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Title

: Largillierre’s Portrait of Madame Aubry

Author

Georges De Lastic

Date

1976

Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
In 1928 a major exhibition of paintings by Nicolas de Largillierre was held at the Petit Palais in Paris. Occupying an important place among the one hundred and thirty-seven paintings shown were portraits of four members of the Aubry family: Président Léonor Aubry, his wife Marie, their son Charles-Léonor, and their daughter-in-law Catherine. It is this last portrait, that of the young Madame Aubry and her son Léonor (figure 1) which The Minneapolis Institute of Arts has just acquired.1The Aubrys were a bourgeois family from Tours and had held various municipal appointments there. Léonor, born in 1631, was a council member of two tribunals and criminal magistrate of Tours who, by becoming Secretary to the King in 1677, had acquired personal and hereditary nobility. Such posts provided this rank after twenty years' service2 and were referred to at the time as savonnette à vilain (sweet-smelling soap with which to wash away one's base origins). He seems to have been very rich, having amassed a fortune said to be one million, eight hundred thousand pounds at the beginning of the eighteenth century.3 In 1699, dressed in the sumptuous black satin robes of the President of the Chamber of Accounts, an office he had held since 1688, and a “gentilhomme” for just a few months, he was painted by Nicolas de Largillierre who, along with Hyacinthe Rigaud and François de Troy, was the most important portrait artist in Paris at that time.Having returned from London in 1683 after a stay of seven years, five of which were spent in the studio of Pieter Lely, Largillierre quickly climbed the ladder of success both as a society painter and an official portraitist.4 A protégé of the First Painter to the King, Charles Le Brun, he had been received at the Academy in 1686 with a portrait of Le Brun (Paris, Musée du Louvre). Three years later he was commissioned to paint a huge group portrait of the provost of the merchants and the municipal magistrates of Paris, today lost.5 One can speak of success more than fame, for a handsome portrait of a man much in the tradition of Van Dyck dates from that same year (San Francisco, Norton Simon Foundation). By 1691 he had painted the young prince James Francis Edward Stuart, in exile in St. Germain-en-Laye with his parents, whose portraits he had painted in London in 1685 during a short stay there at the beginning of the ephemeral reign of James II. In 1695 he again painted the portrait of the young Prince of Wales and also that of his sister Princess Louise Marie Thérèse (London, National Portrait Gallery).Among the countless portraits Largillierre painted at this period of princes and princesses, of great lords and their ladies, of magistrates and financiers, with or without their wives, we will mention only the one said to be of Madame du Chatelet (St. Louis, The St. Louis Art Museum) and that of the very young and witty Marquise de Simiane, granddaughter of Madame de Sévigné, painted in 1696 (New York, Metropolitan Museum). That same year the municipal magistrates had commissioned the enormous Ex-Voto to Sainte Genevieve with portraits of all the corps de Ville in the foreground (Paris, Church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont), the only one of these large group portraits by the artist to have survived.The year 1699 seems to have been a very important one for Largillierre. The century was coming to a close. The corps de Ville commissioned him to paint an allegory of the marriage of the young and vivacious Princess Marie Adelaide of Savoy to the Duke of Burgundy, grandson of Louis XIV, with, obviously, the portraits of the municipal magistrates in the foreground. (The painting was destroyed during the Revolution of 1789; only an engraving remains.) The artist seems to have become the portraitist of the public officials of Paris, a role in which historians have tried to cast him until the present day, wrongly in our judgment, for actually no selection other than money—his portraits are very, very expensive—ever presided in the choice of his models.By 1699 Largillierre was living in a recently built house (figure 2), with high ceilings and five balconied windows overlooking the rue Sainte-Avoye, one of the principal arteries of the quartier, not far from the Hôtel de Ville.6 Oddly enough, he was not content to paint the portraits of his wealthy contemporaries, but also took advantage of their sittings to sell them paintings of other masters, a fact we learn in the Livre commode des adresses pour 1692: “M. l'Argillierre, rue Sainte-Avoye, sells good pictures.”7 He was also assistant professor at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. Finally, he had just married. At the home of the landscape painter Jean Forest he had met twin daughters: Elizabeth-Marguerite, who during the preceding year had married Louis Dufour, Inspector of Wars, and Marguerite-Elizabeth, who he married on September 14, 1699.At the Salon which opened on August twentieth at the Louvre in the large gallery on the Seine, Largillierre showed no fewer than eleven portraits,8 as well as the enormous picture of the gentlemen of the city mentioned above. Oddly enough, his rival Hyacinthe