Charles PARROCEL (Paris, 1688 - 1752)

A Fusilier from the French Army seen from behind

45 x 40 cm. (17 1116 x 15 ¾ in.)
c. 1744-1745. Sanguine and white chalk highlights on beige paper. Horizontal fold.

• Sale, Paris, Drouot, Me Tilorier, 23-25 January 1980, lot 269, ill.
• Jacques Malatier (1926-2017) Collection, Paris.
• His Sale, Paris, Drouot, Ader, 10 October 2018, lot 23.

Active from the 16th through 18th centuries, the Parrocels were one of the longest dynasties of French artists. They worked in Paris as well as Montbrison, from whence they originated, and in Avignon, Rome, Vienna, Venice. In fact, it was in the Venetian Republic that Joseph Parrocel forged a loose vigorous easily recognizable style which blossomed in his battle and hunting scenes. His aesthetic found its logical continuation in the nonetheless original work of his son. As Joseph died before Charles was sixteen years old, the son was not able to take advantage of his father’s advice for very long, but he benefited from the visual language of the works themselves. His inventory after death reveals that he owned several canvases by Joseph, as well as a certain number of drawing portfolios, including one of three hundred forty sheets.

The young artist completed his training under Charles de La Fosse and Bon de Boullogne. According to Antoine-Joseph Dezallier d’Argenville, he also served in the cavalry in order to gain better knowledge of “the military details he was destined to depict.” In 1712, Parrocel went to Italy where he spent several years. Received into the Academy in 1721 upon presentation of the Cavalry and Infantry Combat, he rapidly acquired a great reputation, like his father’s, as a painter of battles and military life: critics unanimously acclaimed him for his lively imagination, powerful use of color, and facility in brushwork. His identified painted corpus nonetheless remains relatively reduced, and consists mainly of large royal commissions such as Mehemet Effendi, the Turkish Ambassador, arriving at the Tuileries, March 21st, 1721, presented at the competition organized by the Duke of Antin in 1727, The Elephant Hunt and the Bull Hunt for Louis XV’s Exotic Hunts in the Grand Gallery of Versailles, and especially the series illustrating the Flanders campaign of 1744-1745.

Charles Parrocel’s known work, on the other hand, includes more than two hundred fifty drawings in various techniques, a disparity that was noticed already in the 18th century by Pierre-Jean Mariette: “one can count his paintings, there are so few of them; he did a greater quantity of drawings […] and among them can be seen some that are pure beauty.” This observation is picked up by a contemporary anonymous biographer who indicates that the artist “left a considerable number of drawings that are scattered as much throughout the kingdom as in foreign countries where they are highly sought.” Among the admirers of his talent can be found all the great drawing collectors of the period, such as Dezallier d’Argenville, Jean de Julienne, Count Carl Gustav de Tessin, and Antoine de La Roque, Director of the Mercure de France.

As was the case for many of his colleagues, drawings constituted an autonomous mode of expressions for Parrocel, and certain sheets had no particular destination. Others, however, were intended to become engravings or were in preparation of paintings, as can be seen in drawings of isolated figures outlined in black or red chalk made for the Turkish Ambassador Arriving at the Tuileries, such as the Figure in Oriental Costume seen from behind.

At first glance, our drawing seems to belong to this same group of studies often taken on the spot. It consists of a foot soldier armed with his rifle, seen from the rear to his waist, advancing with very supple natural movements. His unadorned uniform and lack of a wig betray his status as a simple soldier. This figure can easily be imagined in one of Charles Parrocel’s battle scenes in the heat of the action, marching with his infantry regiment against an enemy group. Such figures seen from behind appear constantly in the artist’s work, as they make it possible to accentuate the depth of space and direct movement into the distance, as opposed to massing the protagonists in the foreground.

Nonetheless, the precise rendering, controlled line, judiciously placed white highlights, balanced composition, and especially, the large format of our sheet suggest a completed drawing rather than a preliminary sketch of figure study which usually are smaller. Our sanguine can be compared to a Seated Soldier Holding a Glass, drawn in red, black, and white chalk which is of similar dimensions (40 x 20 cm. private collection.)

Here the framing at the waist and tight hatching in the background contribute to isolating the figure, and give him a monumentality which is unimaginable in a vaster composition of multiple figures. At the same time, the veracity of his quick movement which fluffs the hair on his temples suggests observation made on the spot, probably when the artist accompanied the king’s troops in Flanders. This factor makes it possible to date our drawing to about 1744-1745.

General Literature (Unpublished Work)
Emmanuelle BRUGEROLLES (dir.), Une Dynastie de peintres, les Parrocel, exh. cat. Paris, École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, “Carnets d’études 9, ” 2007.
Hélène Rihal, Charles Parrocel, nouvelles perspectives de recherches, mémoire de DEA, Université de Paris, 2003.

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