript sending his greetings to Massé and “Beiliegend Schreiben für Schlechter”. (This would not have been difficult, as the address given on the plate, quay des Augustins, was Wille’s: it appears in almost exactly this form on his engraving of Daniel Klein’s portrait of Marie-Josèphe de Saxe.) There is a drawing by Schlechter in the Albertina, a full-length pen and ink portrait en pied of his protector copied from the Meytens painting in the Schönbrunn of about 1752–53.

It is unclear if Schlechter completed his study before his arrival in Paris, or after his return, which presumably happened after 1754 when he engraved his best known work, the large-scale ceremonial (and politically significant) Entrée publique de son Excellence M. le Comte de Kaunitz-Rittberg, ambassadeur de l’Empereur et de l’Impératrice, Reine de Hongrie et de Bohême faite à Paris le 17 septembre 1752, after Eyssen (presumably Charles-Dominique-Joseph Eisen). We can probably infer how unsuccessful he was at selling prints in Paris by the fact that the only copy of the Mme Supiot print I can find anywhere in the world is that in the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow (and I am extremely grateful to the staff there and at the University of Glasgow Library for making the image available).[5]

After his return to Vienna his name appears fairly rarely: he engraved the maps for Hell’s map of Hungary (1771) and in 1770 he worked for Adam František Kollár, the historian and ethnologist, in the production of an edition known as Die Wiener Genesis. His dates are otherwise unknown.

But there is one other crucial piece of evidence, the print Schlechter made after Chardin’s portrait of the celebrated gynaecologist André Levret (1703–1780), de l’Académie royale de chirurgerie. Chardin had exhibited the portrait[6] in the salon of 1746; its critical reception led to his withdrawing from portraiture until the wonderful pastels he made in the 1770s. Schlechter’s print (right)

has been rather badly documented in the literature: in Bocher’s catalogue of Chardin engravings (no. 32) it is mentioned as a first state, but as with the legend “Gravé à Paris par Ant. Schlehter Pens. De S. M. Imple. 1758” [sic]; in the second state these words are replaced by “Louis le Grand 1760”. The normally reliable Rosenberg & Temperini (122a) simply give Louis le Grand as the engraver’s name (Roland Michel does the same), while the Chardin 1999 exhibition catalogue (p. 23) gives the year 1758 for the appearance of the engraving.

Rosenberg & Temperini do not know what connection there may have been between Chardin and Levret to lead to the 1746 commission: I can offer a hint. Mme Chardin was Françoise-Marguerite Pouget (1707–1791), while Levret’s father, also André, had been “valet de chambre du sieur Pouget, secrétaire du roi”.[7] This was Honoré Pouget, of the parlement de Montpellier, or perhaps his brother André (both held the title). Mme Chardin’s family remains somewhat complicated: I have pieced together a Pouget genealogy which identifies her father and several other close relatives as procureurs au Châtelet, but the link with the Montpellier branch remains obscure.

Schlechter’s print was actually dated 1753, and he was presumably safely back in Vienna before his name was removed from the plate. But it is Legrand’s name that appears very widely: Louis-Claude Legrand (1723–1807) made other engravings after Eisen, and so presumably took over Schlechter’s plates on his departure. Legrand (and possibly Schlechter, although I have no evidence of this) worked on La Fontaine’s Fables with Perronneau’s teacher Laurent Cars. But any such connection post-dated the Supiot print and cannot explain the circumstances of its commission.

In any case a comparison of the Chardin oil with Schlechter’s print allows us to form some idea of the engraver’s accuracy, and thus to work back to what Perronneau’s original drawing might have looked like (at least to a far greater extent than we can with the woodcut in Morand or the later reproductive engravings in other sources[8]).

Levret in fact was the consultant gynaecologist for poor Mme Supiot. (How did her husband afford all the fees? As my piece on Citoyen Coiffier demonstrated, a single visit from a physician would cost a month’s wages for the lower orders. Presumably these visits were pro bono, or rather for the benefit of the mystified professionals themselves.) Of all the physicians Morand mentions it was Levret who carried out the detailed physical examination while the woman was living. It is surely too much of a coincidence for him to be involved in two pieces of work for this obscure engraver. And yet the engraving of the Chardin was made after the print of Mme Supiot had been issued.

