Francois Le Moyne, pupil of Louis Galloche (1670-1761), won the coveted Prix de Rome in 1711 but was not offered the traditional trip to Rome due to the economic climate in France at the time. Le Moyne only travelled to Italy in the early 1720s and stayed for a few short months, accompanied by his patron and advisor Monsieur François Berger. He was, however, greatly influenced by Italian artists such as Correggio and Pietro da Cortona and his admiration for the Sienese painter Federico Barocci is evident through the studies he made of his drawings.1 Elected professor of the Académie de Peinture in 1733, his pupils included Natoire and Boucher. Le Moyne was held in high regard during his lifetime and produced magnificent ceiling decorations at Versailles. His drawings were collected by the most discerning connoisseurs of the century, including Crozat, Mariette, Gersaint, Lempereur and Count Tessin.
Throughout his short career Le Moyne used three basic techniques when working on his drawings. His methods are concisely documented by Jean-Luc Bordeaux, in his 1984 monograph on the artist, as red chalk drawings on beige paper, black chalk studies heightened with white chalk on blue or grey paper and finally trois crayons and/or pastels.2 Bordeaux highlights the fact that works in both trois crayons and pastel are rare but remarks that Nonnotte (Donat Nonnotte, one of Le Moyne’s first biographers) ‘reported that Le Moyne took great pains in making specific pastel studies of heads of the principal figures in his most important commissions…’3 This revealing comment suggests that this was an important element in Le Moyne’s artistic endeavors and shows that whilst very few pastels survive today, he must have produced many more studies in this medium in preparation for his larger commissions.
In a communication to the previous owner, Jean Luc Bordeaux presented convincing arguments supporting the attribution of the present pastel to Le Moyne. While the head study does not relate directly to any known painting, Bordeaux identifies a number of painted figures by the artist to which she can be plausibly compared, on the basis of the facial type and tilt of the figure's head as well as a variety of other nuances. He likens this beautiful head to the maiden in A maiden soaking a small piece of cloth in a fountain (known in two versions, in private collections)4, in which the facial features are similarly rendered in terms of the eyes and lips, and the manner in which the artist has handled the hair and ribbon is also comparable. Bordeaux also cites the figure of Andromeda in the Perseus and Andromeda in the Wallace Collection5, where again facial features such as the chin and almond shaped eyes are very comparable, and the Venus in Venus and Adonis in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, in which once more the nose and lips, and handling of the hair, are all very similar.6
Other stylistic elements that Bordeaux identifies as typical of Le Moyne’s work include the rapid, rounded strokes made with a hard pastel stick to define the hair, and the light stumping around the corners of the figure's mouth, eyebrows and eyelids. He remarks on Le Moyne’s ability to create the softness of his sitter’s skin, evident and emphasized in the present work where this softness stands out against the more angular lines used to describe the borders of her garment.
Given that almost all of Le Moyne's known works in pastel or colored chalks are representations of men, and the one exception is the extraordinary Head of the Goddess Hebe in the British Museum, London, which is drawn in trois crayons7, it is hard to find really close comparisons between our pastel and others by the artist, but Bordeaux does mention a number of drawings by Le Moyne in other media that share some similar characteristics with the present work.8
Le Moyne’s close relationship with his patron and friend François Berger has led Bordeaux tentatively to suggest that this beguiling and beautiful young woman may have been a member of the social circle of Berger and his wife. Her identity is, however, irrelevant to our appreciation of this refined image, or to the light that it sheds on our understanding of Le Moyne's work in this medium, a fascinating aspect of the artist's short but fruitful career.
1. Jean-Luc Bordeaux, François Le Moyne and his Generation 1688-1737, Neuilly-sur-Seine 1984, p. 140, figs 126 and 127
2. Ibid., p. 139
4. Ibid., figs 54 and 55
5. Ibid., fig 39
6. Ibid., Plate V
7. Ibid., fig. 274
8. Ibid., cat nos. D. 80-81, 83, 84, 113
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