PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE COLLECTOR
oil on canvas
P. de Nolhac, Nattier: Peintre de la Louis XV, 1925, p. 227.
This elegant and refined portrait dates from Nattier's late career and appears to be the painting which is described by Pierre de Nolhac (see Literature), "Quelques portraits de grands seigneurs sont...de cette epoque...En 1756, Nattier peint le duc de Mortemart, plus tard gouverneur de Paris, en colonel de dragons, avec un habit rouge au cool de fourrure, tenant son casque a la main, et le jeune chevalier du Saint Espirit en manteau rouge..." The sitter, Jean Victor de Rochechouart (1712-1771) was the son of Jan-Baptiste de Rochechouart (1682-1747) and Marie-Madeleine Colbert. Here he is decorated with the Ordre Royal et Militaire de Saint-Louis, a title awarded for exceptional military service, which was in essence the predecessor of the Légion d'honneur. Both titles in fact share a ceremonial red ribbon, though the Légion d'honneur is awarded to both military personnel and civilians.
A departure from his more well known and often formulaic depictions of idealized women in allegorical or mythological guises, Nattier here offers a more straightforward approach in his portrait style. By 1756 when this work was executed, court and Salon tastes had shifted in favor of more naturalistic depictions of sitters, much in the style of Nattier's son in law Louis Tocqué (see lot 65). Such changes in fashion may offer insight into Nattier's decision to present the Duc de Mortemart in a regal, yet traditional manner. Although the vogue for the kind of grandiose portraits that made Nattier's fame had begun to wane, as the preeminent court painter in France he still received important commissions through the end of his career. The present example ranks among the finest. The Duc de Mortemart is not otherworldy, but rather he is seated and shown as an accomplished man with high military honors. In this regard the painting is a departure from his earlier work, but in its technique and rendering of surfaces the portrait contains all of the hallmarks which made Nattier the most sought after portraitist during the first half of the eighteenth century. The sitter's deep red coat with fur lining are lusciously detailed, and his porcelain-like skin with slightly blushed cheeks is entirely typical of the artists very best examples.
The frame which accompanies this painting represents the epitome of a grand-luxe portrait frame in late Louis XV style, and the finest of its pattern recorded by Paul Mitchell and Lynn Roberts. A group of earlier frames on Nattier's portraits of the 1740s are identical to each other, indicating that he, like many artists, was generally faithful to one workshop of carvers and gilders.1 This workshop would have been part of the Bâtiments du roi, run by one of the dynasties of families who acted as framemakers and carvers of boiseries to the French court: for instance Mathieu Legoupil, whose sketches in his carnets show details highly reminiscent of this frame, in the frieze panels, and in the lush foliation of the rails.
This frame may very well be original to the portrait. It is fifteen years later than the group mentioned above; however, frame styles tended to be long-lived, overlapping with subsequent and earlier styles. Given that the portrait may have been painted to celebrate the Duc's taking his seat in Parliament in 1755, the choice of style for the frame is appropriately conservative rather than avant garde, compensating for this in the almost overwhelming opulence of the craftsmanship and finish.This frame exists as an objet d'art in its own right, celebrating the apogee of the framemaker's craft: bringing together the work of the carver, the répareuror re-cutter, and the gilder.
Another version, also signed and dated 1756, but of inferior quality to the present example was sold New York, Sotheby's, 5 April 1990, lot 259.2
When last offered at sale (see Provenance) it was indicated that this picture was to be included in the Wildenstein Institute's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the works of Nattier.
We are grateful to Paul Mitchell for his assistance in the research and description of the frame.
1. See P. Mitchell & L. Roberts, Frameworks, 1996, p. 209, figs. 157, 159, 160.
2. That picture also listed the Nolhac 1925 reference under literature, though which work it directly references remains uncertain.
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