While we will never know for certain (unless more documents turn up) it seems plausible that Levret was the instigator of the medical drawing, and that he turned to his own portraitist, Chardin, who presumably declined the commission but passed it on to Perronneau. Schlechter may have had some previous contact with Chardin, but it would seem that Levret was sufficiently satisfied with his Supiot plate to ask him to engrave his own portrait. Of course this is speculative, but it doesn’t seem to require the facts to be contorted as far as this poor woman’s body.


However hard you try, occasionally the penny drops just after you upload a blog. And since I know some of you shared my reaction to the improbability of this story, the mental wheels remained in action. Niggling was, of all things, the name of the publisher of Morand’s book: veuve Quillau, but I couldn’t work out why this seemed familiar, and dismissed it.

But then I finally recalled that Perronneau’s great teacher and friend was Laurent Cars, at whose funeral in 1771 three nephews of this name were in attendance:


And rapidly I established that Cars’s sister Agathe (1701-1764) was indeed married to Gabriel-François Quillau, imprimeur du roi, imprimeur libraire de l’Université, and that after his death (the month before the Supiot print, in August 1752), she continued as imprimeur-libraire.

Not only does Agathe Cars’s involvement point strongly to a more direct link in how the commission was given to Perronneau, but it surely provides assurance that the reference to Perronneau in the book, without qualification or distinction from the artist well known to the printer, must indeed be to him rather than a homonym.

Perronneau Cars Louvre 32350As everyone knows Cars was the subject of a magnificent pastel by Perronneau now in the Louvre. He left it in his will, together with a 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), to the wife of a nephew. (For more on these family relationships, see Babuty, Cars, Pigalle. Babuty fils also used the quay des Augustins address.) Mme Divry, née Michelle-Élisabeth Mocquin (1735– ), went to live in Stockholm around 1777, and hadn’t been heard of for 25 years when her husband died in Paris. While the pastel of Cars was with the Académie by 1782, that of Marie Barbery was lost: was it taken to Stockholm, and might it one day turn up there?


[1] Jean-François-Clément Morand (1726–1784), docteur régent de la faculté du medicine; confused with his father in the BnF catalogue.

[2] An alternative diagnosis, of Gorham–Stout Disease, has however been suggested, in La Correspondance de Madame de Graffigny, cited below, volume 12, p. 444n.

[3] La Correspondance de Madame de Graffigny, ed. J. A. Dainard, English Showalter, Dorothy P. Arthur, D. W. Smith & al., Oxford, 1985–2016; vol. 12, pp. xx, 441, 443n- 444n; vol. 13, pp. 36, 38n. I am extremely grateful to Penny Arthur at the Graffingy Project for making these texts available when it seems that the British Library and all others in London have failed to take volume 12 of this important publication.

[4] I found the parish register extract in 2014, too late to make it into Arnoult, but you can find it and other pieces in my table of Perronneau documents. (It is interesting  because the artist’s mother was far younger than one would expect, but that is another story.) Pierre Lefort Duplessis had supplied luxury furnishings to the gouverneur of Béthune in 1704.

[5] MS Hunter HF246. Dr Mayet in 1909 (see note below) had seen one, but in so damaged a state that he was unable to reproduce it. The wretched woodcut and other reproductions have supplanted the Schlechter almost completely.

[6] Sold most recently in New York, Christie’s, 25.i.2012, Lot 122.

[7] AN Y5383, registre de clôtures d’inventaires, 28.viii.1728.

[8] Notably P. K. Stanski, Du Ramollissement des os…, Paris, 1839; Lucien Mayet, “Un cas d’ostéomalacie: Anne-Elisabeth Supiot”, La Province médicale, 2.i.1909, pp.4ff.

Lorenzo Tiepolo in Madrid

tiepolo-lorenzo-guitarrista-y-mujer-joven-prado-copyA few weeks ago a kind reader in Spain alerted me to a once-in-a-generation opportunity to view the great collection of extraordinary pastels by Lorenzo Tiepolo which are currently on show in Madrid, and yesterday I went to see them. Although the full significance of pictures like these can often take some time to digest, I thought it best to put this post up now so that you too can see them before the end of March when the exhibition closes.

