François GUÉRIN
(Paris, 1717 - 1801)

Diane and Her Nymphs at their Bath

64.5 x 54 cm. (23 38 x 21 ¼ in.)
c. 1770. Oil on rectangular canvas (sketch for an oval composition)

Provenance
France, Private Collection.

Painter and miniaturist, François Guérin was baptised at Saint-Jean-en-Grève in Paris on October 22nd, 1717.1 In the register, his father, Pantaléon Guérin bears the title of “bourgeois of Paris,” without any indication of his profession. Pantaléon seems to have been well established in the capital and to have been of Burgundian origin: in 1713, he placed his cousin Nicolas, son of the late Jean Guérin, “plowman in Cry” as an apprentice with a carpenter.2

For his son François, Pantaléon chose the painting profession and Charles-Joseph Natoire’s prestigious studio. This training is confirmed by several sources, including Natoire’s own letter sent on March 6th, 1754 from Rome to Antoine Duchesne, Prévôt des Bâtiments du roi (Provost of the King’s Buildings) and where he says that he left a procuration to a certain Guérin who was his painting student.3

The young artist was already described as a “painter” in the guardianship letter of April 7th, 1742: orphaned of his father, he had to wait until the age of adulthood fixed at twenty-five years old before he could be emancipated.4 Another notarized act dated 1747 shows that Guérin as a member of the Academy of Saint Luke,5 the rival to the Royal Academy, which since 1705 had its own drawing school. Our artist is also found among the assistant professors starting with the Academy of Saint Luke’s first exhibition in 1751 (he exhibited Io changed into a Cow painted for the Academy’s competition) and until 1756.5 Thanks without a doubt to Madame de Pompadour’s backing, he then broke abruptly with that institution in order to enter the Royal Academy: he was approved in 1761 as a “painter of small scale special genre subjects,” and was received four years later upon presentation of a “small picture depicting a Market.”

Guérin participated in all the Salons between 1761 and 1783 by exhibiting portraits, as well as allegorical and gallant pictures which were often very small in scale. His reputation was established in 1777, with the commission for “part of the Ceiling, following that of M. Boullogne the Elder, in the Chamber of Requests of the Palace.”7 The preceding year he had married his daughter, Madeleine Victoire, to Louis de l’Arbre, Building Inspector for the Prince of Condé. François Guérin also had two sons: Thomas François (1756-1829) who became a painter and picture dealer, and Louis Charles, court clerk at Châtelet.

The first works known by François Guérin, signed and dated 1749, are two overdoors depicting an Allegory of Architecture and an Allegory of Painting which confirm the artist’s passage in Natoire’s studio. The female figures, faces, draperies, and color conception are borrowed from the master, although the student can be distinguished by a certain graphic freedom. The figure of Architecture is borrowed directly from a drawing by Natoire (Lyon, Museum of Fine Arts, inv. 2279). The master’s influence is equally very noticeable in Guérin’s Juno in her Chariot.6 This preparatory drawing was for a canvas exhibited in 1752 whose location since then is unknown, as is true for all the large religious and mythological paintings which Guérin exhibited at the beginning of his career and which won over a clientele mainly consisting of Parisian magistrates and financiers, such as Charles Savalette, Guard of the Royal Treasure, who owned a Leda and a Venus kissing Cupid.

Guérin’s real success was due to his most original works, small scale oils handled like miniatures. Among the collectors of this new genre were the miniaturist Jean-Baptiste Massé7 and especially Madame de Pompadour: The abbé de La Porte noted in his Observator Littéraire (Literary Observer) that most of the “small paintings” exhibited in the Salon of 1761 came from the personal collection of the Marquise. [5] In his chronicle, the editor does not tire of praising the artist:

As soon as he appeared on the scene, M. Guérin enjoyed well merited success in the new genre which he undertook. His works depict familiar subjects, some of which nonetheless show gallantry. He manner is to reduce the objects which he executes very well in oil to a very small scale; and without losing anything of the effect, he conserves all of the advantages which render a miniature precious.  [6]

