Aimé-Benjamin Fleuriau (1709-1787) was left by his father penniless and burdened with debts. With few other options, he set sail for Santo Domingo in 1729, to join his uncle Paul Fleuriau there, and he remained in the colonies for 27 years, gradually making a fortune from trade, sugar production and property. He returned to La Rochelle a wealthy man in 1755, having entrusted his businesses to relatives. At that point he became engaged to the young Marianne Suzanne Liège (1733-after 1793), the daughter of another wealthy La Rochelle merchant with interests in the colonies. Perronneau's pastels, executed in 1756, may well have been made in celebration of the couple's betrothal.
In 1908 a mediocre copy after the portrait of Madame Fleuriau, formerly in the René d’Hubert collection, was included in the Exposition de cent pastels du XVIIIe siècle, at the Galerie Georges Petit (no. 83).2
Perronneau is regarded as one of the top two French pastellists of the 18th Century. Neil Jeffares has aptly described the artist’s ground-breaking achievements as a colourist in: ‘..obtaining extraordinary harmonies - e. g. garnets and violets against yellow grounds, or the characteristic green strokes to suggest shadows on flesh (which he usually depicts in a predominantly yellow tonality), anticipating the deconstructionist approach of Chardin and even of the impressionists.’ 3
His pastels are characterized by a remarkable spontaneity and although less flamboyant than those of his great rival La Tour, they convey a more realistic and immediate representation of the sitter.
1 N. Jeffares, op. cit., London 2006, p. 403
2 New York, Wildenstein, exhib. cat., op. cit., 2005-2006, p. 218, and note 9
3 N. Jeffares, loc. cit., p. 397
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