I wish I could say that flying to a European capital was a pleasure. That you can do it and back in a day seems from an eighteenth century perspective a miracle; but when it was actually easier and quicker thirty years ago when I regularly flew for business, it seems that progress has lost the inevitability about which the Enlightenment fantasised. And when, having walked for miles across Terminal 5 (with a child’s “are we there yet?” sense at every step), we are finally strapped into a seat designed for the present rather than the previous mayor of our city (if they measured the average human frame, did they forget that the femur is connected to both the pelvis and the patella? – there was no room for either), we come to the realisation: Saint-Simon did not have to endure this. While he might have escaped the seat problem by going business class, the poisoning from aero chemicals, stale air-conditioning and other travellers’ respiratory illnesses are inescapable. And thoughts of “would it really be worthwhile?” began to take hold.

For if you only know Tiepolo’s pastels from reproduction you could understandably reach the conclusion that they are flat, inert images, almost naïve – certainly by comparison with the sophisticated nuance of a Perronneau. A sort of not-quite-Liotard, with some of the autistic signs you find in autodidacts (although of course Lorenzo was taught by his famous father and brother). Even if you’ve seen the work that has passed through London sales, you will perhaps still harbour some of these concerns: there have been one or two masterpieces, but also several that don’t contradict the doubt.

Any such idea is immediately extinguished by seeing the Madrid pastels.

You should logically first go to the Prado (of course itself more than a reason to go to Madrid – it is one of the great picture galleries of the world – but it may not be a good idea to immerse yourself too deeply in Rubens, Velázquez or Rogier van der Weyden before going to Room 20), where for a temporary period (to coincide with the main exhibition – they are very rarely displayed) you can see the six pastels of the Spanish royal children which Tiepolo made in 1763. You can of course (as always) find all the pastels (with history, literature etc.) in the Dictionary in the Lorenzo Tiepolo article, and the Prado website has excellent articles on them here. For a general introduction to Tiepolo’s pastels, there is a fascinating talk by the great specialist Andrés Úbeda de los Cobos on YouTube. So I needn’t repeat the factual content of those sources here.

These tiepolo-lorenzo-principe-di-casa-reale-d-f-copyprinces and princesses are of course the children of Carlos III – or at least six of his thirteen children: five died in infancy, the eldest son was an imbecile and the next but one was left behind to rule Naples and the Two Sicilies when his father vacated that throne to take up that of Spain following his own brother’s death. (Don’t expect me to give an account of the Bourbons and their inbreeding.) The boys range in age from a youthful-looking 15 down to the youngest, 5, who is given legs so as to match the size of the others (the legs don’t really fit anatomically). Their sisters are older, 18 and 19.

Viewed in reproduction they seem curiously static, doll-like figures. De visu, however, they are brought to life by the incredibly fresh colours clearly visible in the unobtrusive lighting in the Prado. They are for the most part in excellent condition (Carlos, the heir, has suffered some damage along the riband of the San Genaro), with the fleur of the pastel and the sharpness particularly of the black chalk used in the lace and hair a particular delight. The technique is highly finished.

It is however the faces that seem to have caused Tiepolo the most difficulty: on a purely technical level, he sets himself a challenge with very delicate tonalities, surrounding the faces with a very slightly pink tint to the wigs, requiring a contrasting pale blue underpainting in the faces. This is dominated by the bravura treatment of the accessories: the lace, hats, birds and gun, and most emphatically the ribands and jewels of the chivalric orders with which these young boys had been showered. You wonder whether this blankness of facial expression was a failure of Tiepolo as portraitist – whether through an over-ambitious tonal balance (reversing the rule of emphasising the face over all else), or simply the age-old problem of royal portraitists in obtaining long enough sittings with his subjects. You wonder too if the formulaic expressions arise simply because the children are so young: there are no characters to be expressed and individuated – but that cannot be right, because the girls and eldest boy seem to have less personality than the youngest. And then perhaps you wonder whether in fact these are not really portraits at all: they are dynastic displays of attributes. Josefa is dressed up à l’antique (her sister’s dress is modern, but the ermine mantle and jewelled cap have the air of fancy dress too), but it is her dog that seems the more lifelike. Or was it that Tiepolo, so much more the courtier than Goya, was gently anticipating his message: the eldest may have been excluded from the succession, but were his siblings that much brighter?