Scattered in 1782 during the sale of the favorite’s brother, the Marquis de Marigny, three works confirm the special ties between Madame de Pompadour and François Guérin in the 1750’s: the portrait of the patroness with her daughter Alexandrine who died in 1754 (oil on copper, 31 x 24 cm. (12 316 x 9 716 in.) Geneva, private collection) and two oils on zinc, each depicting a Lady in Morning Dress accompanied by a child (Young Woman Writing a Letter with a Child nearby. Young Woman Reading a Letter. Oil on zinc. Each 15.8 x 11.5 cm. (6 ¼ x 4 ½ in.) Private Collection.) [7] The sketch drawn of the portrait is conserved in Sacramento (Madame de Pompadour and her Daughter Alexandrine, black and white chalks, sanguine highlights, on blue paper. 23.9 x 19 cm. (9 38/ x 7 ½ in.) Sacramento, Crocker Art Museum.) and the preparatory sketches for the two zincs are in the Albertina (inscribed “fait pour Mad. De Pompadour,” sanguine, black chalk, white highlights, 24.8 x 28.7 cm. (9 ¾ x 11 516 in.) inv. 12267 and 12266).

Among the artist’s known signed works dating after his entry into the Academy, some, such as the Domino Player (oil on wood, private collection) and the Concert, of which at least three versions exist, belong to the same genre of oil miniatures. On the other hand, more ambitious paintings demonstrate that the artist knew how to adapt to new tendencies brought in by François Boucher and then by Joseph-Marie Vien, all the while unwavering in his fidelity to Natoire’s teaching.

Our picture can be compared to the Venus, Cupid, and Two Nymphs, dated to the 1760’s which blends influences of both Natoire and Boucher (Signed F.Guerin. Oil on canvas. 83 x 129 cm. (32 1116 x 50 1316 in.) Saint-Pétersbourg, Ermitage, inv. 8419). Inherited from Natoire is the same conception of the quite elongated female figure with broad hips, relatively small feet and hands, along with vaporous brown hair. The comfortably seated woman in the foreground who glances at the viewer also comes from several of the master’s works which open with this figure who feigns addressing the real world. Similarly, if the very free manner brushed with large sustained brown contours is resolutely the same as in Guérin’s small pictures, it also takes after Natoire and his rare sketches, such as The Magi King Balthazar and his Retinue (oil on canvas, 53.5 x 29 cm. (21 116 x 11 716 in.) Paris, private collection).

At the same time, the gesture and poses of the goddess and nymphs recall The Three Graces Holding Cupid by Boucher (after 1765, oil on canvas, oval, 80 x 65 cm. (31 ½ x 25 58 in.) Paris, Louvre Museum, inv. MI 1023). Diana’s face also is reminiscent of the works of Madame de Pompadour’s favorite painter.

Finally, certain characteristics appear to be Guérin’s own. Thus, the brown predominance in the color conception, the coexistence in the same work, of parts which are summarily sketched and others which are delicately worked, and – more curious – the scarcely detailed toes. The swirling movement reinforced by the sides of the grotto in our picture are a constant feature of Guérin’s work. It is sufficient to evoke the Sketch of the Birth of Mgr. the Crown Prince, announced at the Hôtel-de-Ville at the same time as the Surrender of the Army under the Orders of General Cornwallis [8] exhibited in the Salon of 1783 and which, despite the difference in techniques, displays many points in common with our Diana. (Signed F. Guerin F. 1783. Watercolor, gouache, pen and brown ink. 38 x 30.5 cm. (14 1516 x 12 in.) Private Collection. )

Our painting is also probably only a sketch for an oval composition, but its independent presentation dates certainly from the 18th century. For this canvas is pure poetry, filled with sweet softness be it the downy rocks or the translucid sky embellished with barely perceptible light pink touches, be it the gaze and smile of each nymph. The virtually monochromatic realization in browns, heightened only by a few pinks and sky blues, as well as the composition organized in concentric ovals – that of the goddess, her companions, the grotto, and finally the setting – give the picture tremendous unity and place the emphasis on the light figure of Diana. Without all of her attributes as Divinity of hunting, she now appears as just a modest young woman unconscious of her beauty who is preparing to bathe in the grotto waters, sheltered from indiscreet stares, other than the spectator’s.
A.Z.

1Paris, BnF, Ms nouv. Acq. Fr.3240. In specialized literature, our painter is often confused with his homonym, the Alsatian engraver François Guérin, born in 1763 and died in 1791 in Strasbourg.

