Lot 12
  • 12

ATTRIBUTED TO FRANÇOIS LEMOYNE AND HIS STUDIOPARIS 1688 - 1737 | A young woman at a sculpted fountain

20,000 - 30,000 EUR
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  • A young woman at a sculpted fountain
  • Oil on canvas
  • 73,9 x 93 cm; 29 by 36 1/2  in. 

Catalogue Note

François Lemoyne had a unique destiny in the history of eighteenth-century French painting. Promised to a bright future, a pupil of Levrac-Tournières and then of Louis Galloche, he won the Prix de Rome in 1771 with Ruth gleaning in the fields of Boaz (present whereabouts unknown). Although he was unable to go to Rome for budgetary reasons because of the then-ailing royal finances, he was however accepted as an Academician in 1718, with a painting depicting Hercules and Cacus (Paris, Ecole nationale des Beaux-Arts) which met with great success and earned him his first commissions.

If the artist subsequently enjoyed a prestigious career, culminating with the commission of the ceiling of the Salon d'Hercule at Versailles (1732-1736), which inaugurated a new era of monumental painting in France, and his nomination in 1736 to the post of First Painter to the King, Lemoyne was also a man of changeable temperament, subject to a certain melancholy according to several contemporary reports (including that of François Boucher himself, who was his pupil). Exhausted by the execution of the ceiling, his health declining rapidly, he committed suicide in September 1737, at the height of his renown.

Unpublished until now, the work presented here is known through several other versions, including variants. In the best-known of the compositions two figures appear (see on this subject J.-L. Bordeaux, François Le Moyne and his generation 1688-1737, Neuilly-sur-Seine, 1985, pp. 101-102 n° P 55, repr. fig. 54 and 55, for a second version): a young girl washing linen in a fountain and an old man dressed in Turkish fashion who seems to be interrupting her, giving the impression that he may be propositioning her. The iconography of this miniature play for two protagonists has never been satisfactorily explicated, whether drawn from the Bible, from mythology, or from another more recent source. Whatever the case, Jean-Luc Bordeaux dates the original composition to 1721-1723, just prior to Lemoyne's sojourn in Italy.

The work presented here only sets the scene for a single protagonist: the young woman washing white linen in the clear water of a stone fountain. Another version of this composition with a single figure is known (sold at Sotheby's Paris, 21 June 2012, lot 54). The latter is very slightly smaller than our version and is nearly square in format. The old man has likewise disappeared, probably because of a patron who wished to see only the young maid. Jean-Luc Bordeaux considers it an autograph work (with possible minor workshop participation) and dates it to 1725-1726, after Lemoyne's return from Italy, at a time when the artist was receiving numerous commissions for easel paintings.

The blonde palette of the present version, the delicacy of the flesh tones and the ample, swift yet precise brushstrokes suggest that this may be the work of Lemoyne himself, perhaps with the assistance of his workshop.

We are grateful to Dr. Jean-Luc Bordeaux for having confirmed the painting can be attributed to the artist and his studio, based on photographs; it will be included in his forthcoming catalogue raisonné.