• André Meyer Collection (1884-1974).
• François Meyer Collection (born in 1953).
• France, Private Collection.
Two extant autograph versions : the first, signed BOUYS, in the National Gallery, London (inv. NG2081, 160 x 127 cm., 63 x 50 in.), and the second in the Museum of Fine Arts, Dijon (inv. CA 577, oil on canvas, 117.5 x 89 cm., 46 ¼ x 35 1/16 in.).
In 1694, Le Premier Livre des Trio pour les violons, flûtes et hautbois (First Book of Trios for Violins, Flutes, and Oboe) by Michel de La Barre (c. 1675-1745), “flutist for the King’s Chamber,” was published by the Parisian printer Christophe Ballard. Already in this first work, the composer displayed his affection for trios (two high instruments against a continuous bass) which Lully had initiated in Versailles for the famous “couchers du roi.” Eight years later, La Barre, having become Ordinary of Stable Music (ceremonial music) and of the Chamber (profane music), as well as member of the Opera Orchestra, published his fourth work, Pièces pour la flute traversière, avec la basse-continue (Pieces for the Transversal Flute, with continuous Bass), the first collection of compositions for this instrument in France. In the foreword, La Barre specifies that “to bring this instrument as much as possible to perfection, I believed that for the glory of my Flute, as well as my own, I had to follow [the example] of Monsieur Marais who has gone to such trouble and care to perfect the viol, and who has been so happily successful.”
Michel de La Barre and the famous bass viol player and composer Marin Marais (1656-1728) are two of the five protagonists in our painting. The first is depicted standing, wearing a black wig, and clothed in a brown suit with silver trim. La Barre turns the pages of his Troisième livre des trio…mélez de sonates pour la flûte traversière (Third Book of Trios…mixed with Sonatas for the Transversal Flute) which he opens to the partition of the First Sonata for continuous bass – that is to say, the viol. Although the portrait presented by André Bouys at the Salon of 1699 has not been located, and no other image of the composer is known either, his central position as the head of the group along with the flute in his hand are sufficient to identify him.
Marin Marais is seated with his seven chord viola da gamba between his legs ready to begin his part. In his fifties, he wears a grey jerkin over a short jacket in a rich silk fabric, a luxury perfectly fitting for the one who had been directing the Royal Academy of Music Orchestra since 1704. Two images support this identification of the figure: the portrait painted by André Bouys in 1704 which is known both from a smaller autograph replica and from an autograph print; and the medal struck in 1728 by Simon Curé. In both cases, Marais presents a quite similar likeness, heavier with the years, but with an undeniable presence. La Barre’s very respectful attitude is easily explained by the great esteem in which he held his elder.
Two flutists complete the trio. Like Marais, they are seated near the round table in front of their partitions: the one which is closed contains the second treble and the other, open to page 20 of the first treble, is copied quite exactly from the 1707 publication. Aged between thirty and forty years, the two musicians are not necessarily related, as has always been supposed, but their identities are to be sought among the flutists of the Stables and the Chamber who were close to de La Barre and de Marais.
Thus, the man on the right, with a brocade jacket and sleeve cuff linings, who is holding an expensive ivory instrument and seems to occupy a place of honor is, in all likelihood, Jacques Hotteterre called “the Roman” (1674-1763). The most famous of the Hotteterre dynasty and one of the most remarkable 18th century flutists, he is the author both of many compositions – trios, duets, and solos – for the transversal flute and of various musical methods which were published starting in 1708. The 1707 re-edition of Principles of the Transversal Flute which had first been published in 1702 by Christophe Ballard opens with the portrait of a flute player by Bernard Picart which could be a depiction of Hotteterre and is reminiscent of the figure in our painting.
This third member of the group, dressed in a light blue jerkin with gold braid and holding a boxwood flute could be one of the cousins Danican Philidor, a great family of oboists in royal service since Louis XIII: Anne (1681-1728) or Pierre (1681-1731), to whom we also owe several pieces for transversal flute.
Unidentified Sitter and Related Works
However, the identity of the fifth figure in our painting remains a complete enigma. Standing behind Marais, he gazes at the viewer and holds a wooden object in his right hand which seems to be more like a cane than a musical instrument. In our canvas, he wears a gold-trimmed brown suit, has a fine slightly hooked aquiline nose, brown eyes, and the hint of a smile. In the version of this portrait conserved in the National Gallery which is larger and signed, the figure in the same position has a mouse-grey jerkin , silver braid, a fuller face, a straight turned up nose, green eyes, and no smile. The clothing and facial features are again different of the figure in the third version conserved in the Dijon museum. For that matter, although other elements are identical in the three versions, the landscape which appears between the columns also changes: while dark and threatening in the London painting, with denser foliage than in the one in Dijon, the landscape is light and luminous in our picture. Completing the obvious stylistic analogies, these divergences confirm the autograph nature of the three paintings, all of which are by the signer of the London paintings, André Bouys.
