• Deauville Sale, Artcurial, June 4th, 2011, lot 8.
• France, Private Collection.
2001, Toulouse, Paul Dupuy Museum, Les Collectionneurs toulousains du XVIIIe siècle, cat. 84.
“This painter’s name being as famous in other countries as in France, no Lord passed through Paris without making use of his brush: Germany and Spain are filled with his works. […] Rigaud knew how to give such perfect likeness to his portraits that no matter from how far away one saw them, one entered into conversation, so to speak, with the people depicted.”
Abrégé de la vie des plus fameux peintres, avec leurs portraits gravés en taille-douce, seconde partie, Paris, De Bure, 1745, pp. 410-411.
The Artist and his Account Book
As Dezallier-d’Argenville justly stated, Hyacinthe Rigaud’s fame quickly spread beyond the kingdom’s boundaries and numerous foreigners took advantage of their stay in Paris to be depicted by the great portraitist. Following the Ambassador from Portugal whom he painted in 1696, the finest flower of European diplomacy paraded through his studio: ambassadors from Savoy (1697), England (1698 and 1734), Sweden (1699 and 1717), the Empire (1701), Russia (1706 and 1722), Florence (1710), Spain (1721), not to mention the Extraordinary Envoys, Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Papal Nuncio, etc.
Thus in 1735, Rigaud noted in his Livre de raison, a now lost private account book which is known from a transcription conserved in the Institute of France: “Mr de Vanvuy, ambassadeur de Hollande 600 [livres].” In another hand, of someone who was well informed and took it upon himself to finish the Institute’s copy, is added, “Van Hoey, ambassadeur des États généraux. Entièremt origl.” This last bit of information, “entirely original,” is valuable and explains unquestionably the considerable price paid by the Ambassador. Furthermore, this mention perfectly accords with the end of the inscription on the verso of the relined canvas copied from the original signature which had become invisible, even if the year diverges: 1736 instead of 1735. Unless the digit was erroneously transcribed, in all probability the painting was commissioned and paid in 1735 but only completed and delivered in the course of the following year. Indeed, in that period, the septuagenarian, being exhausted from a life of hard work and having quit the Academy, had acquired the habit of not working as hard. In addition, his patron did not seem to be in any hurry.
The Sitter: Ambassador and Consummate Politician
“An Ambassador, figure of superior genius, consummate Politician, zealot for the present Government of his Republic, & especially for that of Holland, his dear Fatherland, ardent Partisan of Liberty,” according to the anonymous author of the preface to his published correspondence, Abraham van Hoey was born in Gorkum (Gorinchem) in 1684. His career was brilliant: Civil Servant in Gorkum, Counsellor at the Court of Holland in 1713, Treasurer of the Domains of the Province of Holland in 1717, despite the opposition of the City of Amsterdam. In 1727, the States General (Parliament) had appointed him Ambassador to the Court of France to replace Boreel: Van Hoey stayed in that post for twenty years. An indefatigable servant of peace, architect of the treaty of commerce and navigation concluded between France and the United Provinces in 1739, the ambassador was in favor of Dutch neutrality during the War of the Austrian Succession and violently opposed his compatriots in 1743.
Feeling powerless to avoid war, he requested to be relieved of his functions in 1743. Upon his departure from France, Louis XV offered him several gold medals. Poorly received in his native country, he was nonetheless rehabilitated by the success of the “Doctrine of Impartiality” which he advocated during the Seven Years War and which favored the economic prosperity of the Netherlands. Having held no more official functions since his return from France, Van Hoey passed away in Marlot, near the Hague, in 1766.
The portrait which we are presenting is thus a late work by Rigaud and a perfect illustration of this ultimate and very particular phase in his art. Known for his virtuoso relaxed pictorial technique, his bright coloring, and the illusionistic rendering of fabrics, the artist at the end of his life gave more importance to detailed drawing in his representations and he privileged dark tones coming out of browns and purples, without, for all of that, abandoning his taste for textures and the effects of materials.
During his active years, Rigaud experienced many sitters, and experimented with positioning the head, displaying the bust, positioning cravats, arranging drapery folds… The composition chosen here – facing the viewer, the head turned to the right and the gaze fixed on some exterior object – was not totally new, even if the mention “entirely original” in the account book seems to indicate the composition was created specifically for this occasion. The artist had already employed the same presentation in the portrait of the financier John Law painted before 1720 and known from the 1738 engraving, as well as in that of Lucas Schaub painted in 1721 with “habillement répété” (clothing repeated from another work) which explains the more moderate price of 500 pounds. The Dutch ambassador’s skillfully curled wig with a long tress over the ending in a lovelock over the shoulder also recalls that of the Financier John Law. The lace cravat ending in fringed tassels, along with a cloak enveloping the bust while hiding his hands, echos that of the Farmer-Germeral Jean-François de La Porte de Meslay, which is also “entirely original” and cost the sitter 600 pounds in 1733.
Despite these points in common which reveal the portraitist’s practices, Van Hoey’s portrait clearly appears more monumental. The light architectural background, wide frame, firm touch, tight drawing in the curls of the wig and floral motifs in the lace bring out the diplomat’s lofty bearing, his authoritarian profile, frank facial expression, and emphasizes the respectful distance which separated the viewer from the sitter. Above all, with singular audacity, Rigaud gives his patron a majestic wine-red velvet drapery with silver highlights and shimmering Veronese green cangianti on the satin lining.
Bibliography of the Work
Dominique BREME, Les Collectionneurs toulousains du XVIIIe siècle, exh. cat., Toulouse, Paul Dupuy Museum, Paris, Somogy, 2001, pp. 196-197, cat. 84, ill.
Claude COLOMER, « Hyacinthe Rigaud 1659-1743 », Connaissance du Roussillon, 1973, 2, p. 29.
Paul EUDEL, Les Livres de comptes de H. Rigaud, 1910, p. 114.
Ariane JAMES-SARAZIN, Hyacinthe Rigaud (1659-1743) : L’homme et son art, Paris, Faton, 2016. Mentioned vol. I, pp. 300, 433, 503-504; vol. II (catalogue raisonné) P. 1482, pp. 521-522.
Stéphan PERREAU, Hyacinthe Rigaud. Catalogue raisonné de l’œuvre, www.hyacinthe-rigaud.com.
Stéphan PERREAU, Hyacinthe Rigaud. Le Peintre des rois, Montpellier, les presses du Languedoc, 2004, p. 179.
Stéphan PERREAU, Hyacinthe Rigaud (1659-1743). Catalogue concis de l’œuvre, Sète, Nouvelles presses du Languedoc, 2013, cat. P.1398.
Stéphan PERREAU, “L’Ambassadeur Van Hoey par Hyacinthe Rigaud à Deauville,” posted on line May 6th, 2011, URL : http://hyacinth-rigaud.over-blog.com.
Jean ROMAN, Le Livre de raison du peintre Hyacynthe Rigaud, Paris, 1919, p. 212.
Ariane JAMES-SARAZIN, Rigaud intime (1659-1743), exh. cat. Perpignan, Museum of Fine Arts, 2009.