Nicolas Lancret (1690 Paris - 1743 Paris)
Red chalk on paper ; 18 x 17.9 cm
Paris, Galerie Prouté ; Paris, Diane de Pracomtal collection (Madame Bernard Destremau) ; Paris, Artcurial, 9th June 2021.
Nicolas Lancret, six years younger than Watteau, was like him a pupil of Claude Gillot and one of the first French masters of genre painting and particularly of "fêtes galantes", so typical of 18th century art and the "douceur de vivre" that Talleyrand, a century later, would so deeply regret. He was more realistic and sensual, less dreamy than Watteau from whom he first drew inspiration, and much appreciated at the courts of Versailles and Potsdam, his premature death in 1743 marking the end of a genre that would only truly revive, in a new way, with Fragonard.
His biographer Ballot de Sovot describes Lancret drawing "on the spot" : "He saw nothing but models on his walks ; and he often left his friends and went to a viewpoint to draw a group or a figure that he liked." (Éloge de Monsieur Lancret, peintre du roi, 1743). This drawing’s technique is typical of the artist in his mature years: the red chalk applied briskly but with measure, at times broad and light, at times sharper and stronger.
Difficult to say whether he met this elegant woman in a park or if she posed in the studio. In any case one can recognize her, line for line, adorned in pink and yellow, in one of Lancret's most attractive paintings, Éloge d'une statue de marbre (Praise for a Marble Statue - Rome, Galleria Nazionale Barberini) known today under the clumsy title Le Persan et la Statue and dated 1728.
As the critic Cousin de Contamine described it in 1737 : "Next to the Persian is a young and graceful French woman. Her head is raised and turns towards the statue which she is looking at with as much satisfaction as he does, if less astonishment. In her right hand she holds her open fan which she puts in front of her eyes to protect them from too much light. With the other hand she raises her taffeta skirt to let see her petticoat." (Descriptions raisonnées de quelques ouvrages de peinture et de sculpture, 1737).
Not just her petticoat… The dialectic movement of the two hands, one protecting the face, the other uncovering the foot, reveals a part of the female anatomy which after being largely ignored during Louis XIV’s reign became more and more visible under the ample dresses of the French Regency and whose erotic value would steadily rise thereafter. We can think in this respect of La Jarretière by Jean-François de Troy (NewYork, Metropolitan Museum), which predates L'Éloge d'une statue de marbre by four years and which Lancret was probably familiar with.
As for the statue, it is Le Soldat bandant son arc (The Soldier Bending his Bow - Paris, Musée du Louvre) by Jacques Bousseau (1681-1740) Bousseau had offered a "model" to Lancret, who then composed the painting as a gift to him.
This sketch of an art lover – "This woman may mean that there are still true connoisseurs among us", commented the critic of the time – is now ours to enjoy as a reflection of the curiosity, civility and sensuality of the Age of Enlightenment.