82,5 x 64,8 cm. (32 ½ in. x 25 ½ in.)
Oil on oval canvas.
Beautiful Louis XIV sculpted gilt wood frame decorated with foliated scrolls and acanthus leaves.
Inscription on verso of canvas: “Magdleine le Roux de tilly fille de Claude le Roux de tilly et de Magdleine du Moncel de Louraille 1ere femme de Manzeray de Courvaudron Mort Doyen des Présidents du parlement de Rouen.”
(transl : Magdleine [sic] le Roux de Tilly, daughter of Claude le Roux de Tilly and of Magdeleine du Moncel de Louraille, 1st wife of Manzeray de Courvadron, died Eldest of the Presidents of the Parlement of Rouen.)
• Collection of Baron d’Esneval, Château d’Acquigny, Louviers, until 1912;
• United States, Private Collection;
• England, Private Collection.
• Paris, Philippon Gallery, 1913, n°12;
• Houston, Allied Arts Association, 1952, n°31 ;
• Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Museum of Art, 1979, n°9 ;
• Charles Decoster, Brussels Natalia Obadia Gallery Portraits, from the 17th to the 21st century, March – May 2020.
“All the talk is of his skill in painting the Ladies,
Whose graces, far from becoming dimished, gained much under his hand.”(1)
Fascinated by drawing which he practiced from his earliest years, Nicolas de Largilliere turned naturally to painting, despite his father’s reluctance. Raised in Antwerp where his family had moved from Paris, he began his training under the painter Antoon Goubau (Antwerp, 1616-1698), who very quickly detected his talent and famously said “You know enough to be able to work on your own: go and fly with your own wings,”(2) and led the young artist to join the Guild of Saint Luke in Antwerp where he was received as a Master in 1674.
After two productive trips to England, Largillerre settled in Paris and fully launched his career as a portraitist, even though the Academy only had a tempered view of his worth. Nourrished by the influence of his varied training, he especially was inspired by his encounter with the artist Peter Lely (Soest, 1618 – London, 1680), who became his friend and probably his master for a few months. From Lely’s instruction, Largilliere retained the natural poses, as well as his study of light flooding the gentle sensitive faces of his sitters.
Combining preciousness and elegance, Largillierre is appreciated in France for the stylistic renewal which he breathed into the art of portraiture: in particular, his Anglo-Flemish education taught him to master striking color contrasts between fabrics and the whiteness of flesh by approaching an imitation of Nature.
In contrast to his main rival, Hyacinthe Rigaud (Perpignan, 1659 – Paris, 1743),
“Largillierre had little contact with the French court, which he never made any effort to approach, he preferred, as he told me more than once, to work for the public (…)”(3)
In choosing to associate with the rising intellectual bourgeoisie which was carving a more and more important place for itself in the heart of society, Largillierre stood out from his contemporary academicians who ardently defended the Academy’s teaching: a portrait was commendable only when it reflected its sitters’ social condition. Amateurs and collectors particularly like the artist’s ability to communicate French distinction through youthful fervor and charm which was common to all his figures. Far from the state portraits with frozen faces, Largillierre devoted himself to the easel portrait as a means of expressing elegance, and especially the intimacy of his sitters, who, for the most part, were from his own personal circles.
Our painting presents one of these highly demanded female portraits, which often showed wives attired in the latest fashion with corresponding hairdos. It is of Magdeleine le Roux de Tilly, the daughter of Claude Le Roux de Tilly, a Judge at the Appeals Court, and the wife of Manzeray de Courvaudon, the eldest of the Presidents of the Rouen Parlement. Depicted slightly in profile, elegantly turned towards her right, she wears make-up which is carefully applied to bring out her pearly flesh, and wears a hair-do known as the Fontange,(4) in which two blue bows restrain her curls. She is richly attired in a night-blue robe embellished with precious stones and a dark purple cape floating around her whose sumptuousness contrasts with the lighter hues and touch of her delicate face.
An assiduous student of the Flemish painters, Largillière distanced himself from the severe classical Italianate French style by preferring color to the cold exact line of drawing. Known for his gifts as a colorist, the suppleness of his brushstroke let him render the dazzling harmony of fabrics elegantly by playing the reflections in the blue velvet dress against the gold braid as well as in the cape encircling the sitter.
An indefatigable worker, a painter of the Parisian patriarcal elite, Largillierre progressively raised the art of portraiture to its most demanding levels. As a result of his combination of the natural with the artificial, his fame launched a fashion: every society-level bourgeois interior felt obliged to embellish its walls with a work by his hand. Far from the French court, his talent was also recognized beyond national borders by contemporary illustrious individuals, including King James II of England and King Augustus II of Poland who also wanted him to do their portraits.
(1) Dezallier d’Argenville, 1762, p.296
(2) Dezallier d’Argenville, 1762, p.295
(3) Dezallier d’Argenville, 1762, p.264
(4) The “a la Fontanges » hair style was fashionable in the heart of the French kingdom starting in the last years of the 17th century. Discovered rather abruptly, rather than invented, it was tried for the first time by Marie Angelique de Scorraille de Roussille, Duchess of Fontanges and Louis XIV’s mistress. During a hunt, the duchess’ hair is said to have come undone, and she hurriedly reattached it using part of her garter. The slightly adapted result became the fashion: several layers of curls to which pearls, lace, or ribbons were attached.