Martin DRÖLLING (Bergheim 1752 – Paris 1817)

Left Profile Portrait of a Youth, said to be the Artist’s son

c. 1795; Oil on paper

• Private Collection, France.

General Bibliography (Unpublished Work) :

  • M. et F. FARE, La vie silencieuse en France : la nature morte au XVIIIe siècle, Paris, Fribourg : Société française du livre, 1976

About seventy works by Martin Drölling are known today. An Alsatian who was David’s contemporary and whose intimate work is mostly comprised of portraits and genre scenes, Drölling was born in Bergheim in the Upper Rhine in 1752. A lost autobiography in laborious French, known through a transcription by his daughter, informs us of the artist’s modest origins. Following an apprenticeship in his native town, and against the wishes of his parents who wanted him to be a writer, Drölling continued his training in Strasbourg and then Paris. After a difficult beginning when he lived from copies and portraits, the young man registered for the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1779 for one year. In fact, he really learned to paint in the Louvre. He spent long hours copying the Dutch and Flemish masters whose intimacy, light, and finesse would become an integral part of his works from then on.

For a while, Drölling was associated with Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun who had him paint the accessories in some of her portraits. Perhaps through her, he met Greuze whose family scenes influenced him. Working at the manufactory of Dihl, Drölling was noticed by Brongniart who hired him for Sevres. He painted genre scenes there until 1813. In 1781, he started exhibiting his paintings on canvas at the Salon de la Correspondance and then in 1793 at the Salon du Louvre until his death.

Here, Drölling depicts the left profile of a young boy. The composition is very tight, so the viewer’s attention is concentrated on the face. Drölling’s brushstroke is very fine and he works within a very limited chromatic range. A golden light modulates the child’s serious expression. The only adornments in this portrait are the red knotted scarf, the wide finely embroidered collar, and the brass buttons. This type of costume is regularly worn by the children depicted by the artist.

The intimacy of the pose and tight framing are indicative of the closeness between the painter and his sitter. The handling of the hair, the typical profile with its full cheeks and slightly snub nose lead us to suggest the possibility that the artist might have been portraying his eldest son, Michel-Martin.

In fact, the family played an important role in Drölling’s life and oeuvre. He became a widower very early and in 1785, remarried Louise Belot, the daughter of a color merchant. Two boys and a girl were born from this alliance and served as the artist’s favorite models. The oldest, Michel-Martin, and the youngest, Louise-Adéone, would follow in the artistic footpaths of their father.

Born in 1785 and first trained in his father’s studio, Michel Martin entered David’s studio in 1806. Four years later, the Prix de Rome in hand, he stood out as a history painter upholding Neoclassicism. Nonetheless, he kept his father’s taste for light and intimacy learned from the Flemish painters.

Michel Martin as a child can be found in several works by Martin Drölling. One can thus see him in profile reading in front of an open window overlooking the Place Vendôme (private collection, Vie-sur-Cère). His face is closely comparable to the one in our painting. Painting and Music, Portrait of the Artist’s Son (LACMA), dated 1800, depicts him again. Its composition is reminiscent of Soap Bubbles and The Seller of Wild Game, works by Willem van Mieris which Drölling had seen and may have copied at the Louvre.
transl. chr

We would like to thank Mr. Sylvain Cordier, specialist on the artist, for having confirmed the authenticity of our work after visual examination.

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