Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée I (Paris 1725-1805)
Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée I (Paris 1725-1805)
Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée I (Paris 1725-1805)
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Masterworks from the Estate of Lila and Herman Shickman
Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée I (Paris 1725-1805)

The Robe; and The Third Estate

Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée I (Paris 1725-1805)
The Robe; and The Third Estate
the first signed and dated 'L Lagrenee / 1766.' (lower left); the second signed and dated 'L Lagrenee / 1766.' (lower center, on the stone)
oil on canvas
10 x 13 1/8 in. (25.2 x 33.3 cm.)
a pair
with Galerie Joseph Hahn, Paris, by 1972.
with Paul Rosenberg & Co., New York, by 1982.
E. Zafran, The Rococo Age: French Masterpieces of the Eighteenth Century, exhibition catalogue, Atlanta, p. 57, under no. 18, fig. IIs.
M. Saridoz, Les Lagrenée, I. – Louis (Jean, François) Lagrenée, 1725-1805, Paris, 1983, nos. 161-164B, pp. 206-207, 364.
B. Rosasco, 'Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée’s Four Estates and Their Patron, Guillaume Mazade de Saint Bresson', in Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University, LII, no. 2, 1993, pp.3, 14, 15, 16, 19, 20, 23 and 25, notes 2, 51 and 76, figs. 19 and 20.
Paris, Galerie Joseph Hahn, La Peinture Narrative en France, 1500-1800, 3-31 March 1972, no. 19.
Paris, Galerie Joseph Hahn, Leurs Esquisses: France, Italie, Autriche: Artistes du XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles, 25 April-7 June 1975, no. 12.
New York, Paul Rosenberg & Co., Four Guest Galleries from Paris & Paul Rosenberg & Co., 16 March-1 May 1982, nos. 24 and 25.

