Probably Fort–Andrieux Collection (two sales in Paris in 1856)
Paris, Hôtel Jean Charpentier, Exposition de pastels français du XVIIe et du XVIIIe siècle, May 23 - June 26, 1927, no. 89;
Paris, André Seligmann, Exposition du pastel français du XVIIe siècle à nos jours, Nov. 18 – Dec. 9, 1933, no. 38;
Paris, Galerie Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Le Siècle de Louis XV vu par les artistes, June 1934, no. 163;
Copenhagen, Charlottenburg Palace, Exposition de l’art français au XVIII e siècle, August 25 – October 6, 1935, no. 282.
Held over the baptismal font as an infant by Jean-Baptiste Jouvenet who would become his master, Jean-Marc Nattier subsequently demonstrated a talent for drawing at a very young age. His father, who was a painter, had him sent to the Academy by 1703. He was “approved” by the Academy in 1715 and received in 1718.
Jean-Marc Nattier soon abandoned the grand genre in order to do portraits. He then had to measure himself against François de Troy, Hyacinthe Rigaud, Jean Raoux, and François Desportes. Learning from one and then another, Nattier knew how to distinguish himself by the finesse of his chromatic scale, by the softness of his surfaces, and by his elegant choice of poses for models who were presented at their best. This latter quality is perhaps what assured him a vast prestigious, mainly feminine, clientele. Favored for a while by the House of Orleans, the artist became close to the royal family and produced famous images of Queen Marie Leczinska and her daughters.
Although the painted works by Nattier are well known, his pastels remain rare. He excelled in this technique which he seems to have only begun in 1744 and practiced for a mere decade. Nattier’s pastels were well received at the Salon, starting with the very first one which was presented in 1745. The critics judged that “this work surpasses everything he has done in oils.”
Nattier created our Portrait thought to be of Abel-François Poisson de Vandière, Marquis de Marigny in 1753. He presents a young man in the intimacy of a subdued composition. The sitter is shown just over bust length, in an indoor suit without any attributes. The design of the decorative frogging, the fur collar, and the muslin jabot indicate his elevated social position. The curls in his white wig are discreetly highlighted with light blue. A detail which contributes to the intimacy of the image is the fact that hair powder has whitened the upper surface of the pelisse.
In this framework, the face is depicted with astonishing psychological intensity. The flesh is soft and modeled with an unctuous touch. Personality is concentrated in the blue-grey gaze and the barely smiling mouth. This half smile is reminiscent of the Portrait of Pierre Grassin (Paris, Hôtel de la Monnaie), which is dated 1748 and one of the rare male pastels by the artist.
The artist’s sensitivity as a colorist is in full evidence in this work. The background shades vary from brown to blue-green and accentuate the facial lighting; pearly grey defines the suit jacket. Substance is enhanced by the vellum support – a unique example in the master’s oeuvre. Rarer than the traditional carta azzura, blue tinted paper, this precious finely prepared parchment preserved the unevenness of the epidermis. Nattier plays with this quality: the chalk adheres well to a grainy surface and thus splendidly captures marvelously the pearly effect of flesh which acquires a satin sheen on vellum.
It is revealing to compare our work to that of Liotard. This exceptional pastel artist sojourned in Paris between 1748 and 1753. Although not very appreciated by the Academy, his Parisian period was very productive. In his art, he favored restrained compositions which brought the face into relief. He gladly used parchment, as in the portrait he made in France of the Maréchal de Saxe (1748), which is considered a masterpiece in the genre.
Identification of the Sitter
Long time mistakenly presented as a depiction of Jean-François de La Harpe, our portrait figured in beautiful retrospective exhibitions of French pastels at the beginning of the 20th century. It was shown in Parisian galleries in 1927, 1933, and 1934, and then in Charlottenburg Palace in Copenhagen in 1935. In 1927, Ratouis de Limay denounced the claim that this picture represented La Harpe: born in 1739, the future writer and critic was only fourteen years old in 1753; he was still a scholarship student at Harcourt College.
Observation of resemblance and historical analysis lead nonetheless to some suppositions. Our sitter’s features might possibly be associated with the Marquis de Marigny, who was General Superintendant of the King’s Buildings as of 1751. Louis Tocqué, the student who was closest to, and then became son-in-law and collaborator of Nattier, exhibited a full-length portrait of the Marquis in the Salon of 1756. His face, which was still young, bears some similarities to our work. This man, who had very sure taste, had constituted a top quality art collection. Instructions during his lifetime and his recently published inventory after death made it possible to reconstitute the décor of different properties belonging to the Minister of the Arts. The dining room in the hotel of Menars, situated on the Place des Victoires was most notably hung with five “portraits of the late M. le Marquis de Menars and Madame de Pompadour, his sister.” At least one of the effigies of the latter was the work of Nattier. One could suppose that he who would portray the king’s favorite on many occasions would also have had a chance to depict her brother.
P. de Nolhac, Nattier peintre de la cour de Louis XV, Paris 1925, p.209 ;
E. Dacier and P. Ratouis de Limay, Pastels français des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles, Paris 1927, pp. 48 - 49, no.23, ill. pl. XVII;
G. Huard, Les Peintres français du XVIIIe siècle, Paris 1930, II, p. 128, no. 129;
P. Ratouis de Limay, Le Pastel en France au XVIIIème siècle, Paris 1946, p. 24, ill. pl.VIII, fig. 10;
P. Renard, Jean-Marc Nattier (1685 - 1766): Un artiste parisien à la cour de Louis XV, Saint-Rémy-en-L’Eau 1999, pp. 166 and 240, no. 14;
X. Salmon, "Un Pastelliste méconnu, Jean-Marc Nattier", L’Objet d’Art, no. 341, Nov. 1999, pp. 34 and 41 (note 17), ill. p. 40, fig. 11;
X. Salmon, Jean-Marc Nattier: 1685 - 1786, exhibition catalogue, Versailles 2000, p. 309;
N. Jeffares, Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800, London, 2006, ill. p. 388 ;
A. GORDON, The houses and collections of the Marquis de Marigny, Los Angeles : Getty Trust, 2003.