Important 18th Century Work by Woman Enters Collection
Circa 1750, oil on canvas.
Museum Purchase: Funds provided by the Janet and Richard Geary Endowment for European Art, 2013.
An engaging new personality inhabits the European Galleries. Handsome and debonair, he is the picture of mid-18th-century French charm and nonchalance. Although his identity remains a mystery for the moment, it is clear that he is a man of learning and fashion. He wears a luxurious justaucorps of violet-gray velvet lined with cheetah fur, a richly embroidered silk waistcoat, and a fine lace jabot at his throat. Seated at a writing desk, he looks up from his reading to engage the viewer. His wide eyes, direct gaze, and gentle smile project an air of warmth and accessibility rare in an era when men were mostly portrayed with detached sobriety. He comes across as someone we would want to meet.
The artist Marianne Loir belonged to a family of silversmiths active in Paris for at least a century. She studied with two of the best painters of her day, Hubert Drouais (1699-1767) and Jean François de Troy (1679-1752), whose Allegory of Music in the collection is well known to Museum visitors. Loir specialized in portraits of the nobility and intelligentsia, and they are characterized by a delicate, refined manner and elegant color schemes.
Nonetheless, she found it difficult to compete for commissions in the capital and moved to the south of France, where she became a member of the École Académique de Marseille in 1762. Many will remember seeing Loir’s charming portrait of Antoine Duplàa dressed as a gardener at age nine from the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Tours, in the Museum-organized 2009 exhibition La Volupté du Goût: French Painting in the Age of Madame de Pompadour.
Because Loir’s works are not as familiar as those by her male contemporaries, portraits are still being discovered. This painting was long attributed to the Swedish portraitist Alexander Roslin and then to the French painter Jacques Aved, even though it is not typical of their works. The distinguished scholar Joseph Baillio recently recognized that it bears the distinctive hallmarks of Loir’s style, particularly the rendering of the eyes, the lace, and the highlights on the velvet. Furthermore, the writing desk with ormolu mounts is found in three other portraits by the artist, so it must have been a studio prop. The attribution is now secure and has been accepted by leading experts in French 18th-century painting.
There are very few works by the artist in America, the most noteworthy being the Presumed Portrait of Madame Geoffrin in the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C. We are delighted to add such a fine painting to our permanent collection thanks to the support of The Janet and Richard Geary Endowment for European Art. It enhances some of our best contemporaneous paintings, including Boucher’s Portrait of a Lady and Louis Tocqué’s Portrait of a Young Man in Armor, and it addresses the historic under-representation of women artists in the collection. It is the first important acquisition in the Museum’s campaign to add 125 works by female artists for the 125th anniversary in 2017.
—Dawson Carr, Ph.D., The Janet and Richard Geary
Curator of European Art