Portrait of Jean Restout, Director of the French Royal Academy Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Jean-Baptiste II Lemoyne (1704-1778)

Portrait of Jean Restout, Director of the French Royal Academy, 1761

Terra-cotta, H. 0.58 m; W. 0.54 m; D. 0.26 m

Signed and dated on the back: Restou directeur de l’acad. fait par J. B. Lemoyne 1761.

Provenance: Private collection, France.

  • Stanislas Lami, Dictionnaire des sculpteurs de l’Ecole française au dix-huitième siècle, Paris, 1911, t. II, p. 64.
  • Louis Réau, Une Dynastie de sculpteurs au XVIIIe siècle : les Lemoyne : biographie et catalogue critiques, Paris, 1927, p. 151, no. 130 (as lost).
  • Jean Seznec, Jean Adhémar, Diderot : Salons, vol. I, 1759-1761-1763, Oxford, 1957, p. 137.

Of a long line of sculptors, Jean-Baptiste II Lemoyne is the most famous of his family. A student of his father’s and of Robert Le Lorrain, the creator of the Horses of Apollo, has also had many students of his own, such as Falconet, Pigalle, Caffieri, and Pajou. Lemoyne was mostly hired for works to the glory of Louis the XVth, and he quickly reached the highest levels of academic renown, taking over from Boucher as head of the Academy in 1768. He created many religious and monumental sculptures, of which few remain today, but he excelled in the art of portraits, which might be the most brilliant aspect of his career. As the official portraitist for the king and his family, he did many of their busts, as well as some of the Courts greats, bankers, parliamentarians, scientists, writers, artists, and actors.

Grimm wrote in his Correspondance littéraire: “No sculptor was his equal in the witty and graceful execution of a bust, and for giving marble or clay perfect mimicry and life” (Grimm, Correspondance littéraire, t. X, p. 381).

As opposed to the creations of Caffieri, his disciple, whose work was often marked by an insolent pride, Lemoyne’s portraits seemed infused with real sympathy for its subjects. He seemed capable of standing in someone’s shoes, an instinctive empathy.

Our bust is part of a series of artist and actor portraits. Their intimate nature is a mark of their excellent quality. In Lemoyne’s catalogue raisonné by Louis Réau, these portraits are thus described: “The spontaneity of these portraits of his friends and colleagues, created con amore, and in which he did his best to please good judges of his art, Lemoyne has used his talents to their best. It is quintessential Lemoyne.” (Louis Réau, Une Dynastie de sculpteurs au XVIIIe siècle : les Lemoyne : biographie et catalogue critiques, Paris, 1927, p. 105). These clay busts are to be set alongside the pastels by Maurice Quentin de la Tour.

Where his marble works are more formal and distant, his clay sculptures maintain his hallmark spontaneity. Few of Lemoyne’s drawings remain, for he thought in terms of clay. The modelling of that matter was his form of research and that is where his talent is most apparent.

Lemoyne uses very fine clay of pale pink with a touch of yellow, as opposed to Pigalle, who used a thicker, darker, and warmer clay. As a careful observer of Nature, Lemoyne transposed all the pulsations of life. This portrait is extremely alive, brilliantly crafted. By scratching the surface of the clay, giving it a characteristically grainy and skin-like look, he brings the clay to life in a unique fashion. It was this ‘alive’ aspect that Lemoyne tried with passion to create through the plays of light.

On this bust can be observed one of Lemoyne’s well known earmarks which usually helps to identify his unsigned work: the lower lip slants slightly to the left due to a little fold that catches the light. This trait is as particular to Lemoyne as the treatment of the eyes is to Houdon, who always left a piece of clay jutting out over the eyelid to catch the light.

Artistically, Lemoyne was clearly more spontaneous than intellectual, and quite indifferent to the concept put forth in Ancient Greek and Roman art. He did not receive any literary education, and had to give up a stay in Rome that he won with a First Grand Prix in 1725. His whole life, he nurtured a love for painting and stayed in close contact with two of the greatest portrait artists of his generation: Francois de Troy and Nicolas de Largillière, two Rubenites by instinct.

Lemoyne’s art is diametrically opposed to that of Bouchardon’s. The first was as irregular and impetuous as the latter was thoughtful and methodical. His permanent research in movement, his attachment to modern costumes and his taste for polychromes – he coloured in some of his religious sculptures – was severely criticized by his piers, such as Mariette or Diderot.

Although some aspects of his work were criticized, Lemoyne remained the uncontested master of clay portraits. His great skill was never questioned. The bust presented here was shown to the public during the Salon of 1761. Diderot only gave a quick glance at the five works exhibited that year by Lemoyne (who was then the assistant rector at the Academy), but had to concede to the quality of this bust (Diderot, Salon de 1761 : «Par Le Moyne, le buste de Mme de Pompadour, rien ; celui de Mlle Clairon, rien ; d’une Jeune Fille, rien. Ceux de Crébillon et de Restout valent mieux.» Seznec Adhémar, vol. I, Oxford, 1957, p. 137).

This portrait of Jean Restout is an homage from a great sculptor to a great painter, an academical colleague, recently made the director of the Royal Academy. At 69 years of age, Jean Restout was at the peak of his career.

Lemoyne shows Jean Restout with his head turned slightly to the right, with a wig of long hair, the curls of which fall upon his shoulders. There is great care taken in the details of the clothes, a vest and linen frills. The tight lips and slight smile add to a twinkling and intelligent gaze. This bust is unusually lively.

Jean Restout was a nephew and disciple of Jean Jouvenet, both of whom were from Rouen. Restout moved to Paris in 1707. In 1720, he became a member of the Royal Academy of painting and sculpture, and was one of the main figures of the Regence until the end of Louis the XVth reign. Besides many mythological themed paintings, he was most known for his religious ones. He trained many students and wrote a very known essay Essai sur les principes de la peinture. Working for the Marquis de Marigny, head of the Bâtiments du Roi from 1751, he earned highest distinctions. This was quite probably linked to the fact that one of his previous students, Charles-Nicolas Cochin, was hired in 1755 to supervise “artistical details”.

In July of 1760, Restout was elected director of the Royal Academy of painting and sculpture. In June 1762, as Carle Vanloo became the King’s First painter, Restout was re-elected despite all the efforts of Dandré-Bardon to replace him. In 1763, Vanloo replaced him as director, and Restout became chancellor, the highest officers rank in the Academy.

There are no other known sculpted portraits of Jean Restout, but his face appears on many paintings. Firstly, the self-portrait that he placed in the background of his Saint Vincent de Paul preaching of 1739 (Versailles, church of Notre-Dame). Maurice Quentin de la Tour also painted some famous portraits of Restout. One of them was at the 1738 Salon, and another was a reception piece in 1746 (Paris, Louvre museum. M. Quentin de la Tour modified this painting in 1770. Pierre-Etienne Moitte engraved it as a reception piece in at the Academy in 1771); and in the Antoine Lécuyer museum in Saint-Quentin, a third portrait might have been a preliminary study for the first two. Finally, Jean Restout’s son Jean-Bernard painted one, probably just before he himself left for Rome in 1761, which is more or less around the same period as our sculpture (Identified by Ph. de Chennevières and added to the national museum of the Versailles and Trianon castles in 1854. There exists a study of this painting on an oval canvas, whereabouts unknown).