63 x 50 cm. (24 13⁄16 x 19 11⁄16 in.)
Pastel on paper.
Label on verso: Institute of Art of Minneapolis / lent by James / Bennet Jr: L67291
• Collection of Sigismond Bardac (c. 1850-1920), banker, Hôtel Mazin La Fayette, Paris.
• His sale, Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, 10-11 May 1920, lot 20, ill.
• Collection of Arnold Seligmann (1871-1935), Paris.
• Collection of James Bennet Jr, USA.
• On loan to Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
• Sale Boston, Skinner, 16 May 2008, lot 25, ill. (attributed to Nattier).
• Sale Paris, Delorme, Collin Du Bocage, 3 June 2008, lot 8 (attributed to Lasalle).
The virtuoso brilliance of Philippe de Lasalle’s fabrics decorated with flowers, birds, and arabesques as they diminish the fine line between silk weaving and painting remains breathtaking.
In contrast to his Lyonese colleagues, Lasalle (Delasalle or de La Salle) did not belong to a dynasty of artists or silk makers. His father, general tax collector of farms in Savoy at Seyssel, a French enclave in Savoy, died when the future painter was only a year old. The origins of his artistic vocation remains to be discovered, but taken under the wing by his maternal uncle, Etienne Benoit, he arrived in Lyons at about the age of fourteen to follow the usual path of silk designers. He thus began with an apprenticeship in a Lyonese, seemingly that of the academician Daniel Sarrabat (also Jean Pillement’s master). He then – a privilege reserved exclusively for the most talented and wealthiest students – left to continue his training in Paris, at Gobelins and the Savonnerie, as well as under François Boucher, followed by two of the most famous flower painters: Jean-Jacques Bachelier and Charles-Gilles Dutillieu.
In 1744, back in Lyons, he entered the Grande Fabrique , the guild which covered all the trades concerned with the confection and commercialization of “fabrics of gold, silver, and silk in the city.” He is recorded at Jean Mazancieu’s, master silk maker, learning how to run a loom and to transfer a design to a graph card. Five years later, having married Elisabeth Charryé (Charrier), he became his father-in-law’s associate as merchant-silk maker and head designer. He subsequently created his own manufactory.
Philippe de Lasalle’s talents were confirmed early with two inventions: the distribution of nuances by gradually shading colors and the specialization in fabrics for upholstery and furnishings. From then on, he never ceased to seek perfection in his designs and weaving in order to produce exceptional fabrics which surpassed anything else produced by the Grande Fabrique in terms of quality and finesse of essentially floral motifs. In 1760, Jean-Baptiste-François de La Michodière, Lyonese Intendant, wrote to Philibert Trudaine de Montigny, Trade Counsellor to the King, that Lasalle was “considered the best designer in Lyons.” The draperies commissioned by Catherine the Great and delivered to Russia between 1773 and 1780 were incontestably his masterpieces, especially the brushed lampas medallion portrait of the Empress surrounded by an incredibly complex wreath of flowers. Contrary to the guild’s practices, the artist signed his work, Lasalle fecit, as if it were a painting. For France, he produced the Louis XV’s coronation ornaments, his attire for the Order of the Holy Spirit, and many woven portraits.
A draughtsman-designer, Lasalle was also a mechanic, entrepreneur, merchant, and teacher. Thus he himself defined the necessary basis of his art: copy “after studies (books of engravings, botanical plates),” drawing from “natural flowers,” transfer to the graph card, composition, and “other rules of the designer’s art.” Flora is omnipresent in Lasalle’s work. He proved to be a veritable connoisseur, as he multiplied rare and common species, alternated meadow flowers with garden varieties, open corollas with fragile delicate buds.
His career began with drawing flowers and it is as a draughtsman of flowers that he depicts himself in a pastel conserved in Lyons which is appreciably close to the one we present. Cool coloring dominates, the slightly dry substance, the touching awkwardness in the foreshortening of the arm and the table, the summary rendering of the materials which are in contrast to the precision in the handling of the face, worthy of a great master. There isn’t any doubt that this is the same hand, and most certainly the same sitter, seen twenty years apart, if one goes by his attire: following the taste of the late 1760s in the Lyons Self-Portrait and that of about 1750 in our pastel. In addition to the characteristic gaze in the two self-portraits, the man’s identity is confirmed by comparing it to the Portrait of Philippe de Lasalle, at the age of seventy-five, drawn by Jean-Jacques de Boissieu.
In our picture, the artist depicts himself as a flower draughtsman. The tight composition and pose is not without similarities to the Self-Portrait by Louis Jean François Lagrenéé (oil on canvas, c. 1750, Helsinki, Sinebrychoff Museum, inv. A II 1415). While Lagrenée carries a portfolio under his arm, Lasalle has chosen to show himself working at a table on which he has arranged his utensils – pencil case with sanguine and chalk, grinding pestle, brushes – and his colors. He holds a music score in his hand on which he just painted a delicate bouquet of roses and orange flowers.
We would like to thank Mr. Neil Jeffares for the attribution of our work.
Bibliography of the Work
Neil JEFFARES, Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800, on-line version, updated December 31st, 2018: http://www.pastellists.com/ Articles/LASALLE.pdf, p. 1, no J.4514.103.
Marie-Jo DE CHAIGNON, “Philippe de Lasalle, dessinateur et fabricant d’étoffes de soie à Lyon au XVIIIe siècle,” Le Monde alpin et rhodanien. Revue régionale d’ethnologie, no 2-3/1991, Les filières de la soie lyonnaise, pp. 65-84.
Lesley E. MILLER, “The marriage of art and commerce: Philippe de Lasalle’s success in silk,” Art History, 28, 2005, pp. 200-226.
Lesley Miller, "Philippe De Lasalle et les innovations", Lyon innove : Inventions et brevets dans la soierie lyonnaise aux XVIIIe et XIXe siècles, Maria-Anne Privat-Savigny (dir.), Lyons: EMCC 2009, chap. 5, pp. 56-67.