Now go to the Palacio Real for the main event: the room in the temporary exhibition Carlos III: majestad y ornato en lose scenarios del rey illustrado devoted to the series of twelve of Tiepolo’s so-called Tipos populares. (The exhibition also has some interesting paintings by Mengs and some decorative things that I won’t discuss.) You can of course exhaust yourself first by going round the palace: I would leave that to another visit. But before I went in I took this snap of the courtyard in the palace:


This was on a February day. Look at the sky. That’s where Tiepolo’s concept of colour comes from. And if you’re used to London or even Paris, this is something you need to adjust for.

Full marks again to the Patrimonio Nacional for the display of these extraordinary works. They are given a room to themselves, and the wall colour and lighting work extremely well. They attracted considerable interest, but the room was not overcrowded. Here’s a terrible screenshot from the video to give you some idea:


The website seems only to have this essay, but it is worth mentioning the persuasive argument of Andrés Úbeda de los Cobos in favour of a revised chronology based on a progressive increase in the number of figures included. They start of course a decade later than the royal portraits, and continue for a couple of years before the illness that led to the artist’s death aged barely 40. They seem however to have that end-of-life maturity that one can find in a Schubert or a Mozart as well as in a Rembrandt or a Chardin.

But what is that Tiepolo is exploring here? Without repeating Úbeda’s analysis, several points must be noted. First, the subtlety of the colour and exquisiteness of the finish have to be experienced directly, not through reproduction: perhaps the most delicate is the Guitarrista y mujer joven (shown at the top of this post).

Second as I have argued (less obviously) with the princes, they are not really portraits. As Úbeda points out, even the narrative element of the earlier tipos, viewed as “genre”, effectively breaks down in the later, more complex pieces.

While it is trite to talk about eyes in portraiture (John Russell argued instead that it was the nose that mattered), what emerged for me in viewing this group was a hypnotic study of eyes abstracted from personality, from persons or even from faces. There are eyes of every colour: browns from hazel to chestnut, all shades of grey, and blues from azure to periwinkle. They are seen full on, or fully diverted as in the girl below. They are shown mostly in faces, but sometimes isolated with carnival masks, or peeping out behind other figures, in pairs, or singly, like a mourning ring. They pop out at all levels in the picture plane, as dizzying as the placement of hands in a Largillierre study. They seem to be expressive – and then not so. One is shocked by the blind man’s dead eyes:


but perhaps even more so by the profile in the foreground of a man whose eyes are covered by his hat: is he not us, the innocent (or not so innocent) viewer?


These images are profoundly unsettling in many ways. At the risk of projecting too much from our own times, they seem to express a kind of existential angst – a dissociation of society expressed by the compression of space noted by Úbeda, but degenerating into exclusion of the individual (just as the princes had been omitted from their own portraits). There is also a curious parallel between the tipos populares – this for example


and a pastel by Vigilius Eriksen from 1768, although it is difficult to see how Tiepolo could have known this work:


Eriksen was a Danish artist working in Russia when he made this picture of a 108-year-old peasant from Tsarskoye Selo with her children; Catherine the Great liked it enough to commission an oil replica. Is it entirely coincidental that both these works were created in environments where essentially feudal societies were colliding with Enlightenment ideas embraced by élites? Or that they were both made by foreign visitors to those societies, bringing a different, perhaps alien, perspective?

Citoyen Coiffier, marchand de couleurs et de papiers

lemoine-124-mWhen, twenty years ago, I was working on Jacques-Antoine-Marie Lemoine,[1]  I came across an entry in the 1796 salon livret for which I can recall no parallel:


The portrait of the actress and star of the Comédie-Italienne, Mme Dugazon (above, private collection; Jeffares 124), was one of those mentioned in the 1796 livret. The unprecedented recognition accorded to this artist’s supplier (“colourman” hardly seems le mot juste for a purveyor of black) suggested that he merited further examination, but his name was absent from all the reference books I consulted. He is for example still not in the Guide Labreuche. And when very recently Marie-Anne Dupuy-Vachey published an article[2] about Lemoine’s portrait of Fragonard (Jeffares 139), she reasonably speculated that it too, although dated the following year, was probably made with these velvet crayons. But no further information about Coiffier was offered.

