19 x 26.3 cm. (7 ½ x 10 3/8 in.)
Pen, ink wash, watercolor, and gouache
Signed lower left: Prévost le Jeune
• France, Private Collection.
• Gabriela Lamy, “Les Prévost, peintres de fleurs: des jardins de La Celle-Saint-Cloud à l’expédition La Pérouse en passant par Trianon,” Bulletin du Centre de Recherche du Château de Versailles, France, February 2017.
• Eik Kahng, Marianne Roland Michel, Anne Vallayer-Coster: peintre à la cour de Marie-Antoinette, exh. cat. Marseilles, Museum of Fine Arts, Galleries of the Vieille Charité, April 12th – June 23rd, 2003.
An excellent flower painter, Jean-Louis Prévost, called The Younger, grew up in flourishing artistic surroundings. Between 1754 and 1762, among the Prévost brothers, Jean-Louis, Guillaume, and Jean-Jacques each received lessons in turn in drawing plants given by the famous animal painter Jean-Jacques Bachelier (1724-1806) at the Sèvres porcelain manufactory.
The three brothers became known for their participation in important 18th century garden art research when together, between 1763 and 1768, they put together an exceptional painted herbal of the plant collection “distributed by class, genre, and species following the order observed in the King’s Garden of Plants at Trianon” entitled Horti Cellensis Plantarum Icones.” The Garden constituted a veritable open air curiosity cabinet demonstrating the increasing late 18th century taste and interest for Botany and horticulture. Employed by Jacques-Jérémie Roussel (1712-1766), a tax-farmer and great botanical collector, the Prévost brothers produced more than 1800 drawings for this work which depicted all of the plants in the garden of the La Celle Saint-Cloud palace, Roussel’s property.
Guillaume Prévost joined La Pérouse’s expedition between 1785 and 1788 accompanied by his nephew Jean-Louis-Robert, Jean-Louis’only son whom he never would see again. During this tme, Jean-Jacques and Jean-Louis joined the Academy of Saint Luke, and thus followed a more academic career than their brother Guillaume. Jean-Louis was a member from 1791 to 1810.
Our work shows the influence of the artist’s experience of his father’s instruction, as well as his personal taste for admired ceramic objects at the porcelain manufactory. In our work, attention is naturally drawn towards the center of the composition presenting a terrific example of a vase with low reliefs inspired by Antiquity traditionally embellished with putti or bacchanalia, and here mounted on a gilt bronze pedestal.
In addition to plant studies, we know some more ambitious compositions which the artist embellished with new elements to demonstrate his virtuosity in depicting silent objects around him. In the illustration of set tables decked with drawing portfolios such as can be seen here in the foreground, Prévost almost systematically included one or more ceramic elements, such as a tea service (ill. 1), plates (ill. 2), or as on the right in our composition, a gobelet inspired by Antiquity with dancing maenads.
Jean-Louis Prévost follows the Nordic tradition of painters such as Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750) and Jan van Os (1744-1808) (ill. 3) who integrated antique elements into their still life paintings. His works evoke his refined education, as well as his years of assiduous study which made it possible for him to render each floral species with great precision in the bouquet depicted on the left of our composition.
The overall clarity is the result of attentive study of light effects, especially in the depiction of the low relief on the vase which seems to have fascinated the artist, because it can be found on several other works (ill. 4) as well as in those of artists of his generation whom he inspired, including the famous Anne Vallayer-Coster who also reproduced this sculpted vases (ill. 5).
The meticulous rendering of surfaces and objects is evidence of the artist’s interests. As a good colorist, he thus heightened the veined red marble trompe l’oeil support with touches of brighter colors echoing the tabletop on which the objects are placed. Although the surface of the work is flat, the eye is thus tricked by skillfully reproduced perspective. Prévost perfects his work by making the vase shine: the light reflected there is rendered with fine white gouache brushstrokes. The whole composition stands out from a brushed light brown background which can be seen in the works of many of his contemporaries, including Vallayer-Coster.
The taste for Botany, initiated by the role of the Royal Garden of Plants founded in 1635, and then the Royal Academy of Science created in 1666, continued in the 18th century with precise studies of flora in the form of drawings, engravings, watercolors on paper, and miniatures on parchment. In 1805, the Collection des fleurs et des fruits, peints d’après nature par Jean-Louis Prévost (Collection of Flowers and Fruit painted from Life by Jean-Louis Prévost, ill. 6) was published. The work served as a model for new decorative ideas for craftsmen, such as cabinet-makers, gold and silver smiths, embroiderers, or porcelain painters.
Collected during his lifetime, Jean-Louis Prévost’s work can be found in French public collections today, such as the Fine Arts Museums of Angers and of Besançon.