In the painting of a Bust with Still Life
by Pierre Subleyras, the Institute has acquired for its French collection and interesting and unusual work by an artist who is not widely known, but who was in some respects unique in his own time. He is associated with that group, including Largillière, Mignard, Battier, and Pesne, who were chiefly interested in portraiture at a time when the prevailing taste was for decorative painting in the style of Boucher. Subleyras was an able portraitist, and his still life and genre pieces frequently reveal a perception of tone values unsurpassed in French painting of the day.The Institute’s painting, acquired from the John R. Van Derlip Fund, represents the two fields in which he excelled: still life and portraiture. It is in reality twice a portrait, since it represents the marble bust of Duke Francis I of Este by Bernini. Subleyras has surrounded it with a group of attributes that produce an admirable still life: a half-suit of armor, a globe, a brightly plumed bird, and astrolobe, and, on a heavily embossed silver platter, a pair of white gloves and a sheaf of crimson carnations.The restrained and carefully detailed painting of the still life, not unworthy of Chardin in some passages, provides an interesting contrast to the baroque style of the marble portrait with its extravagantly curled hair and flowing mantle. With the exception of the deep blue background, and the touches of color in flowers, bird, and table cover, the picture is painted in the shades of grey and white characteristic of much of Subleyras’ work. It is a cool yet remarkably striking picture, and one that introduces a new aspect of French painting into the collection.The bust depicted in the picture is interesting in its own right. As one of Bernini’s most successful portraits it was chosen as an example of his work for the Italian Exhibition held at Burlington House in 1930. It represents Francis I, Duke of Este, who once commanded the French Army in Italy. The bust is now in the collection of the Modena Museum, which houses other treasures relating to the Este Family.In some respects this painting reflects the Italian influence prevalent in France during the preceding century; a circumstance resulting possibly from the fact that Subleyras spent the greater part of his life in Italy and was undoubtedly influenced by the Italian style. Most of his time was given up to painting religious compositions for Italian churches, but occasionally he painted portraits and still life subjects. One of his outstanding works is the portrait of Pope Benedict XIV, now in the Condé Museum at Chantilly.Subleyras was born in Uzès in 1699 and first studied painting with his father. When he was fifteen years old he was sent to work with Antoine Rivalz of Toulouse, a man celebrated in his own community for his facility and imagination. Subleyras progressed rapidly under his guidance, and in 1724 went to Paris. There, in 1727, he won the grand priz
for his painting of the Raising of the Brazen Serpent.
His subsequent departure for Rome marked the end of his life in France, for he liked Italy so much that he never returned to his native country. He died in Rome in 1749.In Italy, Subleyras soon became a figure of some note. He married Maria Tibaldi, daughter of the famous musician, and celebrated in her own right as a miniature painter. Due partly to his talent and partly to his wit and intelligence, Subleyras made numerous important and influential friends, among them the Cardinal of Gonzaga, who secured for him his commission to paint the Pope. Although he is not considered an artist of first rank, his work is valuable as an illustration of a style little-considered during the early Louis XV period. His pictures are to be found in the Louvre, the Brera, and in several French provincial museums. In this country he is represented by a portrait of his wife in the Worcester Museum.Referenced Work of Art
- Bust with Still Life by Pierre Subleyras, French, XVII century
Purchased from the John R. Van Derlip Fund