Diameter: 7 cm. (2 ¾ in.)
Miniature on vellum
• Anne-Marie Passez, Antoine Vestier, La Bibliothèque des Arts, Paris, 1989.
A delicate portrait of a young woman attired in the pastoral fashion launched by Queen Marie-Antoinette in the late 18th century figures here on a vellum support no more than 7 centimeters (2 ¾ in.) in diameter. We propose an attribution of this miniature to the hand of Antoine Vestier, a painter who specialized in portraiture, and for whom the fine handling of some of his known miniatures is comparable to our work.
Antoine Vestier was often compared to his elders who inspired him, such as Perronneau, Roslin, Duplessis, Greuze, and Drouais. The artist was able to develop his virtuoso brushwork through attentive observation of their pictures.
Born to a family alien to the art world, young Vestier had some difficulty both in introducing himself into this milieu and in financing courses at the Academy. By the age of 35, the artist was producing beautifully crafted oils and miniatures which displayed his great graphic ease. He set himself up as a portraitist and genre painter whose many commissions brought him closer to the aristocracy. Approved for membership in the Academy in 1785, the artist took advantage of this nomination to increase his production in hopes of catching the attention of the Court.
Our work can be placed in the most fertile years of the artist’s career, between 1782 and 1792. Amateurs and collectors were particularly attached to the artist’s ability to convey French distinctiveness through the youthful passion and charm which was common in most of his figures. Far from ceremonial portraits with their frozen faces, Vestier devoted himself to easel painting as well as miniatures as means of expressing not only his sitters’ elegance but, above all, their intimacy.
Antoine Vestier left several dozen miniatures whose handling is very close to ours (ill. 1). Among these female portraits which were in high demand and often depicted wives with clothes and hairdos in the latest fashions, our picture depicts a young woman full face with her torso elegantly turned slightly to the right. Using a very small format, Vestier pays particular attention to his sitter’s physical details. The young lady wears carefully applied make-up so as to bring out her pearly skin and long powdered curly hair, in which the individually drawn strands are reminiscent of the queen’s official royal portraits. Our sitter is attired in a dress of fine transparent striped cotton muslin decorated by an elegant blue bow on her bosom, in keeping with the dresses worn by some of her most illustrious contemporaries, such as the Duchess of Polignac (ill. 2).
The artist is known for his gifts as a colorist. His supple handling of his brush allows him to render the portrait in all its elegance and harmony, as he plays with matching vaporous effects which echo each other in the hairdo and the light aerial dress fabric.
In addition to his apartment in the Louvre which he received in 1796, Antoine Vestier enjoyed his fame for seven years before the Revolution broke his career. The precocious virtuosity of his brushwork justified the number of private commissions he received before being approved for the Academy: he was the official painter of some particularly powerful families, including the Hozier family for whom he painted six portraits.