79 x 64 cm (31 1⁄8 x 25 3⁄16 in.)
Pastel on paper laid down on canvas
· Jean-François Guillieaumon (1672-1758), Paris.
· His post-mortem inventory, May 25th, 1759, cited with four other pastels of the family.
· Collection of the Count and Countess of Ribes since at least 1964.
At the Salon of 1699, the sculptor and painter Florent Le Comte admired the portrait of Jules-Hardouin Mansart engraved by Edelinck after a pastel by Joseph Vien. Thus, when he picked up his pen to describe the works seen, he thought it necessary to take his time with the portraitist:
“I must side-track once again to indicate to you the degree to which Monsieur Vivien has pushed Painting in Pastels in the grand subjects of Historiated Portraits which he paints daily in this manner, in which he has us discover the same grace, force, naïveté, and delicacy that one finds in the Works in oil by our great Masters; and one could say that France can be proud of having in him a Van Dyck of the century for Pastels. But where do you think he found his principles? He drew them from oil Painting, his May of 1698, and another Picture of about twelve feet large by ten high, depicting the family of Monsieur de Thode, give us convincing proof. But to only speak about his Pastels, the portraits which he did in Brussels for his Electoral Highness of Bavaria, & thus for the success, he merited all imaginable honors: this Prince, to conserve his Portrait, having taken care to cover it with glass 48 inches high, even wanted that this Painter paint himself to send this [the painter’s] Portrait to the Grand Duke of Tuscany as a new ornament in his Gallery where all the Illustrious Ones can be found.”
In a few words, Le Comte succeeded in summarizing what constituted the originality of Vivien’s talent, that is, his training as a history painter and the quality of his pastels capable of rivaling oil in rendering materials and transcribing light and shadows.
Born in Lyons, Vivien was sent to the capital at a very young age by his father who had noticed his gifts for painting. He studied at the Academy under François Bonnemer and won second prize for Rome in 1678 with The Expulsion of Adam and Eve. Sources are missing for tracing his career, but he seems to have worked with Charles Le Brun and was sufficiently established and famous for the guild of goldsmiths in Paris to commission a May from him in 1697 which remains to be identified.
At this time, the artist had nonetheless already turned towards portraiture and especially portraits in pastel, a difficult technique which hadn’t been practiced very much since Robert Nanteuil’s passing in 1678. Soon his mastery of the medium was such that it became possible for him to paint full frontal views of the sitters and render all the subtlety of flesh and fabrics, while also creating full-scale standing portraits. His fame as a “painter in pastel portraits” increasing, Vivien was solicited in 1696 by the Bâtiment du roi (royal buildings administration) – the exact nature of the commission is unknown - and starting in 1698, by the Duke Elector Maximilian Emmanuel of Bavaria, Governor of the Spanish Low Countries who summoned the pastellist to Brussels and made him his official portraitist.
Vivien was approved by the Academy in 1698 and received three years later upon presentation of the portraits of Girardon and Robert de Cote. Delivery of the works requested by the academicians was delayed by the quantity of requests he received from all over, including that in 1699 to paint portraits of the Grand Dauphin (Crown Prince), brother-in-law to the Duke of Bavaria and his family. At the Salon of 1704, Vivien presented not less than twenty-four pastels, including the spectacular ones of the Elector and his Favorite, as well as more modest ones of his artist colleagues and their spouses.
Realized in 1722, our beautiful work was one of those portraits of people close to the artist who preferred free elegant handling to voluminous wigs and glowing armor. Often done in pairs as pendants, these portraits were both intimate and official, even more so in that some images were distributed through engravings. One of Vivien’s regular engravers, Nicolas Edelinck, make the connection between our pastel’s sitter and the artist. She is Madeleine-Geneviève Dupuis, who married Jean-François Guillieaumon, master tapestry maker of the city of Paris, of the clergy of France and the University, established at rue Saint-Jacques. Daughter of Marie Mariette (great aunt of the collector Pierre-Jean Mariette), she was the sister of Grégoire Dupuis, merchant bookshop owner, who married Marie-Madeleine-Geneviève Edelinck, the engraver’s sister. Madeleine-Geneviève Dupuis’ mother remarried with the book shop owner Antoine Dezallier: the famous collector and lawyer Antoine-Joseph Dezallier, was their son and thus the half-brother to our sitter.
Vivien offered the Guillieuamon depictions of rare refinement. Both appear in interior attire arranged in a manner to recall antique or oriental garb. The man, without a wig, his shirt and jacket unbuttoned, is draped in fiery red velvet which matches his cap with its black silk lining and gold embroidery. The lady’s garb is more restrained: an ample white silk robe is embellished with light sky blue fabric. Her curled powdered hair is covered by a gracious flowered blue silk bonnet trimmed with lace. With the man, all is passion, energy, hot tonalities. With his wife, cold colors reign with clear light, serenity, and distinction. She gazes at the spectator a little pensively and seems more reserved than distant.
The psychological intensity of our pastel is coupled with virtuoso rendering emblematic of Vivien’s style in his constant desire to surpass painting. The glowing rendering of the fabrics obtained by delicately stumping the powder, the transparency of layers of matter worked like glazes, the velvetness of shades of flesh, the freshness of colors in blue-ochre harmonies: everything is in harmony to confer a noble and fascinating presence on the sitter which makes this work one of the most beautiful elegant female portraits by the artist.