PROPERTY OF THE TOLEDO MUSEUM OF ART, SOLD TO BENEFIT THE ACQUISITIONS FUND
This Portrait of an Officer has traditionally been identified as a depiction of Marie-Joseph Paul Roch Yves Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de La Fayette, and has been published and exhibited as such for much of its life (see exhibited and literature). In fact, when Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy undertook the famous redecoration of the White House, she toured the palace of Malmaison. Inspired by the visit, she requested the loan of the present portrait to hang in the Cross Hall of the State Floor of the Executive Mansion (see figure 1), as a portrait of Lafayette. The decoration of the hall was a conscious evocation of the Empire style, and the portraits which were hung there were chosen for their American historical importance and their sympathy with the overall neoclassical scheme.
The physiognomy of the sitter in the present portrait, with his high forehead and aquiline nose, is certainly very close to securely identified portraits of Lafayette (see, for example, Houdon’s life mask of the sitter, a version of which is in the collection of Mount Vernon). The identification of the portrait as Lafayette is thus possible, but it comes from a period of his life with little other comparable material. It post-dates the many representations of his first fame during the American and early months of the French Revolution, and anticipates the even more abundant neo-classical and proto-romantic depictions from his “second” fame, during his triumphant progress around the United States in the mid 1820’s. These images were promulgated by American and French artists alike and this portrait by Heinsius is certainly a step towards those depictions of the sitter.
Johan-Ernst Heinsius had, like Lafayette, been forced to flee France for some time during the Revolution. Despite his connections to the erstwhile Royal family (he had been named the Peintre des Mesdames de France, artist to the sisters of Louis XV) and in spite of his foreign birth, he was eventually allowed to return to pick up his practice as a portraitist, albeit in the relative isolation of Orléans. Frequent trips to Paris, however, kept him abreast of artistic trends there, as well as afforded him a clientele in the capital itself. The present Portrait of an Officer would seem to date from this period in the artist’s career, at some time in the second half of the first decade of the 19th Century. It is comparable to another painting of this late period, a Portrait of a Young Man.1
1 Formerly in the collection of the Marquis de Biron, see C. Oulmont, J-E Heinsius, Paris 1913, cat. no. 116, illus.
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