This drawing full of freshness presents us with the profile of an elegant lady, drawn by Augustin de Saint-Aubin on a beautiful summer day in 1776, during the early months of Louis XVI's reign.
1. Augustin de Saint Aubin
Augustin de Saint-Aubin was born on January 3rd 1736 into a family of artists: his father Gabriel-Germain (1696-1756) was the King's embroiderer and his six surviving siblings (Charles-Germain (born in 1721), Gabriel-Jacques (1724), Catherine-Louise (1727), Louis-Michel (1731), Athanase (1734) and Agathe (1739)) were also artists. The eldest of the boys, Charles-Germain, became a draughtsman and embroiderer like his father, Gabriel-Jacques? is considered one of the most brilliant draughtsmen of the 18th century, Louis-Michel became a painter at the Sèvres porcelain manufactory and Athanase an actor, while his two sisters were also talented draughtswomen.
During his lifetime Augustin de Saint-Aubin's fame as a draughtsman and engraver far out-shadowed that of his twelve-year-old elder brother Gabriel, but the Goncourt brothers initiated research into the French 18th century art sphere which gave back its pre-eminence to Gabriel’s works.
Initially trained by his brother Gabriel, the young Augustin continued his apprenticeship with the engraver Etienne Fessard (1714 - 1777) and very quickly set his sights on becoming an engraver.
Accepted to the Académie Royale in 1771, he was never admitted because he did not submit his reception piece. This did not prevent him from having a successful and very prolific career as an engraver, since his output is estimated at more than 1,300 engravings.
Portraits - whether drawn or engraved - constitute the best part of his work and also the most sought-after, particularly by the Goncourt brothers, who owned several portraits among the dozen or so drawings of Augustin de Saint-Aubin they had collected/in their collection.
2. Description of the artwork
Our elegant lady is shown in profile with her face turned to the left - a very delicate profile as the lashes of her right eye reach beyond the curve of her nose. Her dress is fastened with a pastel-enhanced knot, a light fabric is tied around her neck and her hairstyle is very elaborate: a bun adorned with three scrolls and topped with a lace hat from which an airy veil escapes towards the back.
As in most of these "portraits drawn in lead pencil mixed with pastel" sent by Augustin de Saint-Aubin to the Salons where he exhibited his works between 1771 and 1789, we do not know the identity of the model. However, when we changed the cardboard on the back of the original montage, we found a moving inscription, difficult to decipher but which could be the date of execution of this portrait: 26 (?) July 1776. The gilded frame, with only a ribbon of pearls as ornament, is typically Louis XVI in style and it seems likely that this is its original frame.
Although she may never reveal the secret of her identity, the figure/face? of this beautiful unknown lady captured one day in the summer of 1776 remains, as the Goncourt brothers wrote, "alive today in the flower and springtime of her complexion, in the lovely radiance of her low-cut cleavage skin".
Main bibliographical sources :
Gabriel de Saint-Aubin, painter, draughtsman and engraver Emile Dacier - Paris and Brussels 1929
French Drawing in the 18th Century Louis-Antoine Prat Musée du Louvre/ Somogy Art Editions March 2017
Delevery information :
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3 800 €