Lot Essay

Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée was born in Paris in 1724 and studied with Carle Vanloo. Winning the Prix de Rome in 1749, he left to become a pensionnaire at the French Academy in Rome the following year. He modeled his painting style on the polished, refined manner of his teacher, copied works by artists of the 17th-century Bolognese School, and was already known as 'The French Guido Reni' by the time he returned to Paris in 1754. He was received as an associate member of the Academy in 1755, and quickly established his reputation among the wealthy noblesse de finance as a masterly and pleasing painter of decorative works. He departed for St. Petersburg in 1760 when the Empress Elisabeth invited him to assume the position as her Premier Peintre. In addition to fulfilling Imperial commissions and academic obligations at the Russian Academy of Painting, Lagrenée painted numerous portraits of the Russian nobility before returning to Paris prematurely in April 1762, due to the death of the empress. He was soon elevated to full professor at the French Academy and immediately began exhibiting at the Salon, to acclaim and great success, even winning the support and patronage of the philosophe and fickle art critic, Denis Diderot. Public recognition and a prestigious career followed in quick order, and his hand-written account books reveal that he had painted at least 457 works by the end of his life, with more than 150 of these exhibited at the Salon.
The small and beautiful Shickman canvases, which are signed and dated 1766, are highly finished sketches for two of a suite of four allegorical overdoors that Lagrenée exhibited in the Salon of 1767 depicting The Four Estates. Both the finished paintings and the sketches are among the best documented of Lagrenée’s long career. The Salon livret gives their titles as: '(22) "The Clergy: the figures of Truth and Religion"; (23) "The Military: Bellona presenting to Mars the reins of his horses"; (23) "The Magistracy: Justice disarmed by Innocence and applauded by Prudence"; and (24) "The Third Estate: Agriculture and Commerce which leads to Abundance”'. The finished paintings were commissioned by Guillaume Mazade de Saint-Bresson (d. 1777), an immensely wealthy fermier-général (tax farmer) and the treasurer of Languedoc, as overdoor decorations for the Hôtel Castanier on the rue des Capucines in Paris, a magnificent residence that he had purchased in 1763 and was extensively modernizing. Lagrenée had exhibited at the Salon of 1765 allegorical overdoors of the same format that had been commissioned by Louis XV for the château de Choisy (now in Fontainbleau), and Mazade de Saint-Bresson was no doubt inspired by them to request from the artist comparable paintings for his own house, which he was decorating with a level of opulence to rival a royal palace.
The allegories would celebrate the probity of the patron and the virtue of the classes whose taxes he collected. The themes of peace, the clemency and prudence of the Magistrature, the foundation of religion in truth, and the abundance fostered by agriculture and commerce flattered the patron and was perhaps intended to subtly counter a growing hostility within enlightened circles toward the outsized role of the financial oligarchy in the economic system of the Ancien Régime.
Bachaumont observed that there were traditionally only three Estates – the First Estate consisting of the clergy; the Second Estate composed of the two divisions of the noble class, the Nobility of the Sword and the Nobility of the Robe; and the Third Estate including the workers, laborers and peasants that formed the overwhelming majority of the French population. He concluded that Lagrenée’s series represented the Second Estate with two separate canvases simply to flatter his patron; in his view, a distinct painting devoted to ‘The Magistracy’ – the judiciary and members of Parlément or ‘La Noblesse de Robe’ and the class of ennobled bourgeoisie to which Mazade de Saint-Bresson belonged – was added for the sole purpose of ingratiation with a rich and powerful collector. The actual reason may have been entirely innocent: the décor of the room in which they were to be installed might simply have required four decorations.
The paintings were well received at the Salon. In his magnificent watercolor of the exhibition, Gabriel de Saint-Aubin depicted Lagrenée’s Four Estates hanging in a place of honor (Veil-Picard collection, Paris). The critic of the Mercure de France described the paintings as 'ingenious' and noted that 'they give the greatest pleasure.' The reviewer for the Journal encyclopédique wrote of the ‘four emblematic paintings of exquisite taste….' L’Avant-coureur observed that 'one can see nothing more gracious than the four paintings designating the four estates of citizens under sensible and seductive emblems.' Mathon de la Cour praised their 'beautiful finish, fresh colors, and soft harmony.' Even Diderot, who found them confusing in their symbolism and obscure in meaning, praised the beauty of their execution.
It is not known when Lagrenée’s series of The Four Estates was divided. The Clergy and The Third Estate were sold as a pair in an auction in Paris of the collection of Penard y Fernandez in 1960 (Hôtel Drouot, 19-20 December 1960, lot 84, illustrated); they have since disappeared but are reproduced in the sale catalogue. The Sword and The Robe appeared at auction at Christie’s London in 1974 (18-19 July 1974, lot 96, and were acquired by The Art Museum, Princeton University in 1975; fig. 1). Just as Lagrenée’s account books record the paintings as having been made for Mazard de Saint-Bresson and acquired from the artist for 600 livres each, the same source identifies four sketches for the paintings that were acquired by 'Mlle Mazade' – the patron’s daughter – for the small sum of 300 livres total. Mlle. Mazade made a spectacular marriage to the duc de Villequier-d’Aumont in 1771, bringing to the union a dowry of a million livres, among the richest of the century. She died of natural causes in 1785 and her husband, who was compromised in the Flight to Varennes, when the royal family escaped to a waiting carriage through his apartment in the Tuilleries Palace, fled the Revolution and emigrated to Belgium.
The Shickman sketches represent The Robe and The Third Estate; a third sketch, for The Sword, appeared on the Paris art market in the 1970s, but its present whereabouts is unknown; the sketch for The Clergy seems untraced since the 18th century. Comparisons between the Shickman sketch and photographs of the final version of The Third Estate reveal virtually no changes: in both, we see the handsome, bare-chested figure of Mercury, caduceus in hand, presenting Abundance, whose cornucopia overflows, to the open-armed and welcoming figure of Agriculture, her head crowned with cornflowers; behind Agriculture stands a putto lifting a great sheaf of wheat. Although the elements composing The Robe; or Magistracy, are the same in both the sketch and the finished overdoor – Justice holds scales, its trays filled with laurel, while a putto deprives her of her sword; Prudence assists in the disarming – Lagrenée significantly rearranged the figures, giving greater prominence to the Scales of Justice and rendering the grouping more monumental in the process. If one might find Diderot’s assessment of the picture as 'lacking in judgment and conceptual focus' somewhat harsh, it is impossible to disagree with his appraisal of its masterly painting technique: 'If the mind dwells on something here, dreams about something, it’s the beauty of touch, the drapery, the heads, the feet, the hands…for the handling here is very beautiful.'

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