117
117
Nicolas de Largillierre
PORTRAIT OF THE BARON DE BESENVAL; PORTRAIT OF THE BARONNE DE BESENVAL
Estimate
120,000160,000
LOT SOLD. 125,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT
117
Nicolas de Largillierre
PORTRAIT OF THE BARON DE BESENVAL; PORTRAIT OF THE BARONNE DE BESENVAL
Estimate
120,000160,000
LOT SOLD. 125,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

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Nicolas de Largillierre
PARIS 1656 - 1746
PORTRAIT OF THE BARON DE BESENVAL; PORTRAIT OF THE BARONNE DE BESENVAL
a pair, both oil on canvas
each: 54 1/2  by 41 1/4  in.; 138.5 by 104.3 cm.
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Provenance

Besenval collection;
Henri Coïc;
His Estate sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 5-6 February 1872, lot 18;
There purchased by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), Paris;
Thence by descent to his daughter, Mme. Aimé-Nicolas Morot, née Suzanne-Mélanie Gérôme (1867-1941);
Anonymous sale, Paris, Palais Galliera, 4 March 1961, lot 4 (Baron de Besenval) and lot 5 (Baronne de Besenval);
Mme. de Pitray (Portrait of the Baronne de Besenval only), until 1979;
The portraits were reunited in 1979 through the efforts of Georges de Lastic.

Exhibited

Paris, Petit Palais, Exposition N. de Largillière, May - June 1928, 1st ed. of catalogue, cat. no. 64; 2nd ed., cat. nos. 70 and 111, reproduced pl. VII (Baron de Besenval);
New York, Wildenstein, A Treasury of French Art from the Renaissance to Modern Times (World's Fair Exhibitions), Summer 1964, cat. no. 48 (Baron de Besenval).

Literature

Postmortem inventory of the collection of the painter, Jean-Léon Gérôme, 25 January 1904 (Paris, Archives nationales de France, Minutier Central [M. Boullaire, notary], Etude Frédéric Roiena et Vincent Roussel, 5 quai Voltaire, étude XII): Grand Salon/262o  Deux tableaux de Largillière, portraits d'homme et de femme, prisés quarante mille francs...40000 [francs];
Fontenilles, "Figurines et silhouettes: Le baron de Besenval," in Historia, VIII, No. 59, 5 May 1912, p. 97, reproduced on cover (Baronne de Besenval);
C. Gronkowski, "L'Exposition N. de Largillière au Petit Palais," in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 5e pér., XVIII, June 1928, p. 330, reproduced p. 329 (Baron de Besenval);
J.-J. Fiechter, Le Barone Pierre-Victor de Besenval, Lausanne 1993, reproduced plates 5 and 6;
B. Schubiger, "Allegorien der Künste und Wissenschaften. Ein Zyklus des französischen Malers Sébastien II Le Clerc (1676-1763) aus dem Jahre 1734 im Schloss Waldegg bei Solothurn," in Zeitschrift für Schweizerische Archäologie und Kunstgeschichte, LI, No. 2, 1994, reproduced p. 77, fig. 2 (Baron Besenval);
D. Brême, "Largillierre: un géant retrouvé," in Dossier de l'Art, No. 50, September 1998, pp. 52, 54, reproduced pp. 68-69, figs. 58 and 59;
Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André, Nicolas de Largillierre 1656 - 1746, exhibition catalogue, 2002-3, reproduced pp. 54-55.

Catalogue Note

This pair of portraits is a striking example of the type of grand portraiture popular at the end of Louis XIV’s reign, and for which Largillierre was greatly in demand from his royal and aristocratic patrons.  The emphasis was on pomp and splendor, affirming the sitter’s wealth and official position.1  Largillierre was first exposed to court portraiture in his early training in England in the studio of Sir Peter Lely, Principal Painter to Charles II.  Upon his return to Paris in 1679, Largillierre came under the protection of Charles Le Brun, Premier Peintre to Louis XIV and the Director of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, to which Largillierre was elected an associate member in 1683.  As early as circa 1680-81, he painted a portrait of Louis XIV (known from an engraving) as well as other members of the royal family.  To evoke all the grandeur of court life, Largillierre rendered his subjects in elegant poses within palatial settings, making ample use of sumptuous and richly colored drapery, costumes and accessories.

Jean Victor II, Baron de Besenval et du Saint-Empire (1671-1736) belonged to a noble Swiss family of Aostian origin which settled permanently in Switzerland in the early 17th century.  His grandfather, Martin Besenval (1600-1660) had been elevated to the aristocracy by Louis XIV and given the title of Baron de Brunstatt, and was also allowed to buy for his son, Jean Victor I de Besenval (1638-1713), a colonelcy in the Swiss Guards, a military rank that passed from father to son in subsequent generations.  Jean Victor II received knighthood in the military order of Saint Louis in 1705 and was made brigadier general in the infantry of the French army.  He later served the French monarchy in the diplomatic corps, first as an envoy to Charles XII of Sweden and then at the court of King Stanislas Leczinski at Warsaw.  In 1718, during his mission to Poland, he married Catherine Bielinska (circa 1688-1761), the daughter of Grand Marshal François Bielinski.  Their son, Pierre Joseph Victor (1721-1791) was a favorite of Queen Marie-Antoinette and best known for his account of life at the court of Louis XVI, Mémoires relatifs à la Révolution française, and for his important art collection.2

By the time this pair of portraits was in the collection of Henri Coïc, the sitters’ identity had been lost.  At the Coïc Estate sale in 1872, they were acquired by the painter Jean-Léon Gérôme who bequeathed them to his daughter, Mme Aimé-Nicolas Morot.  In 1928, the paintings were shown at the Largillierre retrospective at the Petit Palais where only the portrait of Baron de Besenval was correctly identified.  The portraits were separated in 1961 when they were featured in an auction held in Paris at the Palais Galliera and were reunited in 1979 through the efforts of the late Georges de Lastic.

These works will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the works of Largillierre by Georges de Lastic and Dominique Brême.

 

1.  See D. Wakefield, French Eighteenth Century Painting, New York 1984, p. 13.
2.  His portrait, The Baron de Besenval in His "Salon de Compagnie," by Henri-Pierre Danloux, now in the National Gallery, London, was sold in these rooms on 27 May 2004 , lot 35, for $2,472,000.

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