• Jacques Bacri1 Collection (1911-1965), Paris
• Then by descendance
• André Bancel, Jean-Baptiste Deshays 1729-1765, Paris, Arthena, 2008
“His academies are skillful and firmly characterized. Even if some slight inaccuracies can be found, something exaggerated in the way of grasping forms, these slight defects, if in any case one can call them this at all, are more than compensated by the beautiful flame which produced them and which shines through every part, and by the effect, the taste, and the softness of the crayon which is a clear sign of the great painter.” 2
Proud representative of 18th century French painting and recognized as a history painter, Jean-Baptiste Deshays was also an excellent draughtsman. Deshays was taught by some of the greatest names in 18th century France, such as Carle van Loo (Nice, 1705 – Paris, 1765), François Boucher (Paris, 1703 – 1770) and Charles-Joseph Natoire (Nîmes, 1700 – Castel Gandolfo, 1777). His was a classic education crowned by instruction at the Academy which he entered in 1751 and which defined his career. Furthermore the fact that he followed his masters’ teaching so rigorously has led to many errors in attribution.
Jean-Baptiste Deshays died prematurely at 35 years old, yet left behind a large body of drawings which strongly testify to the mixture of influences on him from Paris and Rome.
Unquestionably, under the authority of François Boucher, Deshayes learned best how to draw the female torso. In our drawing, his rigorous observation presents the woman’s body with emphasized curves and back movement adding to overall sensuality.
Works of the student and his master, who was also his father-in-law,3 have often been compared, for their subjects and mastery of drawing were so close. Flesh is masterfully treated through hatching by both artists, but Dehays blends more, a fact which allows him to convey the idea of volume even more gracefully than his master. The model’s gracefulness is also accentuated by her deliberately extended limbs.
Typical of a good academician, Deshays mainly uses black chalk heighted with white chalk or gouache here. The trip to Rome which he took after winning the Grand Prix allowed him to broaden his technique. Upon his return, Deshays adapted his technique to the subject at hand. In this study of a woman, the supple delicate line gives lightness and elegance to the subject. More generally, this study illustrates the liveliness characteristic of female figures in French 18th century painting which is equally noticeable in his Study of a Female Nude raising her Right Arm (Private Collection).
If Mariette’s writing is to be believed, “his drawings and sketches from his inventory were sold very expensively.”4 Praised for the speed at which he progressed, Jean-Baptiste Deshays enjoyed keen success with his contemporaries on account of the lyricism and poetry inherent in his works. Although he died prematurely while his production was in full swing, Deshays nonetheless received numerous commissions which place him among the great draughtsmen of 18th century France.
1Issu d’une famille d’antiquaires, Jacques Bacri était un historien de l’art. Il se constitua une collection d’oeuvres de toutes époques, soigneusement sélectionnées, pour lesquelles il laissa une documentation complète précise.
2 Cochin, Essays sur la vie de M. Deshays, publié par Sandoz, 1977, p. 16
3 Deshays épouse Jeanne-Elisabeth Victoire Boucher, fille de François Boucher, le 8 avril 1758.
4 Pierre-Jean Mariette, Abecedario, écrit entre 1765 et 1774, ed. A.A.F., Paris, 1851-1860, t. II, p. 95-96