Charles Antoine COYPEL
(Paris, 1694 - 1752)

The Child Jesus in His Cradle

37.5 x 45.4 cm. (14 ¾ x 17 7/8 in.)
c. 1740 Pastel and black chalk on blue paper laid down on canvas

• France, Private Collection.

Œuvres en rapport
-  Autograph version in a private collection, 36 x 45 cm. (14 3/16 x 17 ¾ in.) (Sale, Sotheby’s, London , July 7th, 1999, lot 211 ; then Lombrail-Teycquam sale, November 3rd 1999, lot 109).
-  Autograph replica mentioned in the post-mortem inventory of Jean Valade, Coypel’s student, established December 17th, 1787 (no 19, valued at 19 livres with other works, see Marie-Hélène Trope, Jean Valade “Peintre ordinaire du Roi”. 1710-1787, exhibition catatalogue, Poitiers, 1993, p. 151).
-  Engraved by Gaspard Duchange in 1748.
-  Painted replica, attributed to Coypel’s studio, 36.8 x 48.9 cm. (14 ½ x 19 ¼ in.) private collection. (Sale Sotheby’s, New York, May 23rd, 2001, lot 117 ; then Paris, Tajan, December 18th, 2002, lot 39).

On Saturday, September 7th, 1748 during a regular session of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, Gaspard Duchange “engraver and councilor, age eighty-seven years, presented two proofs of a plate he had engraved after M. Coypel, with the subject of the Infant Jesus in the Cradle: said plate was set under the privilege of the Academy.” The anonymous author of this text contemporaneous with the Manuscript catalogue of the engraved work by and after Charles Coypel, specified that this was the famous engraver’s last work who “requested the favor of M. Coypel to let him end his career with this preciously executed piece, because, he said, my burin began with a work by Sir your father and I would like to finish with (illegible) you.” The plate was presented to the Salon in 1748 with the following notice: “By M. Duchange, Councilor of the Academy. An Engraved piece, representing Jesus in the Cradle; after a Pastel by M. Coypel, Knight, First Painter to the King, Director of the Academy.”

Long considered lost, Coypel’s pastel reappeared for a short moment on the market in 1999. The beautiful undoubtedly autograph work had an oval shape and the composition of the engraving was its reverse. It appeared to be the result of Charles-Antoine Coypel’s personal reflections on the polysemous iconography of The Child Jesus Asleep.

Son and student of Antoine Coypel (1661-1722), Charles-Antoine led a brilliant academic career which culminated in 1747 by his appointment as First Painter to the King and Director of the Academy, positions which his father had already occupied. In about 1725, if one goes by the first of two dates inscribed on the Sleep of the Child Jesus conserved in the Municipal Museum of Cholet, Coypel became interested in the theme.. He returned to it many times up until the early 1740’s, namely for the painting realized for his maternal uncle in 1732, then in the Virgin and Child (private collection), and in the large “almost square” canvas depicting Jesus as a Child in the Cradle exhibited in the Salon of 1743 (no 2 in the livret, disappeared). For the shape of the cradle which isolates the child from the world and for the Virgin’s pose, Coypel was inspired by the Holy Family, also called the Virgin and Cradle by Rubens (Florence, Galleria Palatina), one of the artist’s most famous paintings. At the same time, the figure of the large blond child overtaken by sleep came from the Sleep of the Child Jesus by Charles Le Brun (Sommeil de l’Enfant Jésus, Paris, Louvre Museum), the painter he admired the most. Finally, the large pillow with multiple folds which made it possible for the child to appear seated upright very naturally, the large drapery which resembles a theater curtain (Coypel’s second passion, for he was also a dramatist), and above all, the little cross positioned, like a toy itself at the level of the cradle, undoubtedly belonged to the artist.

The rediscovery of our pastel makes it possible to pose the question of the picture presented to the Salon of 1743. Though it is evident that Duchange’s engraving depended on the pastel sold in 1999 of which a painted version also exists which is too stiff to be autograph, several details do not allow us to see a simple replica in our work. In fact, although the gracious pose of Jesus which is elaborated in the previous paintings is exactly the same, as are the woven wicker and the drapery folds which make the cradle resemble a cloud, the heavy curtain overlaps the oval which thus ceases to be a border. It is described as a large frame filled with an intense blue, that of the habit of France giving Thanks to Heaven for the Recovery of Louis XIV (pastel dated 1744, Louvre, DAG, inv. RF 31.419).

With colder tones than the second pastel, while also being more spectacular and theatrical, our work might be truer to the Salon painting. The fine black chalk lines which underlie the main contours of the drawing would thus have been to facilitate its reproduction. They in no way disturb the delicate modeling nor Coypel’s artistic virtuosity as a great pastellist. One can also see his attraction for color, be it in the exquisite transitions, in the complexion between light and rosy tints, expert utilisaton of the paper’s blue which shows through in places, the audacious juxtaposition of lapis bleu and amaranth red spread through reflections across the sheets and golden wicker.

- Thierry LEFRANÇOIS, Charles Coypel, peintre du roi (1694-1752), Paris, Arthena, 1994, p. 313, no P.199 (comme disparuas disappeared).
- Neil JEFFARES, Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800, London, 2006, p. 146.
- Neil JEFFARES, Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800, on line version en ligne updated April 29th, 2015,, pp. 6-7, repr.

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