Offered by Stéphane Renard Fine Art
Old master paintings and drawings
Lagneau is one of the most mysterious French artists of the time of Louis XIII. While his name is the only bibliographic record we have, he left behind a dazzling series of pastel portraits, widely represented in the major public collections. Here is a typical work of his production: the portrait of an anonymous man, aged about sixty, who looks at us with an air of connivance and a smile...
1. "Lagneau mythique" or the five-legged sheep
The total absence of any anchor point on the life of Lagneau - an artist whose supposed first name (Nicolas) remains questionable - has led some art historians to indulge in these easy puns on our artist's name (which means lamb in French).
The consensus of historians today is that Lagneau "must have been born at the end of the sixteenth century and still lived (or died) at the beginning of the reign of Louis XIV" . His name (then spelt "Laneau") appears in the inventory drawn up in 1666 after the death of the painter and print publisher Jean 1er Leblond, even though his work had hardly been engraved (we shall return to this point). Marolles is the first to mention it in his Livre des peintres, composed in the 1670s; "he speaks of him in the imperfect tense, which may lead one to believe that the artist had died by that date".
These few elements do not answer any of the questions that one might legitimately ask about the artist's life or the purpose of his work. If these drawings seem to be real portraits and not expressive heads, we know neither why they were drawn, nor who they represent since "it has not been possible to identify a single model of Lagneau". There is only one book entirely devoted to the artist, the catalogue of the exhibition held in Chantilly in 2005, on which we did rely extensively for this note.
While it is impossible to know whether Lagneau remained in Paris (as the early collections in which his portraits appear might suggest), or travelled, for example to Lorraine ( as some of his expressions bring him closer to Georges de la Tour), it is certain that Lagneau was not a court amn, as his models generally belonged to the low or middle classes.
2. Description of the portrait and related artworks
This portrait is presenting to us with a a strong realism a middle-aged man, with a lively and mischievous look, his nose and cheeks reddened by the cold (or by the heat of a fireplace). The hair sticking out of his cap (probably put on to fight the cold) and the facial hair on his chin announce a certain carelessness that contributes to the good-naturedness and familiarity of this character.
We can almost take word for word the description of another drawing kept at the Musée Condé (7th picture of the gallery): "the fashion adopted by the character, the toque" (here a cap, which evokes that of Breughel's peasants) "and the pourpoint, from which a small shirt collar emerges, is more reminiscent of the masculine dress of the early 17th century than that of the reign of Louis XIII, but it is possible that the model, of a certain age, did not follow the latest developments in the field of fashion. Although the attitude is opposite (our model being turned three quarters to the right and the Chantilly’s model to the left), it is interesting to note the great similarity in the treatment of the sleeves and buttons of the pourpoint, the nose bridge or the bushy eyebrows.
The hemmed bonnet covering the ears can also be found in the only known engraving after a drawing by Lagneau (last picture of the gallery). This engraving was made in colour in two plates, with aquatint and tools by Jan Van de Velde IV.
These different examples have common characteristics that apply extensively to the different portraits made by Lagneau. "The artist uses mainly, if not exclusively, pastel in a rigorous hand with large stump areas for parts of the clothes and the faces of his models. Lagneau insists on the nose bridge, on the wrinkles on the forehead and around the eyes [...], on the eyelashes and on certain elements (warts, facial hair), which he seems to depict with pleasure, whereas other portraitists would tend to erase them”.
3. Provenance and framing
Lagneau's portraits entered the French royal collections as early as 1667. From the 18th century onwards, drawings by the artist can be found in many of the major collections, such as those of Crozat, Tessin, Catherine II of Russia, Albert of Saxe-Teschen, the Count of Orsay, Saint-Morys, and Robien. This interest for Lagneau continued in the following century, and Lagneau portraits are to be found, for example, in the collections of the Count of Suchtelen (dispersed in 1836) and the Marquis of Chennevières.
Louis de Gassi, whose mark appears at the bottom left of our drawing, was an amateur about whom we have no bibliographical information. His collection of 127 drawings was sold on 6 April 1858, but we have not been able to check the catalogue to see if it included any other drawing by Lagneau.
Our portrait is presented in a Louis XIII period frame which is therefore perfectly of the same period as our drawing. It is not, however, its original frame (which would have been quite exceptional for a drawing!) as it has been slightly reduced, as can be seen on the verso.
Main bibliographical references :
(collective) - Lagneau (catalogue published for the exhibition at the Musée Condé) - Somogy Paris 2005
Louis-Antoine Prat – Le dessin français au XVIIe siècle - Musée du Louvre and Somogy Paris 2013
Delevery information :
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