Often confused with his son François-Hubert Drouais, who was also a famous portrait painter, the work of Hubert Drouais is today still little known for lack of a real study of his work by art historians.
Born in Rouen, the young artist left to study in Paris with the painter François de Troy who remained his master until he died in 1730. Admitted to the Royal Academy the same year with the portraits of the painter Joseph Christophe and the sculptor Robert le Lorrain, Hubert Drouais quickly found a clientele among the Parisian aristocracy and haute bourgeoisie. The portraits of prominent young actresses from the Comédie Française, Ladies Pelissier, Gaussin and Canargo were greeted with such success that they ensured his reputation with polite society of the age. He worked with the greatest portrait painters of his time, especially Jean-Baptiste Van Loo, Jean-Baptiste Oudry and Jean-Marc Nattier.
Drouais especially liked miniatures, but he also proved to be very skilled with pastel portraits, can be seen in the Livret of the Salon of 1647 where he exhibited no less than seven pastels.
A label on the back allows us to identify the sitter of our portrait as Etienne Letexier de Mennetou (1670-1735), who held several important positions in the administration: he was Conseiller Secrétaire to the King in 1729, Directeur Général des Fermes and Receveur Général des Finances in Orleans. Like the French bourgeoisie which was on the rise, Etienne Letexier de Mennetou’s financial power required a social legitimacy given by the aristocracy. The father of three children, he married his offspring to influential families of French 18th century nobility: thus a Marquise du Moustier and a Comtesse de Durfort are among his grand daughters. The choice of a fashionable artist such as Hubert Drouais, is therefore not insignificant. It participated in establishing social recognition for the sitter.
The identification of the sitter allows our pastel to be dated before 1735, the date of Etienne Letexier’s death. The costume and hairstyle in cadenettes confirm this dating to the first half of the 18th century. The fine lace around his wrist protruding from his shirt and the fur collar of the coat are the only singular discreet concessions to luxury in this deliberately sober depiction of a man at the height of his power. The only element of fantasy is the azure velvet cape in which Etienne Letexier envelopes himself, and perhaps also the mischievous expression with which he seems to gaze at us.
This round benevolent face is, moreover, one of the characteristics of the portraits painted by Hubert Drouais. This mirthful expression can be found in several portraits attributed to him, such as the Portrait of an Elderly Lady Holding a Book (sold at the dispersal of the collection of Jacques Doucet in 1912 under n°144). More recently sold in Berlin, the sitter in the Portrait said to be of the Marquis d’Angervilliers, enveloped in a purple velvet cape. looks at the viewer with the same amused expression ( Bassenge sale of 30 November 2012, lot n°6104).
We are grateful to Mr. Neil Jeffares for suggesting the attribution of our pastel.
France, private collection
P. RATOUIS DE LIMAY, Le pastel en France au XVIIIe siècle, Baudinière: Paris 1946
C.FAVRE-JEJEUNE, Les secrétaires du Roi de la grande chancellerie de France, Sedopols, 1986, Vol. 2, p. 886-887,
H. de JOUGLA DE MORENAS, Grand armorial de France
Gazette des Beaux Arts, "Les trois Drouais" by C. Gabillot, Vol. XXXIV, year 1905, pp. 177 to 194, 288 to 298 and 384 to 400; Vol. XXXV, year 1906, pp. 155 to 174 and pp. 246 to 258
N. LEMOINE BOUCHARD, Les miniatures, Paris, 2008