Robert LE VRAC TOURNIÈRES (Caen, 1667 - 1752)


135.5 x 100 cm. (4 ft. 5 38 in. x 3 ft. 3 38 in.) each
c. 1730-1735. Two paintings, each oil on canvas. Beautiful original frames in sculpted gilt frames with shell motifs in the corners, plus scrolls and flowerets.

• Whitelaw Reid (1837-1912) Collection, United States Ambassador to France (1889-1892), New York.
• By inheritance, his wife, New York.
• Her sale, Anderson Galleries, May 2nd -3rd, 1934, The Distinguished Collection of Furniture, Paintings and Works of Art from the Estate of the Late Mrs. Whitelaw Reid, lot 296 (Portrait of a Woman) and 297 (Portrait of a Man), ill.
• Sale Paris, Palais d’Orsay, April 3rd, 1979, Laurin-Guilloux-Buffetaud-Tailleur, Robert Lebel expert, lots 44 and 45, ill.
• France, Private Collection.


The Portrait of a Woman was probably exhibited in the Salon of 1737 (“A Woman and her Son,” “Under the cornice, after the second door”). Unless it was in the Salon of 1741 (“Madame Cousin and Sir her Son: this picture has as its subject the education of Telemachus by Minerva.”)

From Obscurity to Rigaud
Robert Le Vrac became known by the name of a village near Bayeux, Tournière or Tournières, with which his family seemed to have had some connection, and he became known for every type of painting: allegories, vanities, fantasy figures, copies after old masters, religious pictures. However without question, he especially excelled in his portraits and he genuinely contributed to the history of the genre, mainly as a result of his heteroclite training.

In fact, his initial apprenticeship was under an obscure painter in his native town of Caen, and then in the Academy of Saint Luke in Paris, which was descended from the painters’ guild in Paris and rivaled the Royal Academy. Received as a master painter in 1695, he preferred to pursue his training under Bon Boullogne (1649-1717), known for the quality of his teaching. There Tournières met the artists who would occupy the first half of the 18th century, such as Nicolas Bertin, Pierre Dulin, Charles Parrocel, Jean Raoux, and Jean-Baptiste Santerre. As he was very attracted to portraits, our artist was the only one who also frequented Hyacinthe Rigaud’s studio (1659-1743). In Rigaud’s account book, his Livre de raison, “Tournière” is thus mentioned in 1698 and 1699 for several copies done entirely in his hand, a fact which indicates the master’s trust, and also distinguishes him from most of the other collaborators charged at best with doing accessories or clothing.

In business for himself, approved for the Academy as a portraitist in 1701, Tournières was received the following year with two portraits of academicians, Pierre Mosnier (Versailles, inv. MV 5822) and Michel II Corneille (current location unknown). The Salon of 1704 organized by the Academy to celebrate the birth of the Duke of Brittany was glorious for him. In fact, he presented twenty-one portraits, almost as many as Rigaud and Largillierre, as well as two history paintings. His ambition to enter the Academy “as a Historian” was realized in 1716 with Dibutade or the Invention of Drawing (Paris, ENSB-A, inv. MRA. 104). The artist was elected Councilor in 1721, then Professor, without ever abandoning the art of portraiture, as can be seen by his Salon entries.

Brilliant Portraitist
The only student of Rigaud, aside from Jean Ranc, to have had a brilliant career as a portraitist, Tournières possessed no less of a personal touch and singular expression, with more restraint and distance in relation to his sitters, a much colder palette, and a less exuberant spirit than the master. His sitters’ poses are simpler, but never static, because while the bust is generally seen in profile, the face turns towards the viewer. The gestures are gracious and affected, the index finger pointed gracefully towards an object situated outside the frame or, in the case of group portraits, towards another figure. The artist preferred dark backgrounds where architectural details, foliage, and the sky have to be surmised rather than being distinguishable. He decked out his patrons in turbulent draperies with iris reflections and fine batiste, embellished the scene with an accessory, and wafted a light breeze through their delicately curled and powdered wigs.

Family Portraits
In his corpus which encompasses princes as well as the upper bourgeoisie, family portraits occupy an important place and seem to have been Tournières’ specialty. The artist’s sensitive touch and the sweetness, even in official portraits, which he conferred to his sitters’ gaze perfectly suited the new sentimentality which had just invaded high society during the Regency and the reign of Louis XV.

Father and Son
The father, draped in a wine-red velvet cape which entirely dissimulates his suit, stands near a console table with sculpted gilt legs and breccia marble top which appears in several of Tournières’ pictures, including the Portrait of Louis Phélypeaux, Chancellor of France, realized in about 1700 (Dijon, Museum of Fine Arts, inv. 1067), and that of Count Ferdinand Adolf von Plettenberg, signed and dated 1726 (Budapest, Museum of Fine Arts, inv. L.3.124). With his right hand, the man leafs through a book, while his left hand, invisible, is behind his son’s back, as if the viewer had just surprised him educating his child. The boy, clothed in a brown vest embroidered in gold and in a symmetrical pose to his father’s, delicately brushes his fingers over a laurel branch, symbol of glory to come.

Mother and Son
As opposed to her spouse and without breaking the beautiful unity of the pendants, the mother is depicted outdoors. The lady who is decked out in a sumptuous dress in silver cloth highlighted by a royal blue drapery, is seated near a stone table, with her arm delicately resting on a Treaty to Wisdom bound in Moroccan leather. The lady, like Minerva, rests her right hand on her youngest son’s shoulder. Judging from his attire in antique red and gold, and the helmet that reigns on the right, he is destined for a career in arms. As usual, Tournières reused certain elements from previous works, such as the motifs on the book binding and the little boy’s delicate gesture which comes from the Allegorical Portrait of a Woman, painted in about 1715 (Caen, Museum of Fine Arts, inv. 82.1.1).

Mature Harmonious Works
Having conserved their original delicately sculpted frames, our two portraits dating to the period of the master’s maturity are among the most successful in their technical perfection, the harmonious distribution of sitters, the refined harmony of the coloring between the male portrait painted virtually entirely in brown tonalities, and that of the woman enlivened by light bright colors, and finally, by the subtle but not at all ostentatious introduction of allegorical elements in the depiction of a family.

We would like to thank Mr. Eddie Tassel for having confirmed the authenticity of our work after de visu examination. The two portraits will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the work of Le Vrac Tournières.

Bibliography of the Work
Marie-Louis BATAILLE, "Tournières 1668 à 1752," Louis DIMIER, Les Peintres français du XVIIIe siècle, Paris, 1928, vol. I, cat. 20 et 21, p. 234, ill. pl. XL et XLI.
"L’art aux enchères," Connaissance des arts, special issue no 14, 1979, p. 16, ill.
Eddie TASSEL, Patrick RAMADE, Robert Le Vrac Tournières, les facettes d’un portraitiste, exh. cat. Caen, Museum of Fine Arts, Gand, Snoeck, 2014, pp. 29-30, ill. fig. 19 and 20.

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