Étienne PARROCEL called le Romain
(Avignon, 1696 - Rome, 1775)

The Drummer

43 x 32.2 cm. (16 15/16 x 12 11/16 in.)
c. 1740. Sanguine. Later inscription lower left in pencil: Parrocel. Watermark: a Florentine fleur de lys in a circle (usage attested in Italy in the first half of the 18th century) Verso: an academy in sanguine of a man holding a stick Inscriptions on verso in pencil: “Etienne Parrocel” and further down “Charles Parrocel”

• Alfred Normand Collection (1910-1993), Paris (Lugt 153c).
• His heirs until 2015, Paris.

From a large family of painters who specialized mainly in battle scenes, Etienne was the son of Ignace Jacques Parrocel, a father who abandoned the family in about 1710 when Etienne was only fourteen years old. Thus Ignace Jacques had little influence on his son’s art. Etienne’s real master was his uncle, Pierre, who had worked in Rome in Carlo Maratta’s studio. During his education under Brother Joseph Gabriel Imbert, a painter at the Chartreuse in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, Etienne Parrocel became aware of the art of Charles Le Brun and especially his many drawings of details.

In order to perfect his artistic instruction, the young artist went to Rome in 1717, accompanied by his cousins Pierre Ignace and Joseph François. In Rome, which he never left again, Etienne became passionate about Antiquity, as can be seen by the album of more than three hundred penned drawings conserved in the Louvre (inv. RF 3729). This album is an assemblage of his studies after sculpture which are freely interpreted with variations in the faces and sometimes the poses. Other scattered sheets mainly coming from Parrocel’s heirs and today conserved in the Calvet Museum in Avignon or the Museum of Fine Arts in Marseille show Etienne’s interest for the Old Masters, especially the Bolognese painters.

Etienne Parrocel’s first protector was Pierre Guérin de Tencin, Bishop of Embrun, who, in 1724, commissioned a painting from him depicting his own investiture ceremony (current location unknown). From then on, the painter received numerous commissions: frescoes and oil paintings, mainly for churches in Rome and his native Provence. In 1734, he became a member of the Academy of Saint Luke.

Most of Etienne’s drawings were executed in black chalk with highlights in white chalk, and more exceptionally the drawings were just in sanguine. As in our sheet, these sanguines often were carefully finished studies for figures in his paintings. Thus, the Head of a Monk given by Mathias Polakovits to the National School of Fine Arts in 1987 corresponds to the altar paintings depicting the Blessed Gabriel Ferretti in Adoration before a Virgin and Child, signed and dated 1756 (Ancona, Church of St. John the Baptist). This drawing is characterized by its large format, the emphasized contours and the very regular hatching which marks shadows and indicates dark colors, leaving large reserves for illuminated areas.

In our drawing, the same method can be seen but can not be attached to any known Parrocel painting. Although with his slit sleeves and two-handed sword, the soldier seen from behind, his knee on the ground as he beats his drum, could belong to the Pope’s Swiss Guards, in fact, he is part of the overall enigma. The work is perfectly finished and no detail is omitted even to the dagger’s ornamentation and the jacket’s ties in the back. At the same time, the model’s pose leads one to imagine a larger composition, though not necessarily a military scene.

As opposed to most of the members of his family, Etienne Parrocel in fact was never tempted by battle scenes, not even when the theme of soldiers resting and guard rooms, illustrated in the 17th century by Salvator Rosa and Sebastien Bourdon, came back into fashion with the Corps de Garde presented by Carle Van Loo at the Salon of 1757. The verso of our sanguine displaying a male academy holding a knobbed drumstick, his face full of determination, makes it possible to imagine instead a religious composition filled with emotion, in keeping with those he painted for Roman churches.

- Philippe MALGOUYRES, Dessins de la donation Marcel Puech au musée Calvet, Avignon. Catalogue sommaire, Paris, RMN, 1998, vol. II.
- Emmanuelle BRUGEROLLES (dir.), Une dynastie de peintres. Les Parrocel, exhibition catalogue, Paris, ENSB-A, Avignon, Calvet Museum, 2008.

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