• Baron Adalbert von Lanna (1836-1909), independent hydrographer, Prague (Lugt 2773 on verso).
• Not in his postmortem sales of drawings (Stuttgart, Gutekunst, May 6th – May 11th, 1910; Berlin, Lepke, May 23rd – May 24th, 1911).
• Christie’s Sale, Paris, March 22nd, 2007, lot 89.
• France, Private Collection.
Son of Jean Lebrun or Le Brun, a Fleming, and of Madeleine Souffrain de La Tonelle, André Lebrun studied sculpture under Jean-Baptiste Pigalle where he was one of the best students. His training at the Academy was studded with prizes right up to the most prestigious one in 1756, the Prix de Rome, which included sculpture for only the second time. After required study at the Ecole royale des élèves protégés, the young artist arrived in Rome in 1759. Four years later, his scholarship finished, he remained in the Eternal City with the excuse of participating in the competition for Pope Benedict XIV’s funerary monument. Although he did not receive any commissions for this project, the artist nonetheless managed to make a place for himself in Roman artistic life. A member of the Academy of Saint Luke, Director of the Scuola del Nudo , the School of the Nude, he realized a Judith for the Church of San Carlo al Corso, as well as busts of Cardinal Giuseppe Maria Ferroni and Pope Clement XIII.
Lebrun’s “particular talent for portraits,” to quote Natoire, the Director of the French Academy in Rome, attracted the attention of King Stanislas II Augustus Poniatowski of Poland, through the intervention in his favor by salon hostess Madame Geoffrin. Starting in 1767, the monarch engaged him as a sculptor responsible for conceiving the three-dimensional decoration of his favorite residences – the Royal Castle in Warsaw and the Lazienki Summer Palace – as well as numerous busts including an entire series of illustrious Poles for the Gallery of Lords in the Royal Castle. In 1768, Lebrun was knighted and in 1779, appointed First Sculptor to His Majesty.
Except for a few years in Rome after the first partition of Poland and at the orders of Stanislas August, Lebrun remained in Warsaw until the end of the Republic of Two Nations (Poland-Lithuania), whose territory was divided between Austria, Prussia, and Russia in 1795. The king left his capital for Grodno, and then, two years later, was forced to settle in Saint Petersburg. He died in 1798.
The court which he served having evaporated, the French sculptor was invited to serve the Russian Empire, the new master of Warsaw. He went to Catherine the Great’s court, but did not succeed in gaining recognition in the face of the all-powerful Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, even though it was directed by a Frenchman, Auguste de Choiseul-Gouffier. The artist produced a bust of Empress Marie Feodorovna, but worked little and only for private clients. In 1803, he was appointed Professor of Sculpture and Stone Cutting at the University of Wilno (now Vilnius) which had just been reorganized.
André Lebrun’s sculpture, scattered through Italy, Poland, and Russia, is abundant, but his varied virtuoso graphic corpus not as much. His angular very personal manner is surprising in its expressiveness and modernity, whether in his red chalk drawings realized in Italy, or his Polish ones in pen and bistre wash. Certain drawings are related to his studies at the French Academy in Rome or his statuary projects. Others, like the ones we present here, are large mythological or religious compositions traced with a brisk hand and are difficult to imagine as preparatory for any sculpture. Often of fairly large dimensions, they seem to be perfectly finished in spite of the impatient calligraphic line. Lebrun favored spectacular dense layouts swarming with details, elongated almost Mannerist figures, jagged draperies, backgrounds and shadows with very diluted wash, as well as touches of pure ink which stand out clearly against the paper left bare midst an accentuated chiaroscuro which is sometimes fanciful.
Although of identical dimensions, our works are not pendants nor do they belong to any cycle. Furthermore, Venus Requesting Arms from Vulcan for Aeneas is the only known drawing by Lebrun related to the Aeneid. On the other hand, it is a theme which was frequently handled by French 18th century artists such as La Fosse, Boucher, Natoire, and Restout. The interpretation which our artist gives is different and more dramatic with the disjointed muscular bodies of the blacksmith god and his assistants. Similarly The Resurrection of Lazarus is the only subject from the story of Christ ever drawn by Lebrun. A second version exists which is very close but smaller ((Biblioteka Uniwersytecka w Warszawie, inv. zb. d. 102, pen and ink, brown wash, 33.8 x 49.2 cm. / 13 5/16 x 19 3/8 in.)
Our work has the same dimensions as some other drawings with subjects glorifying the Arts, such as the Victory of the Arts over Time with the Portrait of King Stanislas Augustus as Protector of the Arts, which also come from Adalbert von Lanna’s collection. Unquestionably intended for Stanislas Augustus, they may be attached to the Polish King’s project to transform André Lebrun’s sculpture studio into a Royal Academy of Fine Arts reinforced by dozens of artists. Stylistically, these ambitious compositions by Lebrun can be dated to the last years the sculptor spent in Poland between 1780 and the wars of the 1790s. They were intended to demonstrate not only that he was as good a draughtsman as he was a sculptor, but also was capable of the most beautiful and most complex compositional invention, and therefore worthy of directing a future Academy. Visually ravishing, they constitute a brilliant demonstration of an original and free-spirited talent which the turpitudes of history prevented from reaching its full potential.
Katarzyna MIKOCKA-RACHUBOWA, André Le Brun: “pierwszy rzezbiarz”krola Stanislawa Augusta, Warsaw, Instytut Sztuki PAN, 2010, vol. II, pp. 444-446, nos 92 et 93.
Louis-Antoine PRAT, Le dessin français au XVIIIe siècle, Paris, Louvre éditions, 2017, p. 289 (Venus at Vulcan’s Forge).
Stanisława SAWICKA, “Les dessins d’André Le Brun, premier sculpteur à la cour du roi Stanislas-Auguste Poniatowski,” Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire de l’Art Français, 1968, Paris, 1970, pp. 111-125.
Olivier MICHEL, “André Lebrun en France et en Italie. Sa formation et ses succès romains,” Biuletyn Historii Sztuki, vol. 62, no 1/2, pp. 205-229.