Signed and dated, lower right: Jacobus Van schuppen Pinxit 1703
France, Private Collection.
Sale Christie’s Paris, June 20th, 2018, lot 37.
The son of Pierre van Schuppen, an engraver from Antwerp residing in France and an academician since 1663, Jacob van Schuppen learned the basics of his trade in his father’s studio which logically should have been passed on to him. According to Mariette, the artist’s father soon felt that his own teaching was insufficient and when Jacob was about 20 years old, placed him with his good friend, Nicolas de Largillierre. The young painter enjoyed a favoured treatment, to the point that Dézallier d’Argenville, in talking about the illustrious portraitist’s students, specified that Largillierre “put the brush only in Mr. Van Schuppen’s hand.” Largillierre was Jacob’s witness when the latter married Marie-François Thierry in 1705. According to Mariette, it was under his master that Van Schuppen decided to abandon engraving, because “painting appeared to be so brilliant in that school that anyone who entered could not refuse to devote himself completely to that art.”
Van Schuppen’s goal, however, was to establish himself as a history painter and not a portraitist. Thus he completed his education under the anatomist Alexandre Littre. He presented himself to the Academy in January 1704, was approved and received the following July 26th following submission of Meleagre’s Hunt. This reception made it possible for him to show his works at the Salon which was organized the same year in the Grand Gallery of the Louvre. He exhibited at least twelve pictures covering all genres, from history painting (Nativity, The Death of Adonis) to still life (Subject of Grapes and Fruit; Group of Different Dead Birds), and including genre scenes (Guitar Player, A Woman Reading a Letter), light romantic scenes (A Girl on a Swing), and portraits (M. & Mme. Vanscuppen, the Painter’s Father and Mother, as well as Two other Male Portraits).
Van Schuppen undoubtedly participated in the Salon of 1706 which only lasted one day and was not accompanied by a livret. As for the rest of his career, it was brilliant, but not very French. First he was Ordinary Painter to Duke Leopold of Lorraine at Luneville from 1707 to 1719, then he was called to Vienna by Prince Eugene and became one of the Emperor’s official painters in 1723. His polyvalent talent made him the perfect person to restore and then direct the Imperial Academy of Painting and Sculpture for a quarter of a century.
Apparently at the Salon of 1704, the painter privileged number to size of works, so as to display the variety of his art better. Thus he only exhibited small scale pictures, and renounced presenting not only his reception piece, but also his large family portraits in a style that was as Flemish as it was French.
Until the rediscovery of the picture we present, only one of these paintings was known, the Guitar Player with his Family, signed “Jacques Vanschuppen pinxit,” but undated. The evident proximity to our painting makes it possible to place its realization at the very beginning of the 18th century. Thus the comparison suggested by Pierre Schreiden with the Portrait of Louis XIV with the Grand Crown Prince, the Duke of Burgundy, the future Louis XV, and Madame de Ventadour (London, Wallace Collection) attributed to Largillierre proves anachronistic, because it is ten years later than Van Schuppen’s works. On the other hand, two sure pictures by Largillierre, The Portrait of the Marquise de Noailles and her Children of 1698 and the imposing Stoppa Family of about 1690 (250 x 350 cm. /8 ft. 2 7/16 in. x 11 ft. 5 13/16 in., Château-Thierry, Hôtel Dieu Museum) obviously have much in common. The two artists used the same visual vocabulary: architecture with a purely conventional vestibule and tiled floor: pilasters and columns; voluminous draperies held by silk cords; seated models, with the exception of very young children; precious furniture; still life elements; and occasionally an opening towards an exterior landscape. Similarly, their warm shimmering palette dominated by ochre is comparable. Nonetheless, Van Schuppen, who no doubt saw these commissions as a chance to distinguish himself from his master, let his own more decorative, intimate, and dynamic style shine.
In contrast to Largillierre, Van Schuppen organized his scenes like a theatre where each figure had a role to play. Proportionally smaller than his master’s sitters, a fact which visually enlarged the space and gave the group a kind of solemnity, his models never posed in a strictly frontal manner, but were animated as they leaned towards each other, exchanged gazes, played music, or even danced. Our painting’s composition is thus all off balance, in spite of the architectural verticals. The figures form a slightly rising diagonal, in a succession of dark shades: the black suit and wig of the old man, the lady’s white indoor dress, her husband’s brown attire, and black again in the little girl’s silver-trimmed dress. Each main tint is illuminated by contact with a contrasting color: black with the armchair’s green and the cape’s violet; white with the crimson and straw yellow of the drapery; brown with the breeches’ purplish red. Everything is embellished with gold touches which run from the feet of the stool and the armrest, through the young woman’s shoes and her belt, up to the man’s vest, the reflection on his coat, and the aigrette in the little girl’s hair.
With very Flemish attention to minutiae, Van Schuppen scatters numerous details through his work which indicate family happiness, prosperity, and fertility, such as in the large porphyry vase, the fruit basket behind the young woman, or the little dog at her feet. Similarly the ochre curtain billows like a canopy above the couple, and thus confirms the only possible reading of the image as depicting husband and wife, their daughter, and the woman’s father. As for the musical instruments and scores in the foreground, it would probably be premature, without any other element in the same vein, to interpret them as indicating the profession either of the two men or of at least the husband. This is true even if he is shown playing the ten string guitar with ease. Indeed, the sitter in the Liverpool painting is also depicted with a guitar in hand to accompany his daughter’s dance. Considering the instrument as an attribute led to the suggestion for the Liverpool picture of the name of Sir William Waldegrave (1636-1701), King James II’s doctor and famous guitar and lute player who came to France with the exiled monarch in 1688. Not only does the man look too young to be Waldgrave, but the rediscovery of our picture especially leads to the need to nuance the exceptional character of such a depiction. The guitar proves to be an object which recurs sufficiently in Van Schuppen’s oeuvre to suppose that it reflects the painter’s taste and artistic choices more than those of his sitters. The violins, cello, and tambourine thus would indicate the couple’s love for music and dance, as well as the extreme refinement of their leisure activities.
General Bibliography (Unpublished Work)
Pierre SCHREIDEN, “Jacques van Schuppen (1690-1751),” Wiener Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte, vol. XXXV, Vienna, 1982, pp. 1-107.
Pierre SCHREIDEN, Jacques Van Schuppen. 1670-1751. L’influence française à Vienne dans les arts plastiques au cours de la première moitié du XVIIIe siècle, Brussels, 1983.
Gérard VOREAUX, Les Peintres lorrains du dix-huitième siècle, Paris, 1998.