[Pillements] chinoiseries exaggerate wispy, fragile qualities of the style. It is as though the world is a fairyland conjured out of gossamer and stalks of grass, and the humans inhabiting it, fanciful little creatures who dance and tumble around so effervescent and lively they seem more creatures of the air than earth.
(D. Jacobson, Chinoiserie, London, 1993, p. 75)
As Maria Gordon-Smith commented in her monograph on the artist, the name Jean Pillement can 'evoke visions of Arcadian landscapes, luminous seascapes, and highly polished pastels and drawings. To the cognoscenti of decorative arts, Pillement is recalled as having been the most prolific and successful master of Rococo fantasy of his time. His designs were adopted by countless leading artistic manufactories, and their charm has never waned' (op. cit., p. 18). His international success started young when after a period of working at the Gobelins he left for Madrid, in 1745, and then went to Portugal where he supervised sets of Rococo Singeries and Chinoiseries painted for Quinta de Alegria, near Cintra, for the house of the Dutch consul in Lisbon, Jan Gildemeester. He travelled to London in 1754, where he remained intermittently until 1762, attracting a number of important clients (including David Garrick), before he left to work across the rest of Europe, including in Vienna for Emperor Francis I and Maria Theresa, and also for the Prince of Liechtenstein. Pillement was in Poland between 1665 and 1667, providing paintings for King Stanislaw August Poniatowski's Warsaw Castles, and was accordingly granted the title Premier peintre du roi, before returning to France and also going back and forth to England. He became Peintre de la Reine to Queen Marie Antoinette in 1778, providing three paintings (which she deemed 'Charmante') for the Petite Trianon at Versailles, and two years later when he returned to Portugal, he was named Court Painter to Queen Maria I and King Pedro III.
The present signed and dated canvas, The Chinese Musician, is a particularly notable and appealing example of Pillement's chinoiseries. The mid-18th century rage for chinoiseries was aptly commented upon by James Cawthorn at the time, 'quite sick of Rome and Greece We fetch our models from the wise Chinese' and 'o'er our cabinets Confucius nods, Midst porcelain elephants and China gods' (Of Taste, 1756, quoted in H. Honour, Chinoiserie, 1961, p. 125). Pillements own inventive designs were soon circulated by scores of prints after his drawings, and by 1757 chinoiseries had very much became his domain, becoming a lasting source of fame for the artist. The Chinese Musician is an important example of this genre, in which The artist has built up a cartouche of delicate trellis-work and little bridges with rests on mere flowering vines and fronded branches to serve as the setting for a vibrant oriental dancer in red trousers who executes a pas de seul to his own accompaniment' (D. Garstang, loc. cit.).