Claude LEFEBVRE (Fontainebleau, 1632 – Paris, 1675)

Portrait assumed to be of Jean-Baptiste Antoine Colbert, Marquis de Seignelay (1651-1690)

110 x 86 cm. (3 ft 7 516 in. x 2 ft. 9 78 in.)

Oil on canvas

Provenance:
• Franz Kleinberger Gallery, active in Paris and New York from 1848 to 1936 (his seal is on the verso of picture);
• Anonymous Sale, 150 Paintings from the Kleinberger Gallery, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 1911, n°158, dimensions 1.10 m x 0.865 m. (3 ft 7 5/16 in. x 2 ft. 10 1/16 in.);
• Sacha Guitry Collection until 1976;
• Paris, Private Collection until 2019.

Exhibition:

Les modes à travers trois siècles, Palais de Bagatelle, May – July 1911, n°18.
(Three Centuries of Fashion)

Claude Lefebvre was the son of the painter Jean Lefebvre, and had at least four brothers who were also painters. Initially instructed by his father, he then became Claude de Hoëy’s student. Claude entered Le Sueur’s studio in 1654, and then in 1655, Charles Le Brun’s. The latter, in keeping with his taste, encouraged him to concentrate on portrait painting. Next to Philippe de Champaigne, Claude Lefebvre was the most famous portraitist of his time. In the Louvre Salon in 1673, Lefebvre exhibited nine autograph portraits. He entered the Academy in 1663, and became an Assistant Professor in 1664. Most of his portraits have disappeared today; while others are known through engravings. His first portraits show the influence of Philippe de Champaigne with more emphasis on the sitter. For a long time, little was known of his role in the renewal of the art of portraiture in the mid 17th century. His Portrait of Colbert in Versailles is among his most powerful portraits.

This portrait shows a young man wrapped in his housecoat and seated in front of his desk where a thick file of documents awaits him. The work was famous enough in the 18th century for the engraver Jacques Beauvarlet to produce a sumptuous engraving of it, which is one of his most successful works and was exhibited in the Louvre at the Salon of the Royal Academy in 1773. His inscription gave two names: Bourdon (for the painter) and Molière (for the sitter), neither of which can be retained today.

Our portrait is to be associated with the work of Jean-Marc Nattier after Claude Lefèbvre depicting Jean-Baptiste Antoine Colbert, Marquis de Seignelay, whose facial features, indoor dress, and seated three-quarter pose at his desk is similar to our portrait. The picture is conserved today at Versailles in the National Museum of the Versailles and Trianon Châteaux (MV3556).

A reproduction of Beauvarlet’s engraving (Paul Prouté Gallery catalogue, autumn 1975, no. 563) is conserved in the Louvre Painting Department’s documentation, and descreetly inscribed by the art historian and collector Georges de Lastic: "Compare with Colbert de Seignelay after Lefebvre."

Diplomat and statesman, Jean-Baptiste Antoine Colbert, Marquis de Seignelay (1651-1690) succeeded his father Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683) in worthy fashion. When the latter passed away, Seignelay was appointed Louis XIV’s State Secretary of the Navy, and then Minister of the State, a position he held until his premature death at age 39. During the preparation of the great naval campaigns, Seignelay wrote a few historical studies and works on political theory, such as the Relation d’un voyage en Italie, and L’Italie en 1671, following the example of his father in his Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire de France (Memoirs to serve as a History of France).

Our portrait, the original canvas, attributed (like a number of others that are quite different) to Sebastien Bourdon and lost for a long time, was rediscovered in the late 19th century by the critic August Vitu, and then acquired by the Kleinberger Gallery. It passed into Sacha Guitry’s collection. The playwright and director gave it such importance that he even had it figure in the set of his film, Donne-moi tes yeux (Give Me your Eyes).

trans. chr

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