Rigaud did not exhibit at this Salon. François de Troy, however, presented twenty-four portraits.Among the portraits by Largillierre shown at the Salon was that of President Aubry (figure 3)9 hung in the tenth trumeau between a Saint Peter and a certain demoiselle Isolis. The portrait of Madame Aubry (figure 5), née Marie Bigot, was not shown in the Salon that year. The picture was, however, exhibited at the next Salon in 1704;10 it may not have been completed in time for the Salon of 1699, but we do know that it was painted in that year. Largilliere's marriage contract, witnessed on August 19, 1699, lists the properties of the couple. Those of the artist consisted in part of fees due him for portraits painted in the several preceding years. He had thus been obliged to draw up an “estat des biens et eftets de Nicolas de Largillierre peintre ordinaire du Roy en son Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture.”11 This document is extremely valuable, since it provides a list of more than one hundred models of the artist. Obviously, it is not an exhaustive list of the portraits painted to date by the artist; in general, it lists only portraits of people who still owed him money,12 or portraits painted very recently, but in the absence of a Livre de raison such as the one left by Rigaud,13 this precious guide has helped a great deal in the preparation of the catalogue raisonné of the works of the artist, especially with regard to the portraits of the Aubry family.Not that the family failed to make good on its debts: quite the opposite. In September 1699 the portrait of the president was paid for. However, we read that “Madame Aubry la mére” owed four hundred twenty pounds for her portrait. It was probably finished, therefore, at the end of August or the beginning of September, perhaps even later, because we would be surprised to find our family of magistrates in Paris in the heat of the summer. In the same “Estat des biens. . .” of Largillierre we read on the preceding line that four hundred twenty pounds were also due him for the portrait of Madame Aubry. This obviously refers to the portrait of the daughter-in-law, the picture which The Minneapolis Institute of Arts has just acquired.Président and Madame Aubry had six children: the eldest, Charles-Léonor, whom we will speak about in a moment; Joseph, sieur du Piessis, who replaced his father as Lieutenant-general on the municipal council of Tours; Gilles, first a captain of the Dragoons and then conseiller mäitre ordinaire in the Chamber of Accounts; another Joseph, garde de la Marine; and two daughters. One married a magistrate, Eustache Hénin; the other, a nobleman named Le Févre de la Falluère, Grand Master of waters and forests of the Ile-de-France.Let us go back to the eldest, Charles-Léonor, born in 1667, a Councillor of parlement from 1690. In 1693 he married Catherine Coustard, who was then twenty years old. The Coustards, natives of Angers, were of as thin and recent a nobility as the Aubrys. Gabriel Coustard, Catherine's father, a Parisian, was a wealthy middle-class cloth merchant—a very lucrative business in that period. He obtained an appointment as Secretary of the King, which brought with it a noble rank, and another as Comptroller General of the Grand Chancellery of France. Catherine's mother, Marie-Anne Régnault, was also the daughter of a cloth merchant, who had become Comptroller of the Tithes of the Clergy. A lover of art and literature, Gabriel Coustard commissioned Rigaud to paint a portrait of La Fontaine in 1690, one of the poet Santeuil in 1696, and one of Boileau in 1704. In 1698 he had Rigaud paint his portrait and that of his wife.14The younger Aubrys, who held henceforth the status of squire reserved for the nobility, had just acquired the marquisate of Castelnau, in the Berry region, to the west of Bourges, with its imposing and magnificent chateau and extensive land. The family carried from then on the contestable title of Marquis de Castelnau, lords of Lazenay, of Plotard and elsewhere.15Charles-Léonor and Catherine Aubry apparently asked Largillierre to paint their portraits the same year that their parents did. The portrait of Charles-Léonor, which can only be studied from an old photograph (figure 4), seems to be signed. Might it be dated?16 Is it perhaps only a replica and the original lost? In any case, the composition is beautiful. Councillor Aubry has truly a proud demeanor in his great red and black robe, his head covered with a heavy wig. The curve of his hands holding a book is particularly elegant.Fortunately, the portrait of Madame Aubry is better known to us (figure 1), but it poses, nevertheless, a small problem of dating. It is curiously signed at the bottom on the hem of the fold of the coat: Peint par N. de Largillierre 170-. The missing last figure can probably be interpreted as a zero. Yet this date is surprising, for we know that in August of 1699 Madame Aubry owed the price of the portrait to Largillierre. It is likely that, as in the case of the portrait of Madame Aubry la mére, the painting was not entirely finished in 1699; the signature would not have been added until completion at the beginning of the following year. Largillierre doubtless listed the debt before payment was due in order to increase the figure of the fortune he was bringing to his marriage.Largillierre would