Thursday, October 20, 2011

Old Pastel Portraits

Maurice Quentin de La Tour
M. Duval de l'Épinoy

A few days ago I did a little feature here about Jean-Baptiste Perronneau, a relatively obscure 18th century French portraitist. A friend asked if I couldn't produce some additional examples, especially of the portrait pastels that were all the fashion during those last few corrupt and refined rococo decades before the Revolution. We agreed there seemed to be some sort of silvery patina overlaying these ancien régime pictures of the doomed. Perronneau himself produced the portrait below, a pastel of his rival pastellist Maurice Quentin de La Tour.

Exhibiting La Tour's portrait turned out to be imprudent. At the same Salon, La Tour surprised the crowd by exhibiting a competing likeness of himself, done by himself (below). It was a nasty trick, exactly because nobody could deny the overpowering bravura of La Tour's picture. Perronneau and his work became laughingstocks.

La Tour monopolized the top tiers of the market (collage of examples above), allowing a crowd of people like poor Perronneau to sweep up lesser commissions.

Maurice Quentin de La Tour
Marechal de Saxe

Maurice Quentin de La Tour
Mlle. Ferrand Meditating Upon Newton

Jean Valade
Portrait of a Marquis

Jean-Étienne Liotard
Charles-Simon Favart, auteur dramatique

Rosalba Carriera
Portrait of a Woman

Rosalba Carriera
Portrait of Horace Walpole on the Grand Tour

Rosalba Carriera

For anybody else like my friend who wants to see more of this style, a good place to start is Neil Jaffares' Dictionary of Pastellists Before 1800 issued a couple of years ago as a thick expensive hardback, but also for the most part available free and full text here.