• France, Sologne, Private Collection.
Born in Innsbruck and raised in exile at the court of the Hapsburgs in Austria, Duke Leopold (1679-1729), father of the sitter, did not recuperate full sovereignty of his Duchies of Lorraine and Bar until after the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697. The Emperor’s nephew by birth and that of Louis XIV by his marriage to Elisabeth-Charlotte of Orleans, Leopold I had an elevated idea of the majesty of his functions and the ostentation with which he should be surrounded, and didn’t hesitate to imitate the Sun King. During his thirty years reign, the country which had been devastated by a century of wars now recovered peace, prosperity, and the fine arts. Leopold created a Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture instituted a pension system which made it possible for artists to be trained in Rome, and invited – often at great expense – French and Italian musicians, architects, and painters who transformed his Lunéville residence into a second Versailles.
An indefatigable builder, Leopold had Jules Hardouin-Mansart, brought to Nancy, and then the Lyonnais painter Pierre Bourdict, Coysevox’ brother-in-law, and at the latter’s death, Germain Boffrand. To produce allegorical ceilings, history scenes and portraits, the duke turned to Parisians Jean-Baptiste Martin, “painter of the king’s conquests,” Jean-Baptiste Durupt from the Gobelins, Jean-Louis Guyon of the Academy of Saint Luke, and especially members of the Royal Academy: Jacques Van Schuppen and Pierre Gobert, who both arrived in 1707.
Son of Jean Gobert, sculptor to the king established at Fontainebleau, Pierre Gobert specialized at a young age in portraiture and apparently was trained by royal portraitists. By 1682, he was chosen to paint the portrait of the Duke of Burgundy who was only a few weeks old (location unknown) but his activity remains difficult to trace until 1701, when he applied to the Academy. Just four months later, the artist was received after having delivered the requested portraits of Louis II of Boullogne and Corneille Van Cleve (Versailles, inv. MV 5821 and 5837).
In his new position as academician, Gobert sent at least seventeen portraits to the Salon of 1704, including his two reception pieces and, supreme honor, that of the Duke of Brittany (the older brother to the future Louis XV) placed “under a rich dais of green velvet” on a platform next to the paintings of the king, the crown prince, and the Duke of Burgundy by Hyacinthe Rigaud. Apart from the portrait of his wife, the other paintings exhibited by Gobert reveal that his clientele almost exclusively consisted of the most eminent women at court.
From this point on, the artist’s career is punctuated by prestigious and royal commissions, most of which came from the House of France. In 1714, he thus signed a portrait of the future Louis XV destined for the Spanish court. The following year and until at least 1733, the artist was regularly employed by the reigning family of Monaco. In 1725, the artist went to Wissembourg, where the Polish court resided in exile, to paint Princess Marie Leszczinska. The following year, in which he was appointed a Counselor at the Academy, he was paid 2,700 pounds for three portraits of the queen, including a “full length embellished with all her attributes.” Later, Louis XV’s daughters took turns posing for Gobert.
It was certainly due to his glory as a painter “of women and children” that our artist was invited to Lorraine. A fortunately conserved Memoir of the Works of Painting made by the artist by order of Their Royal Highnesses lists the portraits Gobert produced between September 1707 and March 1709. In it one discovers that he had to repeat to up to ten examples of each of the portraits of Duke Leopold, Elisabeth-Charlotte, and their four daughters, as well as having to paint the Duke’s two brothers, “His Royal Highness, Madame with Mylord the Little Prince,” (Nancy, Lorraine Museum, inv. 77.3.13) and make “the original portrait of Mylord the little Prince” (Versailles, inv. 4433). In 1710, he painted Louis de Lorraine, born in 1704 and carried off by small pox in May 1711. Gobert depicted him making soap bubbles and clothed in a green velvet dress with gold trim, as the heir had not yet reached the age of “passing to a man” fixed at four years old in Lorraine as in France.
The portraitist left the duchy bearing the proud title of Ordinary Painter to Duke Leopold and, despite no written documentation of journeys there, the evidence indicates he continued to have regular relations with this court. Gobert’s presence is documented on December 1721, when he gave a receipt in Nancy for the sum of two thousand pounds as “down-payment on the price of portraits for the Royal House made by him at Lunéville,” the remainder of which was to be paid in Paris. From this sojourn are dated two portraits of Leopold Clement (1707-1723), who was promised the succession after Louis’ death: the first dates to about 1720 (Versailles, inv. MV 3734, engraved by Jean-François des Cars) and the second realized in 1721, the date at which he received the Golden Fleece (Versailles, inv. 3738, engraved by Duflos). Many portraits, including the one we present, would indicate more voyages to Lorraine mainly to paint the Ducal couple’s children.