certainly have asked Madame Aubry to choose the costume in which she desired to be immortalized. Would she be dressed as a goddess—Venus, Juno, or Diana—or as Source or Flora or Pomona or Hebe? His sitters of the French court often chose such costumes, thereby avoiding the vagaries of fashion. It would appear, however, that the grandes bourgeoises were afraid of seeming ridiculous in mythological disguises, leaving that to women of higher birth. Madame Aubry chose contemporary dress, but of very elegant design and material.Her skirt is of ultramarine blue velvet, as is her cloak, which is lined in flowered brocade. Her bodice of silver lamé opens onto rich lace decorated with ribbon of delicate rose hue. Her right hand rests on the shoulder of the hope of the Aubry family, little Léonor (born 1695),17 who, as was the custom for boys until the age of five or six, is dressed like a little girl in a dress of vermilion velvet trimmed with gold braid and a hat of the same material adorned with black feathers. With her other hand Madame Aubry is patting the muzzle of a gray and white whippet.18Madame Aubry's hair is arranged à la Fontanges, a style popular for more than ten years. Her curls are piled high and entwined with a ribbon of the same blue as the dress. The two curls framing her forehead were a constant feature of women's coiffures for a period of thirty years.Unlike her mother-in-law, who, in spite of the rather sumptuous setting she chose, managed with her serious, severe expression to evoke a grande bourgeoise rather than that of an elegante or coquette or femme savante, young Madame Aubry is more elegant, more “Parisian.” She is seated a little stiffly under a kind of peristyle of which three fluted columns can be seen, on a sumptuous carved and gilded armchair covered with wine-red velvet. We may note in passing that this elegant piece of furniture undoubtedly belonged to the artist, for it appears in several portraits he painted in the 1690s, including that of Madame Aubry mére.19The portraits of the Aubry ladies cost four hundred pounds each and those of Président and Councillor Aubry probably cost the same amount, as it was the standard price for the large portraits by Largillierre. Around the same time M. Le Vasseur, the Count de Chastellux, the Chevalier de Motteville, M. Perrault, and many others paid the same price. Largillierre charged one hundred forty pounds for a half-length portrait, two hundred eighty pounds if the hands were included. Rigaud, at the same time, asked exactly the same prices.The portraits were certainly esteemed by the Aubry family and their circle, for in 1704 Joseph Aubry, the younger brother of the Councillor and Lieutenant General of the bailliage and presidial seat of Tours, also had his portrait painted by Largillierre (figure 6). Like that of his mother, his portrait was exhibited at the Salon of 1704.20Shown at the same Salon were portraits of M. and Madame de Jassaud by Jean Ranc, the son-in-law of Rigaud and his imitator. Madame de Jassaud was none other than Marie-Anne-Magdeleine Coustard, the younger sister of Madame Aubry, who in 1702 married the President of the Chamber of Accounts André-Nicolas de Jassaud. In 1706 or thereabouts she asked Largillierre to do her portrait (figure 7).21 The painter showed her in city attire, a blue and red velvet dress, with her two daughters pressed tenderly against her.22What became of the Aubry family? The président died in Paris in 1706 and was buried at St. Germain-l'Auxerrois. His widow withdrew to Tours; we do not know the date of her death. Madame Aubry the younger died in her beautiful chäteau at Castelnau in 1728. Her husband, who had become Dean of the First Chamber of Petitions of the parlement of Paris, followed her to the tomb in 1735 after a long illness. Léonor, the child represented in the portrait in Minneapolis, became, like his father, councillor in the parlement of Paris in 1720. Later he married Marguerite de La Mare and died in 1770. They had a son, who was a Musketeer of the King.23 Then we lose trace of the family, which must have died out before the Revolution.The paintings seem to have stayed in the Touraine for a long time at the homes of distant relatives, and were shown for the first time at the Largillierre exhibition of 1928.Georges De Lastic is Curator of the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris and of the Musée de la Vénerie in Senlis. A specialist in French painting of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, he wrote as his thesis for the Ecole du Louvre the catalogue raisonné of the works of François Desportes (1661-1743). He is the author of numerous articles. At present he is preparing a catalogue raisonné Léonor of the works of Nicolas de Largillierre.Endnotes
  1. Nicolas de Largillierre
    French, 1656-1746
    Madame Aubry and Her Son Léonor
    Oil on canvas, 54-1/2 x 41-3/4Signed and dated at the bottom in the center: Peint par N. Largillierre 170-.Provenance: Madame Charles de Dompierre d'Hornoy, Paris, 1928; Galerie Cailleux, Paris.Exhibitions: N. de Largillierre, Paris, Palais des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris (Petit Palais), May-June 1928, no. 94 (first edition) and 105 (second edition) with errors in dimensions; most of the pictures shown seem to have been measured rather carelessly and the frames included.
