Jean Decourt (Limoges c. 1530–after 1585 Paris)
Property of the Lord Margadale of Islay DL
Jean Decourt (Limoges c. 1530–after 1585 Paris)

Portrait of a lady, traditionally identified as Louise de Lorraine (1553-1601)

Jean Decourt (Limoges c. 1530–after 1585 Paris)
Portrait of a lady, traditionally identified as Louise de Lorraine (1553-1601)
with indistinct date '155[...]' (upper right)
oil on panel
7 7/8 x 5 ¾ in. (20 x 14.5 cm.)
Alfred Morrison (1821-1897), Fonthill House, Tisbury, Wiltshire, by 1878, and by descent to the present owner.
London, Royal Academy, Exhibition of works by the Old Masters, and by deceased Masters of the British School...etc., Winter Exhibition, 1878, no. 208, as 'François Clouet, Portrait of Louise de Lorraine' (lent by Alfred Morrison).
London, Royal Academy; and Manchester, City Art Gallery, Exhibition of French Art, 1200-1900, 4 January-1 May 1932, nos. 100 and 112 respectively, as 'Anonymous, XVIth Century, Portrait of Louise de Lorraine’ (lent by John Morrison).

Lot Essay

This exquisitely detailed, jewel-like portrait of a woman in a pink gown, embellished with silver brocade, is a superb example of the elegant and sophisticated portraiture which dominated the French court during the second half of the sixteenth century.

Works by Decourt, especially of this quality, are extremely rare and this portrait displays all the typical hallmarks of his remarkable talent. Decourt was recorded in 1553 as painter to Charles, Prince de la Roche-sur-Yon (‘Monseigneur le prince de la Rochesurion’) and appointed Painter in Ordinary to Mary Stuart in 1562, remaining in her household as a ‘valet de chambre’ for several years. He also seems to have been working at the French court from around the same date, often collaborating with François Clouet. The apogee of his career, however, came in 1572 when he was appointed official painter to King Charles IX of France, following the death of Clouet, and it is to this period that this portrait dates.

When the portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy in the late-nineteenth century, it was attributed to Clouet, underlining its outstanding quality, and identified as a portrait of the French Queen Louise de Lorraine, wife of Henry III. The sitter’s physiognomy does not compare closely with that of the queen (see fig. 1), however, and while extremely lavish the beautifully-rendered costume denotes the status of a wealthy female courtier, rather than of royalty. Furthermore, in addition to stylistic factors, the costume can be dated to the mid-1570s, when Decourt was the established artistic force in Paris.

The sitter’s features are sharply observed and carefully modelled, but it is in the details of her costume and jewellery that Decourt truly excels. The depiction of the pink brocade on the bodice and sleeves, with its complex pattern of silver embroidery, is extraordinarily carefully painted, each fold or change in light correspondingly picked out in the metallic threads of the design. Lavish attention has been paid to the jewels in their heavy gold mounts interspersed with pearls which cover the billament of the sitter’s hood and make up the ornamental jewellery pinned to the front of her bodice. In the ruffled lattice partlet, which covers the sitter’s shoulders, Decourt picks out each individual thread, modulating the tones and colours as he does so to give as convincing a representation of the material as possible, something he also achieves when describing the ornate, figure-of-eight ruff, bordered with lace, which tightly encloses his sitter’s neck. Each element of the woman’s elaborate costume is lavished with attention and supreme skill by the painter. It is possible that Decourt’s very precise rendition of pattern and ornament can be linked to a knowledge of metalwork or engraving which he may have acquired early in his career.

We are grateful to Dr. Alexandra Zvereva for proposing the attribution after inspection of the original.

Please see the previous lot for a note on the provenance.

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