A wider search however produces a few examples of made-up sketchbooks that he supplied, all with a distinctive label:

Mountains, Looking towards St Gervais-les-Bains 1802 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Owners of these books include artists ranging from Jacques-Louis David (examples in the Louvre and the Fogg) to J. M. W. Turner (Tate, above), as well as diarists such as the English traveller Bertie Greatheed. All seem to date to around 1800. And finally there is a reference in the memoirs of the duchesse d’Abrantès to a letter which she received from one of her friends, “très soignée dans tout ce qui l’approchait”, who had chosen to write it “sur du papier vélin satiné venant de chez Coiffier, alors le Susse de la papeterie élégante de Paris.” (Susse, for today’s readers, was the most up-market of Paris stationers at the later period when the duchesse was writing; just the sort of place Gilberte Swann would have patronised much later still.)

There are of course a handful of references in the trade almanachs of the period. These give a succession of different numbers in the street, which itself undergoes changes of name, from rue du Coq-Saint-Honoré to rue du Coq-Honoré and even rue du Coq. It is now known as the rue de Marengo, a short street running north from the north entrance to the Cour Carré of the Louvre. Back in the eighteenth century however, before the construction of the rue de Rivoli, the buildings were closer to the Louvre, as you can see from this print by Louis-Pierre Baltard:


The neighbouring shops included printsellers such as Aaron Martinet, a few doors away. The adjacent property was occupied by another papetier, Giroux, of whom more below. Lemoine himself was not far away, in the rue des Bons-Enfants (and in 1810 would move even closer, to the rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, just a few yards away). While Coiffier was based at no. 133 in 1796 (from the Salon livret), the labels and almanachs have no. 121 around 1800–5, while by 1809 he was at no. 9. In fact these were all the same building.

We can only establish this by consulting the original property agreements, for which you will search in vain in the Archives nationales if you don’t know the notary and date. As always in this type of biographical research the key document is the inventaire après décès, from which so much information about the individual, his family, his business and his contracts emerges. Coiffier’s 82-page inventaire (on normal notarial paper rather than its subject’s luxury product) contains a good deal of this, and is the basis for this note.

René Coiffier died on 16 January 1810. The notary initially spelt his name Coeffier, a commonly found version, but corrected this, in the inventory which was carried out nine days later. Although the rue du Coq-Saint-Honoré was his normal dwelling, Coiffier had actually died in the other house he had, in France Nouvelle, a hamlet in the Montmartre district: we will return to this below.

I have not been able to locate any evidence of his date of birth, but he was probably born around 1750. We do know a good deal more about his wife, Marie-Antoinette Muret (c.1753–1817); he was her second husband. She was the daughter of a maître bourrelier; one of her brothers was Pierre-François Muret, an émailleur. Her first husband was Jacques Mézeray, limonadier de la Comédie-Française, after whom the Café Mézeray is named. She had divorceansiaux-mlle-mezeray-1800-comediefrd Mézeray by the time (9 August 1795) of her marriage to Coiffier, but a daughter of that first marriage is a significant part of the story. She was the actress Marie-Antoinette-Joséphine Mézeray (1774–1823) de la Comédie-Française. Perhaps surprisingly we have no drawing of her by Lemoine, who did most of her co-sociétaires, but there is in the collections of the Comédie-Française a painting of her by Ansiaux said to be the one exhibited in 1800 (left: although not strictly en pied), where it elicited this barbed response from the critic in the Mercure:


There is more detail about Joséphine Mézeray and her roles in the Galerie historique des comédiens… which provides an account of her miserable death in a state of raving insanity. The duchesse d’Abrantès called her an “actrice très et toujours mauvaise”, and the multiplicity of her wealthy lovers (the Comédie-Française holds some three dozen letters from one of them, the famous gastronome Alexandre-Balthazar-Laurent Grimod de La Reynière (1758–1837), son of the amateur pastellist) suggests that her theatrical career was based on skills broader than the attentive study of Molière’s texts (Ansiaux depicts her studying the role of Célimène in Le Misanthrope). It does seem that she developed a taste for luxury (the Goncourts commented on her “paresse et goût du plaisir”), and one wonders whether this placed a drain on the stationery business’s cashflow.

