DescriptionJean-Baptiste van Loo (French, 1684-1745)
Portrait of a gentleman (formerly identified as the Marquis de Dreux-Brézé), circa 1720-30
Oil on canvas
32 x 25-1/2 inches (81.3 x 64.8 cm)
PROPERTY OF A TEXAS MUSEUM
Baron Arthur de Rothschild (1851-1903), Paris and Château de Vindrins, Vindrins (Oise), collection no. 22 (label stamped COLLECTION / de Monsieur le BARON / ARTHUR de ROTHSCHILD and annotated No 22, on which is also a red wax seal bearing the owner's coat of arms, is affixed to the painting's stretcher);(1)
Newhouse Galleries, New York, as of 1955 (as Nicolas de Largillière), inv. 60742 (label verso);(2)
William Lewis Moody III (1894-1992), San Antonio, Texas, acquired from the above as Nicholas de Largillière;
Presented by the above to the present owner, December 1969.
Christie's Monaco, Tableaux anciens et du XIXème siècle, December 4, 1992, n.p., cited under entry for lot 543.
The supposition that the person here depicted is the Marquis de Dreux-Brézé, stated since the portrait appeared on the New York art market in the 1950s, is without any foundation. In ancien régime France, it was unthinkable for a member of the noble class to be depicted without any orders or distinguishing official garb. This would have been especially so in the case of Michel de Dreux, Marquis de Brézé (1699-1754), who in 1720 was named Grand-Maître des Cérémonies de France, succeeding his father. A more likely candidate for an image of this court functionary is a full-length official portrait by Louis Michel van Loo (1707-1771), the son of Jean Baptiste van Loo, which was last recorded in a Christie's Monaco sale, December 4, 1992, lot 54 (See LITERATURE).
By contrast with the latter painting is the present work by Jean Baptiste van Loo, which represents a man, perhaps in his thirties, who confronts the viewer with a confident air and parted lips, as if in conversation. His eyes look straight forward, whereas his head turns slightly to the right, suggesting a certain reserve. A neutral background highlights the brilliantly characterized face, with its warm tones and subtle chiaroscuro. The bulk of the subject's chest extends almost the entire width of this half-length depiction and is further emphasized by his plain, black tunic. By contrast is the foreground flourish of yellow-lined, crimson drapery, which provides drama and distinction to this image. On the other hand, the untied blue ribbon that descends from the sitter's white collar adds an air of informality (and implied activity) and is masterfully painted.
Jean Baptiste van Loo first studied painting with his father, Abraham Louis van Loo (1656-1712) of Nice, whose own father and grandfather were likewise painters. Jean Baptiste eventually trained his own brother, Carle Vanloo (as he preferred to spell his surname), and went on to father three accomplished artists, Louis Michel, François and Charles Amédée. Early in his career he gained a reputation for supplying religious pictures for churches at Aix-en-Provence and Toulon. His talents as a portraitist were equally well-regarded, as in the prestigious commission he received in about 1712 to paint Antoine de Grimaldi, Prince of Monaco, and his family, a picture now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Saint-Lô. Similar work brought him to Genoa, where he remained for eight months, and Turin, where he was patronized by Victor Amadeus II, Duke of Savoy. It was in the latter capital that Van Loo became known to the Prince de Carignan, who paid for the painter's additional training (as well as that of Carle Vanloo), which took place in 1714, under Benedetto Lutti, in Rome. After that stay, Jean Baptiste returned to Turin. Carignan thereupon invited him to transfer, in about 1719, to Paris, where the prince had settled definitively.
Van Loo gained much success in the French capital. In late 1722, he obtained associate membership (agréé) in the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. One year later, he completed an equestrian portrait of the young king, Louis XV, with the assistance of Charles Parrocel (Musée national du Château de Versailles), which received much acclaim. The complete collapse of John Law's Mississippi Company, which led to France's economic downturn, ruined Van Loo's finances, and he was forced to take on multiple portrait commissions to obtain solvency. Eventually, in 1731, he obtained full membership (reçu) in the Académie Royale, producing Diana and Endymion (Musée du Louvre, Paris) as his diploma piece.
The present portrait was presumably painted in Paris; it certainly dates prior to 1737, when Van Loo moved to London. There his portraiture took on a new cast, becoming "sufficiently free from flamboyancy to satisfy the English taste for unaffected realism." (S. West, "Loo, van:  Jean-Baptiste van Loo," www.oxfordartonline.com http://www.oxfordartonline.com ). There, he developed a lucrative practice, executing likenesses of the royal family and Britain's prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole. Van Loo returned to France in October 1742, dividing his time between his native Aix-en-Provence and Paris, where he trained his three painter sons. He died on September 19, 1745. The present work can be compared with several portraits by Van Loo dating from his English sojourn, such as that of Colley Cibber and His Daughter (lost; known from an engraving by Edward Fisher, 1758); the 2nd Duke of Grafton (The Duke of Grafton collection); Sir Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford (Lyme Hall); George Wade (United Service Club, London); and Sir Charles Hanbury Williams (Lady Hanbury Williams collection). (For illustrations of those works, see respectively J. Kerslake, National Portrait Gallery: Early Georgian Portraits, London, 1977, II, pls. 149, 274, 602, 831, 891.)
(1) Arthur de Rothschild was the son of Nathaniel de Rothschild, of the British branch of the famous banking and collecting family, and Charlotte de Rothschild, of the French branch. Evidencing slight interest in the family firm, he spent most of his life in Paris (see www.family.rothschildarchive.org http://www.family.rothschildarchive.org ).
(2) According to annotation on photograph, Frick Art Reference Library, New York (see Largillière "supply" photos). The painting was still owned by Newhouse Galleries in early 1967; see their advertisement in Burlington Magazine, CIX, January 1967, p. ix.
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