Oil on mahogany panel
20.6 x 18.3 cm (28.5 x 25.7 cm framed)
After an inspection of the painting, Mrs. Maria Teresa Caracciolo, art historian and specialist of the painter, confirmed that she was completely in favour of its attribution to Wicar. From a stylistic point of view, this painting is a perfect illustration of the precise and meticulous style of the artist, although no preparatory drawing is known of to date.
1. Jean-Baptiste Wicar, disciple and friend of David
Son of a carpenter in Lille, Jean-Baptiste Wicar was first a pupil at the drawing school of his native town. At the age of 18 he was sent to the workshop of the engraver Jacques-Philippe Le Bas (1707 - 1783), and then in 1781, admitted to the workshop of the painter Jacques-Louis David (1748 - 1825). He accompanied his master to Rome and Florence in 1784-1785 and then stayed on his own in Italy from 1787 to 1793.
Back in Paris in 1793, he was appointed curator of the antiques section at the Museum thanks to David. In 1795, Wicar left France for Italy. In 1797, during Bonaparte’s Italian Campaign, he was a member of the Commission in charge of seizing artworks to enrich the French national museums.
A member of the Saint-Luke Academy in Rome (from 1805), he was appointed director of the Royal Academy of Naples from 1806 to 1809, before settling permanently in Rome. In Italy, Wicar achieved real success as the official portraitist of the Bonaparte family and as painter of history. The Resurrection of the Son of the Widow of Naïm (now in the Lille Museum of Fine Arts) is a perfect example of his large, impeccably executed compositions.
Finally, Wicar was a remarkable collector: his drawings of the masters of the Italian Renaissance are now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Lille, following the bequest he made to the Society of Sciences, Agriculture and Arts of Lille.
2. Description of the artwork
According to Maria Teresa Caracciolo : "one of the successes of Wicar's painted and drawn work is his portraits [...]. The artist gave 'the best of himself' in these artworks [...]; they are artworks of remarkable aesthetic quality, in which he shows himself to be both an excellent pupil of David and an autonomous artist in his own right".
A young man is represented here in three-quarter view on a brown background. He is dressed with great elegance in a plum-coloured jacket with wide lapels. A white waistcoat embroidered with gold leaves and a smartly tied white scarf are visible at his collar. His hair, tied behind his shoulders, has been powdered according to the custom of the time, contributing to the ageing of the model whose features are otherwise very youthful. His eyes are lively and he is smiling mischievously. One can feel the presence of a man full of life and confidence, aware of his charm.
The model's clothing and physiognomy are very close to his portrait of the painter David drawn in 1788 after a drawing by Girodet (this portrait is now in the Louvre). In the absence of any information on the identity of the model, at this stage, we prefer to retain a fairly broad dating ranging from 1781 to 1790.
This portrait was painted on a mahogany panel, a precious material used mainly in cabinet making, a reminder of the artist's family origins. It should also be noted that an oil on canvas depicting an Allegory of the Revolution, painted in Italy around 1792-1793, is also applied to a mahogany panel. Close in size to our portrait (24 x 15 cm), it was recently acquired by the Musée de la Révolution of Vizille.
This portrait is framed in a late eighteenth century frame that is probably of Italian or Germanic origin; the panel has been enlarged at the bottom with a wooden strip measuring a few millimetres to fit into the rebate of the frame.
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