Presumed portrait of Edme Bouchardon
Louis-Gabriel Blanchet (1701-1772)

Presumed portrait of Edme Bouchardon, ca. 1728-1732.

Oil on canvas, H. 0.91 m; W. 0.77 m

Provenance: Private collection, France.

The identification of the sitter with Edme Bouchardon is based on the comparison with some of his self-portraits. The closest match comes from a sketchbook dating back to his stay in Rome, which is kept in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York (Sketchbook called Vade-mecum, see Cara Dufour Dension, Le dessin français. Chefs d’œuvres de la Pierpont Morgan Library, exh. cat. Paris, 1993, p. 104-106, ill. p. 105, no. 45). Three other self-portraits are in the Louvre. Similarities with our portrait can easily be found: strong lips, big eyes with thick and short eyebrows, an aquiline nose and a short forehead.

Edme Bouchardon was a pensionnaire in the French Academy in Rome from 1723 till 1732. Blanchet could have painted him there between his arrival in Rome in November 1728 and Bouchardon’s departure in the spring of 1732. Residents at the academy would frequently do portraits of one another Louis-Gabriel Blanchet was born in Versailles in 1701. Little is known about his artistic training, although it probably took place in Paris. In 1727 Blanchet obtained the second Grand Prix, after Pierre Subleyras. Nevertheless, Blanchet is admitted to the French Academy in Rome, residing from 1728 at the Palazzo Mancini. There, he made friends with Pierre Subleyras and Joseph Vernet. Blanchet was one of the rare French artists of the 18th century who never returned to France. A painter’s time at the French Academy in Rome was usually limited to three or four years, and Blanchet should have left by spring 1732. But it was only in November 1733 that his name was definitely removed from the list of boarders. But having found a significant patron in the Duc de Saint-Aignan, the French ambassador to the Holy See, he managed to retain his lodgings at the Palazzo Mancini. From 1735 to 1737, Blanchet assisted Pierre Subleyras in an important commission for the convent of the Canons Regular of the Lateran in Asti (Le repas chez Simon, H. 2 ,15 m ; W. 6,77 m, 1737, musée du Louvre, see Olivier Michel, Pierre Rosenberg, Subleyras 1699-1749, exh. cat. Paris, 1987, p. 82).

At the Stuart court in exile in Rome, Blanchet frequented the English painters James Barry, James Forrester and Richard Wilson. Between 1737 and 1739, he was commissioned for several portraits of the Stuart family, which probably reinforced his reputation as a portrait painter.

Blanchet had always kept in touch with the French Academy in Rome. Jean-François de Troy, director from 1738 till 1751, was a big help to Blanchet, who had regular financial troubles due to his inconstant and spendthrift nature. In 1752, he was imprisoned for unpaid debts but was released shortly afterwards thanks to the contribution of French friends. In 1973 though, Natoire, who became director in 1752, refused to help him any further. Only his marriage in 1755 with Annunziata Dies, daughter of a Venetian goldsmith and a French mother, eased Blanchet’s financial situation. He died in Rome in 1772.

Most of Blanchet’s portraits date from before 1739 and from the early 1750s, when the English tourists returned to Rome after the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748). Blanchet had an elegant, luminous, and colourful style of painting. The present picture shows his naturalistic and truthful approach to portrait painting. He was a refined colourist and his paintings are renowned for the luminosity of his whites and the richness in the handling of oil paint. The somewhat dramatic pose of the sitter and the spontaneous brushstrokes give this portrait a character of immediacy. Unlike most portraits of English travellers or French residents painted by Blanchet in the years 1750-1760, this portrait emanates an air of intimacy. Another example of an artist’s portrait painted by Blanchet in a very close spirit in 1736 is the one of Giovanni Paolo Pannini. On the other hand, the portraits of the Stuart family dating back to those same years are more formal and more distant in character.

Bouchardon is shown here at the age of about thirty, with his right hand on Homer’s portrait, a plaster cast of the famous Hellenistic sculpture kept in the Museo Capitolino in Rome. The presence of this antique is not surprising as it was often studied by the students of the academy, but it also underlines Bouchardon’s keen interest for Antiquity. A portrait of Bouchardon at about the same time, possibly painted by himself, is attributed today to Pier-Leone Ghezzi and is kept in the Uffizi in Florence. It shows the sculptor with the bust of baron Stosch, a portrait of the antiquarian that Bouchardon had created in 1727.

We are grateful to M. Peter Bowron, M. Christophe Leribault and M. Olivier Michel for their help in writing the catalogue entry of this work.