Oil on canvas : 91 x 72 cm (38,82 in. x 28,34 in.)
Neoclassical carved and gilded wood frame : 123 x 99 cm (48,42 in. x 38,97 in.)
An ancient handwritten label inscribed: "de Constant", and another incomplete label: "Duc de Villars / Gouverneur Général de la Provence / replique du portrait de / LaTour du musée d’Aix / exposé au salon de 1743".
Probably presented by the sitter to the Geneva jurisconsult Pierre Pictet (1703-1768)
By descent to the heirs of Madame Samuel de Constant born Charlotte Pictet (1734-1766)
Constant de Rebecque family, Villa Constant in Saint Jean, Geneva, then Swiss private collection
This painted portrait is a replica of the pastel by Maurice Quentin de La Tour (1704-1788) exhibited at the Salon of 1743. This imposing painting derives much of is force from the variety of textures included. A rigaud-esque stone pillar, closes the composition on the left, against a busy sky. The dashing red silk velvet coat is lined with fur and enhanced with dazzling curly gold trimmings, while the cuffs and tie are in openwork lace. On the shiny reflections of the white silk drugget waistcoat trimmed with gold, stands out the insignia of the Order of the Toison d’Or, in which Villars has been knighted in 1736 and which he proudly wears.
Regarding the portrait of La Tour, the critics of the Mercure de France was lost for words: " M. de la Tour devient si fort au-dessus de tous les Eloges qu’on lui donne, que nous craindrions de les affoiblir & de ne pas donner une juste idée du mérite de ses Ouvrages, si nous entreprenions de le loüer ici ”.
For the journalist Pierre-François Guyot Desfontaines (1685-1745): “ M. de la Tour? Il ne se borne pas aux traits du visage, & à la figure. Il peint l’ame: il rend le caractere, l’esprit, le cœur. Il peint tout dans les portraits vivans ”.
This portrait was probably presented by the sitter to Pierre Pictet, in whose descendants it was transmitted, while the pastel de La Tour was bequeathed by will to the city of Aix-en-Provence, with other works of art and the sum of 100,000 livres, to found a public library, a botanical garden, a cabinet of antiquities and medals : he had already (in 1765) endowed an École de dessin for the city.
Armand Honoré de Villars (1702-1770), duc of Villars, pair de France, Prince de Martigues, Toison d’Or, Governor and Lieutenant-General of Provence, Marseille and Arles, First class Grandee of Spain, member of the French Academy, was the only son of the famous Marshal Duke of Villars (1653-1734), the winner of Denain, and his wife born Jeanne Angélique Roque de Varengevillle (1682-1763).
Born in Paris in 1702, he married on August 5, 1721, Amable Gabrielle de Noailles (1706-1771) daughter of the third Duke of Noailles and Françoise d'Aubigné, niece of Madame de Maintenon. The King Louis XV and several members of the royal family signed the marriage contract. Disunited couple, they lived separately and would not have children. The Duchess of Villars is at court, where she obtains in 1727, following her mother-in-law, the office of Lady in waitting of Queen Marie Leszczynska, then that of Dame d'atour of the Dauphine Marie Antoinette. Villars, at the head of an immense fortune, left the service, a year after the death of his father, with the rank of brigadier to the king and settled in his states of Provence : he inherited the office of governor in 1734. Unrepentant gambler, he lived lavishely and entertained all the society in Marseilles and Aix, as well as the passing travelers. Filled with new ideas, he was the friend of Voltaire (1694-1778), but also of the encyclopaedist d'Alembert (1717-1783) and of the academician Charles Pinot Duclos (1704-1772). Worn out before the age by the abuse of pleasures, it is on the advice of Voltaire, that he will seek during stays in Geneva, to restore his health, under the direction of Doctor Tronchin. He was so pleased with his first stay in 1756 that he returned there seven times.
The Pictets are a patrician family from Geneva, who since the Renaissance and during many generations have been procured syndics, state councilors or member of the council of the Republic of Geneva. Pierre Pictet (1703-1768) who was the probable recipient of this portrait is a Geneva jurisconsult, professor of law at the Academy, owner of a house located just outside Geneva on the hillside of Saint-Jean, next to the Délices of Voltaire. Pierre Pictet and his wife Marguerite Cramer de Brandis (1711-1774) were intimate with Villars when he resided with Voltaire at Les Délices and were amoung the society he met several times a week. Their daughter Charlotte, wife of Samuel Constant, plays her role in plays by Voltaire.
The Constant family, in which this painting was transmitted, is a Protestant family originating from Artois, which settled in the 16th century in Geneva and then in Lausanne, where the Constants were received as bourgeois in 1614. It is a family of merchants, doctors, soldiers, professors and literary men, one of whose most famous representatives is probably Benjamin Constant (1767-1830).
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10 000 €