(Magny en Véxins 1651 - Paris 1717)
Portrait of a couple
Original oval oil on canvas
H. 115 cm ; W. 90 cm (140 x 115 cm with frame)
Jean-Baptiste Santerre began his apprenticeship in 1673 under portrait painter François Lemaire, nephew of Jean Lemaire-Poussin, before joining the studio of Bon Boulogne, where he worked alongside young French artists such as Jean Raoux, Nicolas Bertin and Robert Levrac-Tournières. His style soon shifted from the Italianate influence of his master to the study of Nordic artists Dou, Mieris, Rembrandt and, above all, Van Dyck, whose elegant models and rich drapery he admired. A mention of Mercure also testifies to his attachment to the study of nature and his interest in anatomy.
Few traces survive of Jean-Baptiste Santerre's work before 1698, when he was accepted into the Académie Royale. His reputation as a portraitist was undoubtedly already well established by this date, since around 1699 he painted portraits of Boileau and Racine, testifying to his renown in Parisian artistic circles. The Prince de Condé's daughter, the Duchess of Burgundy, and the Regent were also among his models. Nevertheless, Jean-Baptiste Santerre was never considered a rival by the great portraitists of his time, Nicolas de Largillierre, Hyacinthe Rigaud or François de Troy, and it is essentially to his fantasy figures that he owes his fame.
Our formidable double portrait must have had an eventful history. Still on its original canvas and stretcher, this large-format portrait had the names of two figures added to its composition, probably around 1800/1810. At that time, it was framed by an Empire-era frame, and the names were added by descendants who had little regard for the historical details and faces of their forebears. The marriage of the two people whose names are inscribed dates back to 1755, some sixty years after our painting was made. Let's forget the inscribed names, which are now part of the history of the work, but with which they may have no genealogical connection.
Characterized by Santerre's soft, rosy faces, unnaturally broken drapery and postures, this double portrait is composed as two distinct portraits. The first is of the man, seated at his work table, and the second is of Madame, as if juxtaposed in the background. The man's collar and red bow are reminiscent of those worn during the reign of Louis XIV, contrasting with his loose, graying hair, totally at odds with the fashion of the time.