Born the same year as Nicolas de Largillièrre in Hyères in the south of France, André Bouys was apparently encouraged in his artistic training by Jean-Baptiste Boyer d’Aguille, a collector from Aix. Among his protégés was Sebastien Barras, who, with Bouys, introduced the method of making mezzotints to France. Very early in Paris, Bouys entered the studio of François de Troy for whom he became a close collaborator and engraver. The influence of De Troy can always be felt in his portraits to which he added more precise drawing, especially in his description of faces, and a certain interest in illusionistic rendering of fabrics and details.
On April 26th, 1687, Bouys was approved for the Academy and then received a year and a half later upon the presentation of a portrait of Charles de La Fosse (Versailles, inv. MV 3582). Overloaded with commissions, he couldn’t deliver the second portrait requested until 1691, that of the sculptor Etienne Le Hongre (Versailles, inv. MV 3641). In 1707, he was unanimously elected Counselor to the Academy.
Despite the lack of livrets for 1704 to 1737, Bouys’ submissions to the Salons reveal the breadth of his clientele and singularity of his talent. At the Salon of 1699, he presented nine portraits, then twelve to that of 1704, with ten mezzotints. In 1737, after having spent a long time remaining within the confines of his genre, the artist took the step of exhibiting only one portrait and five still lives, two Collations (Light Meals), two Servants returning from Market (Private collection) and the Servant Polishing Silver Dishes (Paris, Museum of Decorative Arts, inv. 38173).
The Painter’s Masterpiece
The artist’s masterpiece, the group portrait of Chamber musicians surpasses all the other works which Bouys ever presented to the Salon. The picture was never engraved but its two autograph repetitions with, each time, the replacement of the figure on the left, attests to its great success. That these are Ordinaries of the King’s Music is not at all surprising if one considers the artist’s sitters. Besides La Barre and Marais, whose portraits, already cited, were exhibited in the Salons of 1699 and 1704 respectively, several musicians had posed for Bouys: the famous composers André Campra and François Couperin, the clavecinist Arnault and Cécile de Lisorez. In 1732, the painter was witness to the marriage of the violist Antoine Forqueray with Jeanne Nolson.
Here, Bouys gives music its most beautiful representation at the end of Louis XIV’s reign. The resonance of golds and velvets, the harmonies between olive greens, azure blues, earthen browns, and red ochres, the gracious slow movements of hands intersecting with rapid straight lines of instruments, the unequal cadence of elements, the attention given to “grace notes”: this picture is like a piece of baroque music which wished in and of itself to become a melodic transposition of a conversation galante.
Bibliography of the Work
Dominique BREME, “François de Troy,” Dossier de l’Art, no 37, April 1997, L’Art du portrait sous Louis XIV, pp. 36-43, the National Gallery version p. 41, ill. p. 40.
Dominique BREME, “Les élèves de François de Troy,” L’Objet d’art L’Estampille, n° 314, June 1997, p. 69 (National Gallery version).
Marie-Anne DUPUY-VACHEY (dir.), Dominique-Vivant Denon: l’œil de Napoléon, exh. cat. Paris, Louvre Museum, Paris, RMN, 1999, cat. 536 (National Gallery version).
John HUSKINSON, “Les Ordinaires de la Musique du Roi. Michel de La Barre, Marin Marais et les Hotteterre d’après un tableau du début du XVIIIe siècle,” Recherches sur la musique française classique, vol. 17, 1977, pp. 15-30 (National Gallery version).
Florence GETREAU, “Portraits peints et gravés de Marin Marais,” B. Dratwicki (dir.), Marin Marais violiste à l’opéra (1656-1728), Versailles, Centre de musique baroque, 2006, pp. 11-21, pp. 17, 21, n. 19.
Pierre JAQUIER, “Redécouverte d’un portrait de Jean-Baptiste Forqueray. Découverte de certains éléments de la basse de viole représentée,” Imago musicae, La méthode critique en iconographie musicale, 1987, pp. 315-324, p. 325 (National Gallery and Dijon versions).
François LESURE, Collection musicale André Meyer, Abbeville, F. Paillart, 1961, p. 100 (without attribution), ill. pl. 150.
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon, Catalogue des peintures françaises, Dijon, 1968, p. 76, cat. 337, “Réunion de musiciens” (our version cited as a replica).
André TESSIER, “Quelques portraits de musiciens français du XVIIe siècle,” Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire de l’Art Français, 1924, pp. 244-254, pp. 251-252 (National Gallery and Dijon versions).
C. et Y. VOIRPY, Cahier d’histoire de la musique et d’activités musicales. Classe de 4e, collection R. Cornet et M. Fleurant, Paris, 1974, ill. on the cover.
Humphrey WINE, “A Group of Musicians by André Bouys (1656-1740) in the National Gallery,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, September 2001, pp. 73-80, pp. 75, 80, n. 9.
Michel FARE, “André Bouys, 1656-1740. Portraitiste et peintre de genre,” Revue des arts. Musées de France, 1960, no 4-5, pp. 201-212.
Jean AUBERT, Emmanuel COQUERY, Alain DAGUERRE DE HUREAUX (dir.), Visages du Grand Siècle. Le portrait français sous le règne de Louis XIV. 1660-1715, exh. cat. Nantes, Museum of Fine Arts, Toulouse, Museum of the Augustines, Paris, Somogy, 1997.