We can trace this also through the documents, starting with the Coiffier–Murat marriage in 1795, when Coiffier brought 50,000 francs against his wife’s 80,000. The property transactions throw more light, as well as confirming that the apparent changes of address were merely questions of numbering. It turns out that the building belonged to the painter Jacques-Louis David, as confirmed in this minute of the lease renewal:


In fact, turning to David’s own inventaire après décès and his marriage contracts (he married the same woman twice, with a divorce in between), we can see that 133 rue du Coq-Saint-Honoré was first acquired by David’s father-in-law, Charles-Pierre Pécoul, entrepreneur des bâtiments du roi. Part of the confusion over the numbering may have arisen because Pécoul actually bought several properties, in a series of contracts over two years, the earliest dated 29 March 1776. We know from David’s remarriage contract (22 Brumaire an V) that the property was valued at 40,000 francs, while from the Coiffier papers we know the rent was 3000 francs a year (the lease was for 9 years). Of this some 2400 francs was due at the time of Coiffier’s death.

A further transaction of some interest concerns Coiffier’s other house at Nouvelle France, then a rural hamlet near Montmartre, now the urban district known as La Poissonnière. It seems that Coiffier initially owned this outright, but just three months before his death he entered into a sale and leaseback, selling the property to an investor for 12,000 francs while taking a lease to continue to occupy it for some 900 francs a year. (Both these transactions confirm that property yields at the time were 7½% .)

All the evidence is that the business was failing. The enormous inventory was valued at over 8000 francs. There were vast stocks of literally hundreds of different kinds of paper, each described minutely in the inventaire, ranging from “cinq mains de papier Grand Raisin de couleur bleu de Pale” (2 francs) to the same quantity of “papier petit aigle d’hollande” (22 francs 50), although most types were stocked in reams. Fragonard could have chosen the porte-crayon Lemoine depicts him with from more than a hundred in stock, in a dozen different models. Lemoine himself could have bought one of the seven dozen leather stumps (the notary’s first attempt at the spelling was “estampe”). There were thousands of made-up toiles, a great many frames, and even 107 oval sheets of glass ready cut for the frames. But all this was financed almost entirely by creditors. Even the domestique was owed eight months’ wages (her annual pay was 200 livres), while the “argent comptant” in the business was a mere 31 francs 50. Cash had been run down, stocks were high, creditors were stretched. Much of his stock was evidently bought in: just considering the pastels, for example, he held “quatres boïtes de Pastels de differentes Grandeurs”, value 10 francs; various “étuis à pastels”, one holding 50 crayons (4 francs), one 25 and three a dozen each: but these were financed by the supplier “Mme Giraud pour fourniture de pastels”, to whom he owed 19 francs 75.

Among the creditors we find further evidence of what might have caused or contributed to this problem (not all perhaps attributable to his step-daughter’s extravagance): Coiffier owed 96 francs to “M. Reif médecin” (no doubt the eminent physician from Strasbourg) for six visits, and an equal sum for medicine supplied by “M. Deschamps, pharmacien” (he was listed as apothicaire suivant la Cour, grande rue du fauxbourg Montmartre). Of course we don’t know what was wrong with Coiffier now, but they probably didn’t know then either.

Why have a country house within walking distance, and hang onto it when capital is so short ? You might think that Coiffier was in need of fresh air…and that that was in short supply in the house in the rue du Coq-Saint-Honoré? For, in addition to the hundreds of boxes of different types of luxury writing paper, sketch books, crayons of every conceivable kind as well as other types of artists’ materials (notably hundreds of ready made frames and canvases), there was also evidence of his scientific research into his artificial crayons. Might it be that the dust or chemicals from these processes were toxic? He would not be the first colourman so afflicted. (I discuss the matter of toxicity in Chap. IV of my Prolegomena: that the problem was real is evidenced by a 1775 application for the invention of a safe “moulin à broyer les couleurs”, supported by hospital reports of 272 admissions in the preceding 21 months from unsafe grinding.)

