Offered by Galerie de Frise
Ancient portrait painting
Piat-Joseph SAUVAGE (Tournai, 1744 - Tournai, 1818)
Portrait of Buffon at the age of 65
Diameter : 6,5 cm
Signed at the bottom center
Provenance : château du Marais
Related work: engraving by Augustin de Saint-Aubin published in 1798, showing this portrait (N°32 of the catalog raisonné of Saint-Aubin's engraved works)
Piat-Joseph Sauvage is the main artist of the end of the XVIIIth century specialized in trompe-l'oeil painting in imitation of marble or bronze, in the antique taste. Using all supports, canvas, marble, ivory or porcelain, he produced mainly bas-reliefs with mythological subjects and often decorative purposes (door tops), as well as portraits in profile on a blue or dark grey background similar to medals or cameos. Concerning this last genre, Henri Bouchot wrote in 1910 in his book La miniature française 1750-1825: "He drew elegant profiles, with a sharp neck, in the manner of medals or coins, of which he was neither the inventor nor the propagator. Cochin, Greuze had long been ahead of him; only he put an elegant finish on it, much appreciated by amateurs".
Initially trained at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, after a period in Brussels, Sauvage moved fairly quickly to Paris where he exhibited at the Academy of Saint Luc in 1764. He was already famous and sought after by private clients when he was accepted at the Academies of Toulouse and Lille in 1774 and 1776 respectively. He participated in the Salon from 1781 (the year he was admitted to the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, before being accepted in 1783) to 1810, with a total of about fifty works.
He worked a lot for the royal palaces (Compiègne, Fontainebleau, Louvre, Saint-Cloud, Chantilly, Rambouillet), then for the porcelain factories (Dihl and Guérard in Paris, and Sèvres) for about fifteen years, before returning to Tournai around 1810, where he directed the Academy of Drawing until his death.
Here Sauvage painted a portrait of Georges-Louis Leclerc (Montbard, 1707-Paris, 1788), just before he was named Count de Buffon by Louis XV in 1773, the most famous naturalist scholar of the 18th century, but also a philosopher and writer, an emblematic figure of the Age of Enlightenment.
In a letter to Madame Daubenton dated November 30, 1772, Buffon evoked the expectation of his grisaille portrait by Sauvage mounted in a box. Subsequently, Buffon offered his portrait mounted on precious boxes on several occasions, in recognition of services rendered to the Jardin du Roi.
In a letter to Madame Daubenton dated November 30, 1772, Buffon mentions the expectation of his portrait in grisaille by Sauvage mounted in a box. Subsequently, Buffon offered his portrait mounted on precious boxes on several occasions, in recognition of services rendered to the Jardin du Roi.
It is therefore difficult to know whether our work is the original (which was in the collection of Henri Nadault, the great-nephew of the naturalist, at the end of the 19th century) or not among the various copies painted by Sauvage.
In an auction of miniatures and display cabinets (collection of M. Ch. B...) of March 22, 1884, Drouot Room 7, we find a "Portrait in profile of M. de Buffon, by Sauvage, in grisaille on black background. Gilt bronze frame" under number 76 of the catalog. Another one, of oval format, sold 170 francs on May 31, 1910 at Drouot Salle 1, collection of M. R..., number 10 of the catalog : "Miniature oval in grisaille : Silhouette of Buffon, by Sauvage. Signed. Louis XVI period. Bronze frame".
There is also a copy presented at the Exposition de la miniature, Brussels, March-July 1912, number 1089 of the catalog; the work belonged to the collection of Madame Orban, wife of Alfred Orban de Xivry (1857-1922), lawyer and Catholic politician. Its reproduction on p. 151 in L'art flamand et hollandais of January 1912 allows us to see that it is not ours.