Sully wing – 2nd floor – Watteau – Room 36
Largilliere has arranged his painting, conventionally, in a rural setting, without even worrying about the improbability of showing his wife and daughter, dressed in their finery and adorned more for a reception than for a walk. These were common fantasies at that time: the figure alone was important in a portrait, and it was to her alone that all the care of the artist was attached. For the decor, he also played his role, but a secondary role; he was there to assert the character and only for that. Thus, the painter chose, as he pleased, the one which seemed to him to be best attuned to the character of the model, without otherwise worrying about truth or even verisimilitude. Complying with the mistakes then underway, Largilliere put his family in the middle of the countryside for the only reason that the dark green of the foliage favored the blonde beauty of his wife and daughter. However, as if he was aware of the enormity of the anachronism, he wanted to make a concession to common sense: he represented himself with a rifle between his legs and placed close to him some birds he just killed. But what a brilliant and inconvenient costume to run the healers! And as we see that the good Largilliere wants to make us believe, that he did not chase, he did not vent his high wig under the branches of thickets, nor risked his silk stockings bites brambles ! On the rock where he is sitting quietly, he does not give the impression of a man who has just beaten the country. Her outfit is irreproachable, the wig falls in well-ordered curls around her beautiful, relaxed head that is not that of a Nimrod. He is wearing a splendid, very cool gray suit. From the left arm he leans against the rock and over his crossed legs one can see the muzzle of a dog, a good-natured companion to this little murderous hunt. In front of him his wife is also sitting on the rock, without seeming to dread to crumple or dirty his elegant fit. It is turned three quarters to the left; she wears a low-cut dress, lined with white satin from which escapes a thin shirt adorned with blue ribbons; a stream of lace is stung in her powdered hair. She is of a pleasant face and her slightly haughty head frames herself very well in the background of greenery that form the trees, behind her. Between her parents, a delightful girl stands, dressed in a white and gold suit, with flowers in her hair. She has in one of her hands a paper of music; on the other, half-stretched, she seems to punctuate the meaning of the words she sings. In this little girl’s little face, one feels that the father lavished all the tenderness of his heart and all the seductions of his palette.
The group of these three characters, so oddly situated, forms a charming whole. Largilliere was obviously pleased with his work, but even when the heart does not lead his brush, he is a portraitist full of talent and resources.
In the absence of a precise date, the costume worn by the painter in this picture would suffice to indicate to us that it belongs to the great century. The solemn wig is from the beautiful era of the Great King. Largilliere is, so to speak, straddling two reigns, he experienced the majestic splendor of Versailles in the time of Louis XIV, and the refinements of elegance that marked the joyous era of the Regency. In art, he also establishes the transition between the sumptuous and noble way of Rigaud and the shimmering and cunning Nattier style. Having lived under two different regimes, he seems to have borrowed something from each of them. Without having the magnificence of Rigaud, his art lacks neither grandeur nor nobility; he knows how to give to his models a certain air of height by which one recognizes the man or the woman of quality; but when he wishes, he protects his personages with an easy, fine, delicate grace, he animates their complexion with exquisite rosettes that Watteau would not have disavowed.
Even next to Rigaud, Largilliere is a great portrait painter and he has magnificent qualities. He does not have the robustness of his illustrious rival, but he owes Lebrun, who was his master, a clean and solid design, which he dressed in incomparable colors. It is by the brilliance of its harmonious and distinguished color that Largilliere has made a prominent place among portrait painters.
Rigaud was the painter of the Court, Largilliere was the painter of the City. While the first painted princes and kings, the second specialized in the portrait of aldermen and great parliamentarians. He was no less appreciated at Versailles, and more than once, very great lords posed before him. He excelled in giving faces a very high intensity of expression.
The Portrait of Largilliere and his family was part of the collection of Mr. La Caze, who donated it to the national museum.
Height: 1.40 – Width: 2 m – Figures up to the knees, life size.