TEFAF NEW YORK FALL
Francois Xavier Fabre
Portrait of the sculptor Barthélémy Corneille
oil on canvas
74 x 61 cm
29 1/8 x 24 1/8 in
29 1/8 x 24 1/8 in
ProvenancePrivate Collection, Switzerland
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ExhibitionsExhibited at the “Saint-Louis” exhibition of the “pensionnaires du Roy”, Rome, Accademia di Francia, Palazzo Mancini, 24 August-2 September 1789
PublicationsPer la storia di questo dipinto cfr. A. DE MONTAIGLON, J. GUIFFREY (a cura di), Correspondance des Directeurs de l’Académie de France à Rome. Paris, 1906, vol. XV, 1785 – 1790, p. 345, n° 9010, (Ménageot à d’Angiviller A Rome, le 2 Septembre 1789); F. BOYER Le sculpteur Barthélémy Corneille à Rome et en Toscane (1787-1805), in F. BOYER, Le Monde des Arts en Italie et la France de la Révolution et de l’Empire, S.E.I, Torino 1970, cap VI, pp.45 – 54, p. 46 (cit.)
In the last quarter of XVIII century, it was common for painters to exchange portraits between artists and friends: surely, it was in vogue in 1787, when the painter François-Xavier Fabre and the sculptor Berthélémy Corneille arrived in Rome, as newly elected pensionnaires at the Accademia di Francia in Palazzo Mancini. The training for academical studies was still stranded on old and dull practices, like nude studies, draped figures, copies from ancient monuments and from the masterpieces of the Renaissance and 17th century. In this situation stuck in the past, it became obvious for the pensionnaires to experiment with new typologies of painting: on the one hand, some of them went out in the Roman countryside to study the landscape “sur le motif”; the others practiced, in Palazzo Mancini, the portrait genre, sketching friends and the “charge d’atelier”, sometimes emphasizing the features of the person portrayed. The so-called “portrait d’amitié”. The present painting was exposed for the first time in the “gran salon de l’appartement du Roy” in Palazzo Mancini, during the celebrations of St. Louis’ day, on 25th August 1789. Thereafter the painting remained in the collection of the sitter, Barthèlèmy Corneille, and it only reappeared recently in a private collection with the wrong attribution to Jacques-Louis David. The half figure of the sculptor is portrayed, very close to the viewer, against a bright, olive brown background like the one we can find in many portraits by David; he is sitting on the side, with the right arm lying on the back of the chair. He holds in his hands the tools of the trade, the hammer and the claw chisel, ready to start working. The portrait of Corneille can be placed in Fabre’s early period production, between 1783 and 1792, and it’s very close to the Portrait of Jacques Joseph Coiny (Versailles, Musée du Château, fig.1), another “portrait d’amitié”: these paintings are direct testimonies of a personal relationship between artists, with an emotional sensibility and a spontaneity visible also by the rapid brushworks, a technique learned from his master David. The ideal pendant of the painting in exam is the carved portrait of Fabre executed by Corneille (fig.2), which was first shown in 1790 in San Luigi dei Francesi. During 1788, Corneille became very ill and almost died, forcing to stay in bed for many months, since he almost died. He finally recovered at the beginning of the summer. It seems reasonable to say that the two artists portrayed each other right after this unpleasant period, as if they wanted to celebrate the full recovery of the sculptor, who finally could come back to work. It is certain that Fabre gave his carved portrait to Musée Fabre in 1826. While the sculptor portrayed his friend the painter and emphasized his features and flaws, Fabre chose to idealise Corneille, representing him with a wig and being very well-dressed.