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Oil painting - Louis XVI of France (1754-1793)
  • Louis XVI of France (1754-1793)
    Duplessis, Joseph-Siffred, born 1725 - died 1802
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Louis XVI of France (1754-1793)

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Date:

    ca. 1775-1800 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Duplessis, Joseph-Siffred, born 1725 - died 1802 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on millboard

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by John Jones

  • Museum number:

    568-1882

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Joseph Siffred Duplessis (1725-1802) was born in Carpentras, Southern France, and trained at first with his father, an amateur painter, and then with Joseph-Gabriel Imbert (1666-1749), a pupil of Charles Le Brun. In 1744 he went to Rome and worked with Pierre Subleyras (1699-1749). He specialised in portrait paintings and also painted landscapes. He enjoyed a great success and succeeded Jean-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779) as councillor at the Académie in 1780.

This painting depicts King Louis XVI of France and is a copy after an original executed around 1775. This portrait is a good example of royal representation during the absolute monarchy in France. Louis XVI wears a fashionable silk doublet and the two most prestigious decorations: the blue ribbon and star of the Order of The Saint Esprit and the red ribbon and badge of the Order of the Toison d'Or. This copy may date from the late 18th to the early 19th century.

Physical description

Three-quarter profile portrait of a middle aged man wearing a white wig, a pale-blue doublet with a white neck-tie, ribbons and medals.

Date

ca. 1775-1800 (painted)

Artist/maker

Duplessis, Joseph-Siffred, born 1725 - died 1802 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Oil on millboard

Dimensions

Height: 61 cm approx., Width: 46.8 cm approx., :

Object history note

Mr Roger Fenton, 1846; acquired by John Jones in 1870.
Bequeathed by John Jones, 1882.
Ref : Parkinson, Ronald, Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860. Victoria & Albert Museum, HMSO, London, 1990. p.xix-xx

John Jones (1800-1882) was first in business as a tailor and army clothier in London 1825, and opened a branch in Dublin 1840. Often visited Ireland, travelled to Europe and particularly France. He retired in 1850, but retained an interest in his firm. Lived quietly at 95 Piccadilly from 1865 to his death in January 1882. After the Marquess of Hertford and his son Sir Richard Wallace, Jones was the principal collector in Britain of French 18th century fine and decorative arts. Jones bequeathed an important collection of French 18th-century furniture and porcelain to the V&A, and among the British watercolours and oil paintings he bequeathed to the V&A are subjects which reflect his interest in France.

See also South Kensington Museum Art Handbooks. The Jones Collection. With Portrait and Woodcuts. Published for the Committee of Council on Education by Chapman and Hall, Limited, 11, Henrietta Street. 1884.
Chapter I. Mr. John Jones. pp.1-7.
Chapter II. No.95, Piccadilly. pp.8-44. This gives a room-by-room guide to the contents of John Jones' house at No.95, Piccadilly.
Chapter VI. ..... Pictures,... and other things, p.138, "The pictures which are included in the Jones bequest are, with scarcely a single exception, valuable and good; and many of them excellent works of the artists. Mr. Jones was well pleased if he could collect enough pictures to ornament the walls of his rooms, and which would do no discredit to the extraordinary furniture and other things with which his house was filled."

Historical significance: This painting portrays Louis XVI, King of France, who was beheaded in 1793 after the French Revolution. This portrait is a reduced replica of a painting executed by Joseph Siffred Duplessis around 1775, originally oval in format and showing the entire bust length. Two versions of this portrait by Duplessis are housed in the Musée National des châteaux de Versailles et du Trianon (Inv. MV 8464 and MV 3966), another in the Musée de Condé, Chantilly (PE 388) and other two in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (SK-A-3278) and the Musée de l'Hôtel Sandelin, Saint-Omer (0261 CM). One of these portraits may be the one exhibited at the Salon in 1775 (no. 128), considered as the original. Duplessis and his workshop realised after this original portrait many replicas (about fifty) to satisfy the demand for royal representation.
Louis XVI is here depicted with the blue ribbon and star of the Order of The Saint Esprit and the red ribbon and badge of the Order of the Toison d'Or, the two most prestigious decorations but the Regalia, crown and main de justice as well as the sceptre are missing. This is because as an absolute monarch from divine right, Louis XVI did not need to display tangible signs of his power.
The overall clumsiness of the present painting suggests it was made by another hand than Duplessis and his assistants, who were renowned for the good likeness and their masterly technique. The partial copy as well as the square format indicates that the painting may have been trimmed at the bottom and the right hand-side.

Historical context note

In his encyclopaedic work, Historia Naturalis, the ancient Roman author Pliny the Elder described the origins of painting in the outlining of a man's projected shadow in profile. In the ancient period, profile portraits were found primarily in imperial coins. With the rediscovery and the increasing interest in the Antique during the early Renaissance, artists and craftsmen looked back to this ancient tradition and created medals with profile portraits on the obverse and personal devise on the reverse in order to commemorate and celebrate the sitter. Over time these profile portraits were also depicted on panels and canvas, and progressively evolved towards three-quarter and eventually frontal portraits.
These portraits differ in many ways from the notion of portraiture commonly held today as they especially aimed to represent an idealised image of the sitter and reflect therefore a different conception of identity. The sitter's likeness was more or less recognisable but his particular status and familiar role were represented in his garments and attributes referring to his character. The 16th century especially developed the ideal of metaphorical and visual attributes through the elaboration of highly complex portrait paintings in many formats including at the end of the century full-length portraiture. Along with other devices specific to the Italian Renaissance such as birth trays (deschi da parto) and wedding chests' decorated panels (cassoni or forzieri), portrait paintings participated to the emphasis on the individual.
Portrait paintings were still fashionable during the following centuries and extended to the rising bourgeoisie and eventually to common people, especially during the social and political transformations of the 19th century. At the end of the 19th century and during the 20th century, painted portraits were challenged and eventually supplanted by the development of new media such as photography.

Descriptive line

Oil on millboard, 'Louis XVI of France (1754-93)', After Joseph Siffred Duplessis, late 18th - early 19th century

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Kauffmann, C.M., Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800, London, 1973, p. 91, cat. no. 92
A. de Champeaux, 'Le Legs Jones au South Kensington Museum' in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, xxvii, 1883, p. 430.
B. Long, Catalogue of the Jones Collection, London, 1923, p. 8.

Materials

Oil paint; Millboard

Techniques

Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Ribbon; Doublet; Medal

Categories

Paintings; Portraits

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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