  2. The genealogical information about the Aubry, Coustard, and de Jassaud families has been largely taken from the Cabinet des Titres, Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris, Département des Manuscrits, hereafter referred to as B. N. Mss.The arms of the Aubry family were: Argent on a boar's head Sable, chief indented Azure charged with three roses Or. Louis-Pierre d'Hozier and d'Hozier de Sérigny, Armorial Général, Paris, 1738, first register, p. 35.
  3. According to a manuscript note: B. N. Mss., Cabinet d'Hozier, 18. This was a considerable sum, yet may be an underestimation of the family's wealth. Fortunes acquired in trade or finances were characteristically held in cash rather than property or goods, and were minimized for the benefit of the tax authorities.
  4. The essential sources on Nicolas de Largillierre up to the present are an article by Dezallier d'Argenville, written at the dictation of the painter, in his Abrigé de la vie des plus fameux peintres (volume 4, Paris, 1762, pp. 294-304), and that of Paul Mantz, “Largillierre,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts 2 (1893), pp. 89-105 and 295-306. We should also mention the rather mediocre little book by Georges Pascal which appeared at the time of the exhibition of 1928: Largillierre (Paris, 1928), which catalogs the portraits of M. and Madame Aubry but inexplicably omits the portraits of their son and their daughter-in-law.
  5. Georges de Lastic, “Rigaud, Largillierre et le tableau du Prévôt et des échevins de la Ville de Paris de 1689,” Bulletin de la Société de l'Art Français, 1975, pp. 147-156.
  6. This house still stands today at 51, rue du Temple. The sumptuous home which he had built not far from there in 1713, on the rue Geoffroy-Langevin, and where he died in 1746, no longer exists.
  7. Abraham du Pradel, Le livre commode des adresses de Paris pour 1692 (Paris: Edouard Fournier, 1878), vol. 1, p. 239.
  8. “Livret du Salon de 1699,” ed. J. J. Guiffrey, Collection des Livrets des anciennes expositions depuis 1673 jusqu'en 1800 (Paris, March 1869).
  9. Président Leonor Aubry (1631-1706)
    France, private collection.Signed and dated on the balustrade to the left: Peint par N. de Largillerre. 699.Reference: Georges Pascal, Largillerre, no. 17.Exhibition: N. de Largillierre, Paris, 1928, no. 15 (first ed.) and 16 (second ed.).
  10. Présidente Aubry née Marie Bigot
    France, private collection.Reference: “Livret du Salon de 1704,” Collection des Livrets (“Madame Aubry épouse de M. Aubry maistre des comptes”); Georges Pascal, Largillerre, no. 18.Exhibitions: Salon of 1704; N. de Largillierre, Paris, 1928, no. 103 (first ed.) and 116 (second ed.).
  11. Paris, Archives Nationales, Minutier central, X 251.
  12. These are listed separately: “Autres ouvrages de peinture dont le payement sera difficil [sic] à recouvrer.”
  13. J. Roman, Le livre de raison du peintre Hyacinthe Rigaud (Paris, 1919).
  14. J. Roman, Livre de raison de Rigaud.
  15. Castelnau had been erected as marquisate for the Maréchal de Castelnau in 1652. It does not seem that a new building was added for the Aubrys. The chateau still exists, perfectly restored and maintained. It belongs to Madame Albert Soubiran.
