61 x 50.4 cm. (2 ft. x 1 ft. 7 13⁄16 in.)
Oil on canvas
• Belgium, Private Collection.
• Pierre Rosenberg, De David à Delacroix: La peinture française de 1774 à 1830, [exh. cat.] Paris, Grand-Palais, 1974.
• Renato Bianchi, Agathe Sanjuan, L’Art du costume à la Comédie-Française, [exh. cat.], Paris, Bleu autour, 2011.
In adopting his father-in-law’s name, the painter Pierre Drahonet, Alexandre-Jean Dubois became known as Dubois-Drahonet. As a result, despite very different styles, there has been confusion between their works. Alexandre-Jean was apprenticed to Jean-Baptiste Regnault (Paris, 1754 – 1829), professor at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and considered Jacques-Louis David’s rival (Paris, 1748 – Brussels, 1825). In the Salons of 1822, 1827, and 1831, he was highly successful when he presented privately commissioned portraits with a strongly Empire-style chiaroscuro close to that of his contemporary François Gérard (Rome, 1770 – Paris, 1837) .
His work relies on rigorous study of psychological expression. In his portraits, the sitter’s introspection is revealed through powerful light contrasts on the face which intensify the gaze and help render volumes.
In the early 19th century, many well-known portraitists, such as François Gérard and Henri François Riesener, assiduously frequented actors, including those of the Parisian Comédie-Française. It is probable that Alexandre-Jean Dubois-Drahonet also became close to this clientele.
Lacking any specific attribute, our portrait seems to be that of a theatre actor. His white shirt with an open collar is a characteristic element of stage costumes worn by French actors. In addition, the sitter wears what seems to be a cape or deep peacock blue velvet in which the play of light brings out its nuances. The close up view, as well as the mastery of fabrics, produces a warm atmosphere in which the sitter appears confident and relaxed. The light brings out the work on the coat which skilfully illuminates the face with its deep black eyes, and expresses both a restraint and a certain good will towards the painter. Dubois-Drahonet stood out from his contemporaries by the gentleness of his sitters’ features revealed with finesse and rigorous drawing which he owed to the instruction of his teacher, Regnault. In a style still very anchored in Neoclassicism, the brilliance of colouring conveys elegance and harmony, while pleasantly flattering the sitter.
Praised for his feeling for psychology and easy execution of his works, Alexandre-Jean Dubois-Drahonet was a well-known portraitist in his lifetime who rose to the level of his most eminent contemporaries, to the point that the attribution of certain of his works has often been confused with theirs. Conserved in a private collection for more than 20 years, our portrait is evidence of the many private commissions which the artist was asked to do, and which are mainly conserved today in private Belgian, Dutch, and British collections.