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    Sale 7448

    Old Master and British Pictures

    7 December 2007, London, King Street

  • Lot 231

    René Auguste Constantyn (c. 1680-after 1730)

    Group portrait of children, possibly the children of Don Francisco Lopes Suasso, in a garden landscape with a pet dog

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    René Auguste Constantyn (c. 1680-after 1730)
    Group portrait of children, possibly the children of Don Francisco Lopes Suasso, in a garden landscape with a pet dog
    signed and date 'René Auguste Constantyn anno 1730' (on the reverse, prior to relining)
    oil on canvas
    26 x 34 in. (66 x 86.4 cm.)


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    We are very grateful to Robin Simon for providing the following entry:
    One of Hogarth's earliest conversation pieces, the child portrait group known as A children's tea party (National Museum of Wales, Cardiff), was imitated in the year of its creation, 1730, by the Dutch painter René Auguste Constantyn.

    The similarities are so compelling that Constantyn must somehow have had direct access to Hogarth's composition: not only are the two settings strikingly similar, but the figures, especially the little boy with the drum and three of the girls, are as close as it is possible to be. Some method of tracing and transfer is indicated, although Constantyn's final picture is distinctive, and possesses a charm and character entirely its own.

    The Hogarth conversation piece that inspired Constantyn is one of a pair, the other showing the same children, with an older boy, in A house of cards (also National Museum of Wales, Cardiff). That picture prominently shows a pug dog in the immediate foreground, itself a Masonic symbol, and especially associated with Hanover. The presence of a garland and an urn in Hogarth's Children's tea party painting, and the absence of one of the boys from the same picture, suggest that the boy died in the brief period between the execution of this picture and its pair.

    One of the few facts known about Constantyn today is that he was connected with the Hanoverian court; and in this context it is worth recalling that, until the fateful intervention of William Kent, Hogarth was painting some of the younger members of the Royal Family from 1732, having already included them in The Conquest of Mexico (private collection).

    Constantyn painted a portrait of George I which was subsequently engraved by Surugue, and he painted the future George II while he was Prince of Wales, c. 1716/17 (reportedly Princeton University Museum). Constantyn's portrait of George II's son, Frederick Lewis (1707-51), at the age of nine, is in the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is signed and dated 'R A Constantin Scutifer Pinxit 1716', the 'scutifer' ('shield-bearer') indicating his possession of an official appointment in the court.

    Constantyn also worked in Germany and, given the movement back and forth of the Hanoverian monarchs, and of the court between Britain and Germany, it may well be that Constantyn saw Hogarth's conversation piece in Hanover rather than London. The red heels of the boys in Constantyn's picture, and the style of wigs that they wear, indicate a continental commission, as does the decidedly un-British architecture in the background.

    Constantyn seems to have copied Hogarth's pair of paintings, conflating and altering details and inserting the figures of the children upon a previously copied background. The dimensions are identical to a degree that indicates an element of tracing. In addition, the dog is superbly painted and suggests either that Constantyn was gifted in this way or that he employed a specialist to paint this detail.

    Constantyn's painting is unusually important within British art at a key moment of its history. The most important painter at work at the time, Hogarth, was evidently making such an impact with his recent development of the 'conversation piece' that Continental artists and patrons were anxious to create something that imitated them, and which might even be confused with them.

    Special Notice

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    Literature

    Robin Simon, Hogarth, France, and British Art, 2007, p. 240-1, ill. plates LXXIII-IV.