  16. Charles-Léonor Aubry ( 1667-1735)
    France, private collectionIn 1928 the painting belonged to the Marquis de Louvencourt. The photograph is in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Département des estampes, gift of Georges Sortais. Its present owner has emphatically refused to permit us to study the picture. This is the only case of such a refusal since the very beginning of our research.
  17. This date was ascertained by the waiver of age limit for the reception of Léonor Aubry as councillor at Le Chätelet in 1717, in which his baptismal certificate of June 21, 1695, was taken into account. B. N. Mss., Pièces originales 129.
  18. The dog may have belonged to the artist. It appeared in the 1695 portrait of Madame Arnaud, and can be seen again in the portrait of Madame Aubry's sister, the wife of Président de Jassaud, painted several years later (figure 7). Its appearance in the latter painting is reminiscent of one of the dogs in Largillierre's Study of Dogs and Parrots (see Georges de Lastic, “Nicolas de Largillierre, peintre de natures mortes,” Revue du Louvre, 1968, no. 4-5, p. 237, figure 4 and p. 238 and notes 22 and 23).
  19. It was doubtless one of a group of four armchairs, six straight chairs and four stools “of which the wood was gilded” which Largillierre had to declare with some other pieces of furniture and gilded objects on April 17, 1700, in pursuance of a sumptuary edict ordering declaration of all that was gold or gilded. E. Campardon, “Declaration faite par Nicolas Largillierre en observation de l'edit somptuaire de 1700,” Nouvelles Archives de l'Art Français, 1874-1875, pp. 223-224. We find the same chair, or at least an arm of it, in the portrait of the merchants' provost Boucher d'Orsay and in that of the municipal magistrate Hugues Desnotz done the same year, and again in the portrait of the royal family and the Maréchale de la Mothe-Houdancourt, this time in its entirety, beside one of the stools and a console table, which give us a good idea of the sumptuousness of the home of Largillierre.
  20. Joseph Aubry
    France, private collectionReference: “Livret du salon de 1704,” Collection des Livrets; Georges Pascal, Largillerre, no. 19 (as the portrait of Louis Aubry).Exhibitions: Salon of 1704, hung in the first row at the bottom of the twelfth trumeau on the Seine side.
  21. The elder daughter, Anne-Madeleine (1703-1727), married the Councillor Camus de Pontcarré. The second, Angélique-Marguerite (1704-1759) married the Marquis de Roncherolles and later the Marquis de Canillac.Provenance: Count Arnaud de Nadaillac, Paris, 1928; sale catalog, Christie's, London, June 21, 1968, no. 79, ill.; Georg Schaefer, Schweinfurt; sale catalog, Christie's, London, July 7, 1978, no. 158, ill.; private collection, Paris.
  22. Largillierre had previously painted the portrait of her brother-in-law, Nicolas Foucault, Marquis de Magny, who had married Marie-Anne de Jassaud. The portrait was engraved by Pierre Van Schuppen in 1698.
  23. B. N. Mss., Cabinet d'Hozier 110, Dossiers bleus, and Carrés d'Hozier 211.Translated by Ronald A. Richardson
Referenced Works of Art
  1. Nicolas de Largillierre
    French, 1656-1746
    Madame Aubry and her Son Leonor, 1699-1700
    Oil on canvas, 54-1/2 x 41-3/4
    The John R. Van Derlip Fund, 77.26
  2. Largillierre's residence on the rue Sainte-Avoye (51, rue du Temple).
  3. Nicolas de Largillierre
    Président Leonor Aubry, 1699
    Private collection, France
    Photo: Archives Photographiques, Paris
  4. Nicolas de Largillierre
    Charles-Leonor Aubry
    Private collection, France
    Photo: Archives Photographiques, Paris
  5. Nicolas de Largillierre
    Madame Aubry, 1699
    Private collection, France
    Photo: Archives Photographiques, Paris
  6. Nicolas de Largillierre
    Joseph Aubry
    Private collection, France
    Photo: Agraci, Paris
  7. Nicolas de Largillierre
    Madame de Jassaud, about 1706
    Private collection, Paris
    Photo: Archives Photographiques, Paris
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Source: Georges De Lastic, "Largillierre's Portrait of Madame Aubry," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 63 (1976-1977): 74-83.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009