Thus several portraits of Leopold Clement are known: at age three years (studio replica, Versailles, inv. MV 4432), at five and at eight years old (Versailles, inv. MV 3748 and 4424). The Prado Museum conserves that of Charles-Alexander of Lorraine (1712-1780), future governor of the Low Countries, age three years old (Prado, inv. P02297). Finally, two canvasses depict François-Etienne (1708-1765), future Emperor, Duke of Lorraine, and Grand Duke of Tuscany: the first, which is our picture, shows him at three years old, whereas in the second, he is age six or seven (studio replica, Versailles, inv. MV 4425). Despite the strong resemblance between Leopold I’s sons, the characteristic idealization of the time, and the inevitable deformations in the course of replication, the Lorraine princes remain recognizable, and their features become more pronounced from one portrait to another: Leopold-Clement’s prominent chin, Charles-Alexander’s long nose, and François-Etienne’s slightly snub nose and large eyes. Comparison with later portraits of the latter realized after he acceded to the Ducal throne of Lorraine in 1729 and his election to the Empire in 1745 also tend to confirm the identification of our painting.
As was his custom, for the portrait of the little François-Etienne, Gobert employed a formula already used for the image of his brother Leopold-Clement, known from an oval studio replica (Versailles, inv. MV 4432). The same formula would also serve the artist in 1714 for the portrait of Louis XV, yet this reutilization does not in the least become a sign of facility. For if the setting with the gilt wooden bench and green velvet curtain, the child’s pose, as well as those of the dog and monkey - more symbolic than real - are quasi-identical, the sitter himself is quite different each time. In the portrait of Louis XV, everything is ostentatious, authoritarian, powerful and of incomparable wealth. In our portrait, the prince who is not yet the heir – he would only become so at the death of Leopold-Clement in 1723 – has an age-appropriate attitude of a three-year-old. His royal blue velvet dress is embellished with carefully drawn gold trim and tassels whose placement evokes military attire. His head is topped with a hat in the same velvet garnished with red feathers: recalling the helmets of knights, such head dresses were only worn by boys. Even the subtle sublime harmonies of red, green and blue only serve to frame his face which incontestably was painted from life and is striking in its candor. The brushstroke is light, melting, almost evanescent in the prince’s ash blond hair. With the limpid gaze of sky blue eyes, rosy lips, white delicate hands (hesitation in finger position led to a few pentimenti), François-Etienne is shown first as a child and then as third son of the Duke of Lorraine. We are led to believe that, at the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment, but long before Rousseau’s theories on family and childhood, our painting, even while fulfilling some political role, was destined first to bring joy to the prince’s parents.
Far from being the gracious conventional painter as he is sometimes described, Pierre Gobert demonstrates in our work that he is capable of capturing the sweetness and innocence of childhood, to go beyond the rigid framework of official representation in order to yield a touching portrait “which speaks,” to use the expression of King Stanislas concerning Gobert’s portrait of his daughter.
General Bibliography (Unpublished Work)
Fernand ENGERAND, “Pierre Gobert, peintre de portrait,” L’Artiste, March 1897, pp. 161-175.
Fernand ENGERAND, Inventaires des tableaux achetés par la direction des bâtiments du roi (1709-1792). Inventaires des collections de la couronne, Paris, E. Leroux, 1900, pp. 211-215.
Juan J. LUNA, “Pinturas de Pierre Gobert en España,” Archivo Español de Arte, no 196, vol. 49, October, 1976, pp. 363-386.
Eugène THOISON, “Recherches sur les artistes se rattachant au Gâtinais: Pierre Gobert,” Réunion des Sociétés des beaux-arts des départements, 27e session, 1903.
Eugène THOISON, “Pierre Gobert. Supplément au catalogue de son œuvre,” Réunion des Sociétés des beaux-arts des départements, 30e session, 1906, pp. 296-305.
Gérard VOREAUX, “Les peintres à Nancy et Lunéville au temps d’Henry Desmarest,” in J. Duron et Y. Ferraton (dir.), Henry Desmarest (1661-1741). Exils d’un musicien dans l’Europe du Grand Siècle, Center of Baroque Music in Versailles, Sprimont, Mardaga, 2005, pp. 149-160.