Charles Le Brun (Paris 1619-1690)
Charles Le Brun (Paris 1619-1690)

Portrait of a boy, bust-length

Charles Le Brun (Paris 1619-1690)
Portrait of a boy, bust-length
signed and dated 'Le Brun. / .f. 1650' (lower left)
oil on canvas, oval
13 5/8 x 11 ½ in. (34.6 x 29.2 cm.)
with Colnaghi and Stair Sainty Matthiesen, New York, 1986.
Private collection; Christie's, New York, 19 April 2007, lot 71, where acquired by the present owner.
New York, Stair Sainty Matthiesen, An Aspect of Collecting Taste, 1986, no. 3 (catalogue entry by A. Wintermute).

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Lot Essay

This fresh, resolutely frank oil portrait is distinguished by its clarity, charm and lack of sentimentality. Without a trace of adult condescension, Le Brun's portrait of a young boy captures the sitter's intelligence and mischievousness with a casual mastery and insight rarely equaled in the 17th century, even by Rubens.

Nothing is known about the child, and little was known of the portrait before its rediscovery in the mid-1980s. Even were it not signed and dated 1650, there could have been no doubt as to its authorship. The incisive characterization, thinly painted but highly finished face, naturalistic but sketchy rendering of the hair, and summary treatment of the collar all declare it a work by the master. Le Brun here adopted an aesthetic he established in his finest pastel portraits, notably the three-quarter profile Portrait d'Homme in the Louvre (see J. Thuillier and J. Montague, Exposition Charles Le Brun, Versailles, 1963, no. 181). The present portrait of a boy is most readily comparable to the remarkable oil, Portrait de Turenne at Versailles (op. cit., no. 28). Indeed, Turenne is presented against the same toned-in background, with a strongly individualized face, broadly rendered hair, and summary indication of clothing as is found in the present likeness.

While the Portrait de Turenne was a study from life made to be transferred to the large tapestry cartoon L'Entrevue de l'Ile des Faisans (one of Le Brun's L'Histoire du roi suite), the boy here relates to no identified finished painting or known tapestry. It seems possible that it was never intended as such a study, but is instead an informal portrait of a family member or the child of an intimate. That it is signed and dated is highly unusual for Le Brun and supports the suggestion that the artist considered it a finished, self-sustained work.

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