Little has been added to what we know of Charles-François Hutin since Marie-Christine Sahut’s 1984 summary of two articles by Harald Marx. True, Hutin is not readily pinned down: it is far from easy to follow the movements of an artist living in exile in a distant kingdom and leaving few traces in his homeland. Things are further complicated by his propensity for changes of career: this son of an engraver initially trained as a painter under François Lemoyne and took out a Second Rome Prize in 1735; but taking up his residency at the French Academy in Rome two years later, he turned to sculpture, obliging the Academy’s director, Jean-François de Troy, to excuse himself to Orry, Superintendent of the Royal Buildings: “Monsieur Hutin, who obtained residency with a painting prize, has made but little progress in this art since he came to Rome; after establishing his lack of fondness for this discipline and his firm taste and considerable aptitude for sculpture, I could not refuse him permission to go ahead.” Hutin trained under Michel-Ange Slodtz until his return to Paris in 1743, became an associate member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts as a sculptor in 1744 and a full member in 1747. His reception piece was Nocher Caron (Paris, Musée du Louvre). In 1748 he left Paris with his brother Pierre to enter the service of King Augustus III of Poland – doubtless sponsored by his uncle Louis de Silvestre, who had just given up his post as Augustus’s First Painter. The brothers initially worked as engravers, but Charles-François also took up painting again to meet the needs of the Saxon court he would serve for the rest of his life. He was appointed director of the Academy of Fine Arts in Dresden in 1764.
Hutin painted pictures for Dresden’s churches and palaces, but their deterioration down the ages makes it difficult to evaluate him as a history painter and he is now better known for his genre paintings of ordinary Saxon folk alone in rustic interiors. Unique in his known corpus in terms of its size, and now viewable for the first time, this Saxon Peasant is in a way the touchstone for a more just appreciation of his work. In its composition, sobriety and rejection of all affectation, it could pass for the companion piece to A Saxon Villager in Her Kitchen in the Prado, were it not for its lifesize rendering. The idea of according a humble peasant the format of an official portrait testifies to the artist’s creative resources and sets him apart from such contemporaries as Lépicié and Noël Hallé, whose repertoire he shares: our old man is somewhat reminiscent of Hallé’s as shown at the Salon in 1747, on a smaller scale but just as inadequately shod.
Thickset and robustly presented, the subject fills the picture space with a powerful, challenging presence rendered all the more authoritative by the gravity and absorption of his expression. The lush brushwork conveys his threadbare finery skilfully but without complacency: the picturesque, fur-trimmed bonnet – in easel painting a pretext for a display of virtuosity – is kept in place not as “eye candy” but as a strictly secondary detail. The date 1757 on the cartouche of the frame leaves room for the suspicion that this was part of Hutin’s submission to the Salon of 1759, not described in detail in the booklet.