From Court splendour to deca­dent glam­our

Su­san Jenk­ins ad­mires a se­lec­tion of drawn por­traits, many pre­vi­ously un­seen, that of­fer an in­ti­mate glimpse into French lives

Country Life Every Week - - Exhibition -

The Bri­tish Mu­seum is cur­rently ex­hibit­ing more than 65 French por­trait draw­ings from its own col­lec­tion, ex­plor­ing draughts­man­ship from the 16th to 19th cen­turies. ‘French por­trait draw­ings from Clouet to Courbet’ of­fers a thought­ful chrono­log­i­cal dis­play of smallscale, in­ti­mate im­ages, many of which have never been shown be­fore.

The works are grouped into four sec­tions: ‘Valois and early Bourbon France about 1550–1630’; ‘The Bourbon Kings about 1630–1760’; ‘Monar­chy, Revo­lu­tion and em­pire about 1760–1800’ and ‘New hori­zons about 1800–1900’. The dis­play be­gins with François Clouet’s draw­ing of Catherine de’ Medici, of about 1547, and ends with henri de Toulouse-lautrec’s equally re­gal chalk por­trait of cafe-con­cert star Mar­celle Lender.

Sarah Vowles, the cu­ra­tor, ex­plains that her main aim is to make vis­i­tors ‘more fa­mil­iar with lesser-known parts of the col­lec­tion’. her ex­hi­bi­tion seeks to high­light the changes in tech­nique that have oc­curred over the cen­turies and show how artists have ex­per­i­mented with dif­fer­ent modes of por­trai­ture. She also hopes that ‘by look­ing at these por­trait im­ages, vis­i­tors will get glimpses into the lives of the sit­ters and make a con­nec­tion with a van­ished world’.

Draw­ings have fre­quently been over­looked in com­par­i­son to paint­ings, be­ing re­garded as prepa­ra­tions for works on can­vas, which they of­ten were. We see here, how­ever, sev­eral por­trait stud­ies that are works of art in their own right. Par­tic­u­larly no­table are im­ages of mem­bers of the Valois Court, which were up­dated dur­ing the life­time of the sit­ters. Com­mis­sioned from Clouet by his royal pa­troness Catherine d’ Medici, they in­clude the two ear­li­est sur­viv­ing like­nesses of Catherine and her hus­band, henri II, dated about 1547.

up­dated these draw­ings sub­se­quent to their com­mis­sion, dress­ing the King in more in­for­mal at­tire and adding fresh wrin­kles to the face of the Valois courtier François de Sce­peaux, sire de Vielleville and maréchal de France.

Draw­ings were cheaper and eas­ier to pro­duce than works on can­vas, al­low­ing artists to be more ex­per­i­men­tal in their tech­nique and in­for­mal in their treat­ment of sit­ters. This is ex­em­pli­fied by the ex­quis­ite por­trait of the hand of Ital­ian artist Artemisia Gen­tileschi, by chalk spe­cial­ist Pierre Du­mon­stier II. ex­e­cuted when Du­mon­stier vis­ited Rome in 1625, the elo­quent black-and-red chalk por­trait is a fin­ished study in which the artist plays with the idea of what a por­trait is.

his ad­mi­ra­tion for Gen­tileschi is in­scribed on the back with the notes: ‘The hands of Au­rora are praised and renowned for their rare beauty. But this one is a thou­sand times more wor­thy for know­ing how to make mar­vels that send the most judicious eyes into rap­tures.’

As an in­for­mal medium, draw­ings were of­ten pre­sented as gifts be­tween friends, por­tray­ing sit­ters in the artist’s im­me­di­ate fam­ily or so­cial cir­cle. Ni­co­las de Plat­te­mon­tagne’s chalk Dou­ble por­trait of Jean Bap­tiste de Cham­paigne and his wife Geneviève, dated 1677, may have been an an­niver­clouet

Gus­tave Courbet as a con­fi­dent 33 year old in his char­coal Self-por­trait of 1852

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.