Saturday, February 09, 2013

Intimacy And Exquisiteness, Atmosphere And Presentation

Maurice Quentin de La Tour (1704-1788)
Portrait Of The President Of Rieux
Musée Cognacq-Jay, Paris

Pastel On Paper Mounted On Canvas
46 3/8 Inches By 36 Inches


Maurice Quentin de La Tour carried the difficult and capricious pastel medium to a point of sheer technical brilliance not reached before or since. His mastery of pastels led not only to imitation but to fears that he would provoke a distaste for oil paint.

Masterpieces From The Norton Simon Museum, a publication of the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena


In this magnificent portrait, first shown at the Salon of 1742, the artist presented Suzanne-Marie-Henriette de Boulainvilliers (1696-1776) dressed for a ball. The subject was forty-five years of age at the time of the portrait.

“Portrait Of The President Of Rieux” is one of the most significant pastel portraits created by the greatest of all pastellist artists—and among the largest in size. It is among the half-dozen largest portraits by the artist, and among the half-dozen finest portraits by the artist.

Because the portrait was owned by the subject and her descendants from 1741 until 1920, when it was sold to the founders of Musée Cognacq-Jay in the portrait’s one-and-only sale transaction, the portrait remains in its original wood frame, very rare for an artwork almost 300 years old.


Hundreds of art websites on the worldwide web—including Bridgeman!—attribute “Portrait Of The President Of Rieux” to Georges de La Tour instead of Maurice Quentin de La Tour. Such misattribution is as unfathomable as an inability to distinguish Gustave Charpentier from Marc-Antoine Charpentier.


“Portrait Of The President Of Rieux” is one of the key masterworks on display at Musée Cognacq-Jay, a museum devoted primarily to 18th-Century French art and housed in an 18th-Century hôtel particulier. At the museum, “Portrait Of The President Of Rieux” hangs in a third-floor salon directly opposite another portrait by the same artist.

I love Musée Cognacq-Jay for its intimacy and its exquisiteness. The museum owns twenty or thirty artworks worth seeing over and over and over, supplemented by another 200 or so artworks not of great importance. One visits Musée Cognacq-Jay for atmosphere and “presentation” as much as for art.

Musée Cognacq-Jay owns Rembrandt’s earliest top-tier masterpiece, “Balaam’s Ass”, painted in 1626.

The Rembrandt was not on display last month. It was off-view for cleaning and restoration.

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