This was a time when there was intense focus into the question of black chalks, a coalescence of the science of manufacturing them (spurred by wars which made importation of natural graphite from the Lake District in England more difficult) with the aesthetic demand for softer chalks which were nevertheless less friable than charcoal, but could give the intensity and richness of ivory black. The effects of mezzotint engravings were seen as highly desirable, and were emulated in drawings “à la manière noire”.[3] Lemoine was certainly a pioneer but so too were artists such as Isabey. Some of the antecedents include the pupils of Francis West in Dublin who used a soft black chalk that is often referred to as grisaille pastel (but may or may not be a natural mineral), a technique also employed to spectacular effect by Joseph Wright of Derby. And the inventions of this period would lead into the nineteenth century, as reflected in the Getty’s recent exhibition Noir: the romance of black in 19th-Century French drawings and prints.

Among the inventors of artificial crayons the name that survives today is that of Nicolas-Jacques Conté (1755–1806) – soldier, aeronaut and inventor, granted a patent in 1795 for his idea of compressing a mixture of graphite and clay. The basic Conté principle results in materials that are harder than traditional pastels, and it is likely that Coiffier and Lemoine’s inventions were adaptations of Conté’s theme, resulting in softer material with more painterly qualities.

But how can we tell? Unfortunately the inventaire does not include any recipes, and the lengthy list of glass vessels etc. equipping the “laboratoire du défunt” could as easily be devoted to alchemy as to the invention of artificial crayons. But in addition to the laboratoire, and separate from the “attelier des toiles”, there was a “Piece dite l’attelier aux Crayons” where among other tools and stocks there was a “Presse à crayons”. That does indeed suggest that Coiffier was pursuing an idea similar to Conté’s. But these experiments and the rooms devoted to them were not in David’s house in the rue du Coq, but in the country house in Nouvelle France. So he didn’t keep on the property to escape from noxious fumes, but to immerse himself in them.

What seems to have happened is that Mme Coiffier moved quickly to dispose of the business after her husband’s death – probably spurred by the need to pay David’s rent. (She also married a third time, her third husband being a marchand de perruques who supplied the Comédie-Française.) As mentioned above, the immediate neighbour was Alphonse Giroux, a picture restorer who is said to have been a pupil of David and who had run a more modest shop on the Pont Neuf before establishing a restoration business Au Coq Héron, at 7 rue du Coq-Saint-Honoré. It is clear from the series of advertisements which appeared within months in the Journal de Paris that Giroux’s business suddenly expanded in scope and scale, and it seems most likely that he took over the Coiffier business or at least much of its stock. (I even wondered whether there had been yet another change of numbers, but I don’t think so; no. 9 was still no. 9 at the time of David’s inventaire après décès.) Giroux continued to broaden the firm’s activities (selling toys, furniture and pictures as well as stationery and artists’ materials), and it remained for many years a fashionable shop in Paris, later moving to larger premises at 43, boulevard des Capucines. His story has been told elsewhere.[4]

lemoine-deux-fillesBut there is one other intriguing possibility. Lemoine himself went on to make his own crayons, modifying the recipe from Coiffier’s which he found was too greasy to use satisfactorily with stump; his “crayons dit de Sauce” were continued to be made after his death, winning praise at the Exposition of 1834. Much of our knowledge about Lemoine came from an interesting letter written just after his death in 1824 by one of his daughters (Agathe-Jeanne-Thérèse (1784–p.1825), who the following year married a Joseph Rey; the other sister was Antoinette-Félicité-Virginie Lemoine (1791–1850), who, also in 1825, married  Aimé-Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Bleve: the two girls are shown in this moving exhibit from the Salon de 1795 of “une miniature, représentant les deux filles de l’Auteur, brûlant des fleurs sur le tombeau de leur mère morte, qui leur apparoît”). In the letter, Agathe states-

En 1811 [Lemoine] établit pour nous deux ma soeur une petite manufacture de crayons à dessiner qui ont acquis une reputation méritée d’après le dire des artistes, et le débit que nous en avons.

The timing seems so specific: just after Coiffier’s death. Is it just possible that Lemoine took over some of his equipment?