2Paris, AN Min. Cent., XIII, 176, August 29th, 1713: In this document, Pantaléon is said to be a Parisian bourgeois living at rue des Deux-Ponts, Saint Jean-en-Grève parish: “bourgeois de Paris demeurant rue des Deux-Ponts paroisse Saint Jean-en-Grève.”

3 Correspondance des directeurs d’Académie de France à Rome avec les surintendants des bâtiments, pub. A. de Montaiglon & J. Guiffrey, vol. XI, Paris, 1901, p. 18: he left “une procuration à un nomé Guérin qui a été mon élève dans la peinture.

4 Registre de tutelles, Paris, Archives Nationales, Y4598 A, April 7th, 1742.

5 Paris, AN Min. Cent., X, 477, 17 novembre 1747. François Guérin is abusively called a “painter at the Royal Academy.”

6 Jules Guiffrey, Livrets des Expositions de l’Académie de Saint-Luc à Paris, Paris, 1915, pp. 6, 23, 55, 96.

7 [Juno with her Chariot and Cupids, black chalk, white highlights on blue paper, 22 x 27.2 cm. (8 1116 x 11 1116) Paris, National School of Fine Arts Library, inv. PM 245.

8) In his last testament signed October 2nd, 1765, Jean-Baptiste Massé declared that he wished to give Charles Godefroy, lord of Villetaneuse, his associate who was a great painting collector, several works, including

a small work composed by M. Guérin, student of M. Natoire, depicting Venus commissioning Arms for Aeneas from Vulcan. This subject painted in oil is one of the best which was ever done in the genre. I hope it will meet with as much pleasure in the eyes of M. de Villetaneuse as it has always given mine. It is contained in a circle on the plain black shell tobacco box.

Published by Emile Campardon, “Un Artiste oublié : J. B. Massé, peintre de Louis XV, dessinateur, graveur”, Paris, Charavay Frères éd., 1880, p. 150 :
[[“un petit ouvrage de la composition de M. Guérin, élève de M. Natoire, représentant Vénus qui commande à Vulcain des armes pour Enée. Ce sujet, peint en huille, est un des mieux qu’il ait jamais faits en ce genre. Je souhaite qu’il ait autant d’agrément aux yeux de M. de Villetaneuse qu’il en a toujours eu aux miens. Il est retenu par un cercle dans une tabatière d’écaille noire toute simple.

9Plusieurs de ces morceaux appartiennent à Madame la Marquise de Pompadour,(L’Observateur littéraire, 1761, vol. IV, p. 169 n.).

10Dès en paroissant sur la scène, M. Guérin jouit d’un succès très-mérité dans le nouveau genre qu’il a entrepris. Ses ouvrages représentent des sujets familiers, dont quelques-uns néanmoins offrent de la galanterie. Sa manière est de réduire en petit, des objets qu’il exécute très-heureusement à l’huile ; &, sans rien perdre du côté de l’effet, il conserve tous les avantages qui rendent la mignature précieuse.

11 Catalogue des différens objets de curiosités dans les sciences et arts qui composoient le Cabinet de feu M. le Marquis de Ménars, Paris, hôtel de Ménars, February [March 18th and April 6th] 1782, pp. 13-14.

12Thus The Vestals and The Music Lesson (oil on canvas, 35.5 x 26 cm. (14 316x 10 ¼¼ in.) signed and dated 1785, Versailles Sale, Blache Antonini, March 21st, 1976, lot 69 and 70) or The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, painted in 1783 for the main altar of the Church of Saint Christopher of Coubron.

13 Esquisse sur la Naissance de Mgr le Dauphin, annoncée à l’Hôtel-de-Ville aussitôt que la reddition de l’armée aux ordres du Général Cornwallis

General Bibliography (unpublished œuvre)
Neil JEFFARES, Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800, London, 2006, p. 217.
Neil JEFFARES, Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800, on-line version en ligne updated July 6th, 2016, http ://www.pastellists.com/Articles/guerin.pdf.
Casimir STRYIENSKI, “Deux tableaux de François Guérin”, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1906, pp. 70-74.
Casimir STRYIENSKI, “François Guérin”, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1902, pp. 307-310.
Susanna CAVIGLIA-BRUNEL, Charles Joseph Natoire (1700-1777), Paris, Arthéna, 2012.

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