Robert LEVRAC dit TOURNIÈRES
(Caen 1668 - Caen 1752)
Portrait of Charles de la Boische, Marquis de Beauharnais, Governor of Canada (1671-1749)
Oil on canvas
H. 45 cm ; L. 37 cm
Related works :
- Portrait at mid-thigh, Musée de Grenoble
- Portrait à mi-corps, art market, Brussels
The son of an engraver, Levrac-Tournières began his apprenticeship with a relative, before moving to Paris, where he studied under Bon Boullogne and the great master Hyacinthe Rigaud. In 1702, he was admitted to the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts as a portrait painter, and two years later as a history painter.
It was as a portraitist that he would excel and become famous. Numerous political figures and artists passed before his easel, as did the Regent, who found a new facet in Levrac-Tournières' art. Accustomed to the brilliant, pompous images of Rigaud and Largillierre, which were fashionable between 1690 and 1730, the young painter from Caen brought a Dutch touch to his portraits. This icy, precise touch is inspired by the painters Godfried Schalken and Gerard Dou, whom he studied at length. It is this change in the art of portraiture that is appreciated by a whole generation of French people wishing to have portraits painted.
Two types of work are predominantly known. There are life-size portraits, painted at mid-thigh, mid-body, bust or simply cut at the shoulders, and small-format portraits, around 45 to 50 cm high, in which the subjects are generally depicted at mid-body or full-length, taking up only a small space in the composition. A few group portraits are known, mainly of families. His historical works seem to have all disappeared.
The painter's body of work regularly includes several portraits of the same people in different formats. This is exactly the case with our shoulder-framed portrait, of which at least two other versions exist, half-body and half-thigh. As our painting is a rediscovery, other versions may exist, in bust or small format.
Here, the Marquis de Beauharnais (or Beauharnais) wears his red cord as Commander of the Order of Saint-Louis on a suit of armor. Born in 1676, Charles de Beauharnais was one of thirteen siblings. One of his brothers was the grandfather of Alexandre, who married Joséphine, future Empress of France. A sailor from the start of his career, he entered the navy as a midshipman at the age of fourteen and went on to become lieutenant-general of the king's naval armies, the highest rank. In 1726, he was appointed Governor of Canada, a position he left in 1747 at the age of seventy-seven.
Our painting, like his other versions, was painted on his return from Montreal in 1748, when Levrac-Tournières exhibited the work in the Grenoble museum at the Salon. That same year, Levrac-Tournières abandoned his brushes and returned to Caen, where he lived out his final days in 1752. Charles de Beauharnais predeceased him in 1749. Did he have time to admire all the versions of his vibrant portrait executed by the painter?
At seventy-eight, our man is shown still fresh, his face luminous and rosy, lifted by the red of the cord. The wig, wonderfully detached from the brushed gray background, features Levrac-Tournières' characteristic touch, very mossy and not sculpted as in other painters of the period. He is precise in detail, and works in glazes into the flesh to give it greater depth and transparency.