Nicolas de LARGILLIERRE (Paris, 1656 - 1746)

Portrait of a Gentleman in a Red Cape

59.2 x 48.9 cm. (23 5/16 in. x 19 ¼ in.)

Oil on its original canvas.
Signed and dated on verso: Peint par N. de Largillierre 1690
[“Painted by N. de Largillierre 1690”].

Provenance :
• Late 19th century Parisian art trade;
• Henri Bamberger; by bequest to his daughter, Yvonne Bamberger, wife of Robert de Toulouse-Lautrec (first cousin to Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec) ;
• France, Private Collection.

“Each one was eager to exercise his talents, and make himself famous (…)” (1)

Like Hyacinthe Rigaud (Perpignan, 1659 – Paris, 1743), Nicolas de Largillierre arrived in Paris with his talent matured. Celebrated by his contemporaries and recognized by the Academy, the artist made a place for himself among the glorious names of portrait painting. Considered symbols of social recognition, all of his portraits are graced with the same youthful passion that catered to the sensitivities of his sitters. Therefore it is not surprising to find a close resemblance between our sitter’s physical features and those of a half-length portrait of a man conserved in the Thomas Henry Museum of Art in Cherbourg: this dual commission reveals the sitter’s importance.

The elegant interpretation of Flemish naturalism inherited from the study of Van Dyck allowed the artist to distinguish himself in the use of coloring which was as fresh as it was controlled, made pearly flesh stand out, and instantly concentrated attention on the face. His brush lavished marvelous material effects as they transcribed the splendor of fabrics like the blue suit and thick red velvet drapery enveloping the sitter.

From this Nordic example, Largillierre also retained naturalistic poses which he uses here even as he captures the spiritual and seductive features of a face deep in thought, whose gaze turns towards the right. The brilliance of the gaze as well as the transparent effects in flesh rendered by a thick brush stroke reveal direct observation of the sitter. Beyond physical appearance, Largillierre sought to depict his sitter’s psychology. His works serve as memoranda; the sitters were mainly friends, acquaintances, parents or students. In that capacity, each portrait is intimate evidence of living, sincere affection communicated through a highly appreciated theatricality. In depicting society’s elite, the artist evokes the elegance and refinement of the Grand Century, and thus confers a more gratifying dimension to his work as historical evidence. The historiated portrait delights the sitter who sees himself as ennobled as the painter who thus unites portrait with the history painting held in the highest estime by the Academy.

“[His portraits]are genuine pictures which will always be sought by connoisseurs…"(2)

Due to his exceptional ease in working, Largillierre was able to complete all his commissions, which were sometimes so numerous that he had to finish them in only a single week.(3) Interpreting the bourgeois social life to which he was close, Largillierre had a long productive career which was also celebrated by the Academy where he was appointed Chancellor, and then Director in 1738. His work was collected by three of the most famous amateurs of 17th century French art: La Live de Jully (1725-1779), Jean de Jullienne (1686-1766), and Louis-Antoine Crozat de Thiers (1699-1770) and in the following century, Louis La Caze (1798-1869) who bequeathed seven of his works to the Louvre.

transl. chr

(1) Dezallier d’Argenville, 1762, p.296
(2) Mariette, 1851-1860, t. III, p. 61
(3) Georges Pascal, Largillierre, Les Beaux-Arts Edition d’Etudes et de Documents, Paris, 1928, p. 41

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