[1] My catalogue raisonné appeared in the Gazette des beaux-arts in 1999.

[2] Marie-Anne Dupuy-Vachey, “The portrait of Fragonard by Jacques-Antoine-Marie Lemoine”, Master drawings, liv/4, 2016, pp. 491–500. A minute point in this otherwise exemplary article, arising from the translation: a fourbisseur du roi supplies swords, not outfits.

[3] Tony Halliday, “Academic outsiders at the Paris salons of the Revolution: the case of drawings ‘à la manière noire'”, Oxford art journal, XXI/1, 1998, pp. 71-86; the article does not however mention either Lemoine or Coiffier.

[4] See my Suppliers as well as Jacob Simon’s directory for the main sources.

Cagnacci’s Repentant Magdalene

m19825p_2000While the National Gallery is embarked on one of its most ambitious rehangs, to make space for next month’s blockbuster exhibition in the Northern rooms, there is a temporary safe haven of tranquillity, in Room 1. The space here is remarkably versatile, accommodating a couple of dozen paintings in recent shows such as the brilliant Dutch Flowers last year, or, as here, concentrating our attention on a single picture – admittedly one of some size (2.3×2.6 m). The intensely beautiful Repentant Magdalene by Guido Cagnacci normally hangs in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, where it has been since 1982, but is with us until May. And as the publicity tells us, the only other Cagnacci in Britain is in the Royal Collection. The texts displayed on the walls in Room 1 draw on the excellent monograph by Xavier F. Salomon, now at the Frick, where the painting has recently been on loan before arriving in London. (Salomon also wrote a short introductory article for Apollo recently.)

As the book tells us everything we need to know about Cagnacci – how original he is, and how important he was once considered, even if he is less well known today – I shall not attempt to do so, being no specialist in seventeenth century Italian religious painting. It’s worth however looking at some of the x-ray imaging on the panels, as they demonstrate some of the artist’s changes of mind in the positioning of the figures in this very ambitious composition. I’m not sure that he ultimately resolved all the problems he set himself: niggling doubts about the perspective and direction of lighting weren’t quite banished by the bravura painting of the flesh – the quality for which Cagnacci was most celebrated.

Indeed I wondered whether this painting was, as we are encouraged to think, an exercise in eroticism, or whether in fact the painting was at heart a far more conventional morality tale? Because for me the really beautiful piece of painting was not the Magdalene’s semi-naked body, but the play of light on her sister’s face. This stood out from the picture almost as Leonardo’s angel stands out from Verrocchio’s Baptism. Although perhaps there is an even more convoluted reading: Martha’s face with its half-open mouth radiates more than mere sanctity.

I’m not however the first to notice this. And the point I wanted to make in this post – which I think is absent from Salomon’s book, but which seems to me both of real interest and of some importance – is that (even if we don’t have any record of the contemporary critical response) we do have the fascinating testimony of a response from the next generation: that of the copy made by Rosalba Carriera of the head of Martha, in pastel.

rosalba-d-de-profil-hermitage-s109As the exhibition literature explains, the Cagnacci painting was in the collection of the last duke of Mantua until his death in 1708. The Gonzaga paintings collection was then sent to Venice where it would be dispersed over the next few years. The Cagnacci was acquired by Rosalba’s friend Christian Cole (with a view to selling it to the Earl of Dartmouth, although in the end it was the Duke of Portland who bought it), but what isn’t mentioned in the exhibition is that Rosalba had been independently involved (together with the painter Niccolò Cassana) in an attempt to sell the pictures to Elector Palatine Johann Wilhelm. She prepared a report on the pictures which she sent to the court at Düsseldorf (the Elector’s payment to her of 3200 ducats was sent by Baron Wiser on 5 January 1712 with a charming letter which survives). But the copy of the head of Martha seems to have been made for her own pleasure. She probably gave it to Crozat, for it was from his collection that it entered the Hermitage where it now belongs (see J.21.2421  in the Dictionary for further details): it was no. 133 in the 1772 sale contract with Catherine the Great:


The pastel would not have been allowed to travel to London, but perhaps a small reproduction of it might have been admitted to the wall texts of this otherwise excellent show.

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