JEAN-FRANÇOIS DE TROY (PARIS 1679-1752 ROME)
JEAN-FRANÇOIS DE TROY (PARIS 1679-1752 ROME)
JEAN-FRANÇOIS DE TROY (PARIS 1679-1752 ROME)
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JEAN-FRANÇOIS DE TROY (PARIS 1679-1752 ROME)

The Reading Party

Details
JEAN-FRANÇOIS DE TROY (PARIS 1679-1752 ROME)
The Reading Party
signed and dated 'DE TROY / 1735' (lower left)
oil on canvas
32 1/4 x 25 1/2 in. (81.8 x 64.7 cm.)
Provenance
with Clément, Paris, by 1865.
(Probably) Baron Solomon Albert, ‘Salbert’, de Rothschild (1844-1911), Vienna, and by inheritance to his son,
Baron Louis Nathaniel von Rothschild (1882-1955), Vienna, (probably) by 1931.
with Wildenstein, Paris, 1934.
Mozelle Sassoon (1872-1964), by 1937, and by descent to her daughter,
Violet Fitzgerald (1894-1970); (†) Christie’s, London, 7 July 1972, lot 38 (£50,400 to the following).
with Edward Speelman, London, from whom acquired by the present owner.
Literature
A.-J. Dézallier D'Argenville, Abrégé De La Vie Des Plus Fameux Peintres, Paris, 1762, VI, p. 373.
Chévalier de Valory, Mémoires inédits sur la vie et les ouvrages des membres de l'Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, Paris, 1854, II, p. 275, as painted in 1727.
C. Blanc, Histoire des peintres de toutes les écoles depuis la Renaissance jusqu'à nos jours, Paris, 1865, II, p. 6, note 1, and pp. 12 and 16.
L. Auvray and É. Bellier de la Chavignerie, Dictionnaire Général Des Artistes De L'école Française, Paris, 1885, II, p. 598.
G. Brière, ‘Detroy: 1679-1752’, L. Dimier, ed., Les Peintres Français du XVIIIe Siècle, Paris and Brussels, 1930, II, pp. 43-4, no. 24.
G. Brière, ‘L'exposition des chefs-d'oeuvre des musées de provence. École française, XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles', Bulletin de la Société de l'histoire de l'art français, Paris, 1931, p. 165, with a note ‘Est-ce ce tableau qui se retrouve aujourd’hui dans la collection de M. le baron Louis de Rothschild, à Vienne?’.
A. Leroy, Histoire de la peinture française au XVIIIe siècle, Paris, 1934, p. 165.
G. Wildenstein, La Peinture française au XVIIIe siècle, Paris, 1937, no. 16, illustrated.
M. Fried, Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot, Berkley, New York and London, 1980, p. 195, note 90.
C. Leribault, Jean-François de Troy (1679-1752), Paris, 2002, p. 340, no. P.231, illustrated.
C. Leribault, in The Age of Watteau, Chardin and Fragonard – Masterpieces of French Genre Painting, exhibition catalogue, New Haven and London, 2003, p. 170, under no. 26, fig. 97.
R.L. Whyte, Painting as Social Conversation: The petit sujet in the Ancien Regime, PhD Thesis, University of Toronto, 2008, p. 45.
J. Ebeling, Tableaux de mode - Studien zum aristokratischen Genrebild in Frankreich in der ersten Hälfte des 18. Jahrhunderts, PhD Thesis, Philipps-Universität Marburg, 2012, pp. 8, 63, 92, 403 and 421, fig. 6.
Exhibited
Paris, Georges Wildenstein, La peinture française au XVIIIe siècle, 1937, no. 16 (lent by Madame Sassoon).
Special notice

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Sale room notice
Please note the additional line of Rothschild provenance for this lot:
(Probably) Baron Solomon Albert, ‘Salbert’, de Rothschild (1844-1911), Vienna, and by inheritance to his son,
Baron Louis Nathaniel von Rothschild (1882-1955), Vienna.

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Clementine Sinclair
Clementine Sinclair Director, Head of Department

Lot Essay

Acclaimed in his lifetime as one of the most ambitious and fluent masters of grand manner (and grand-scale) paintings of historical, biblical and mythological subjects, Jean-François de Troy is today revered chiefly for a series of small-scale contemporary genre scenes depicting the social rituals of the Parisian haute monde, known as ‘tableaux de mode’ (loosely translated as ‘Fashionable Pictures’), of which The Reading Party is among the finest and most seductive.
De Troy seems to have painted all of his ‘tableaux de mode’ during the period of roughly a single decade, from approximately 1724 to 1735. Eleven of these pictures are known today, including The Reading Party; most of them are signed and dated and were reproduced in popular engravings of the time; records suggest that the majority, perhaps all, of his rare efforts in the genre have survived.
The ‘tableaux de mode’ all share certain fundamental characteristics: they are small in size (the largest measures 74 x 93 cm.), depict groups of nobles, courtiers and aristocratic women and men (ranging from three to seven in the various paintings) dressed in opulent clothing very much ‘à la mode’, and conversing, reading, flirting, or at their toilette dressing for (or undressing after) a ball. Some are set in lavish domestic interiors furnished with the most luxurious and fashionable Régence chairs, sofas, commodes, tables, painted screens, porcelains and gilt-bronze clocks; others take place outdoors, in the sunny park of a grand estate, or – as in the present painting – a verdant, sun-dappled country garden.
It is not known what prompted De Troy – then in his early forties, with a well-established career as a history painter – to invent his new genre. He might have been inspired by Antoine Watteau, master of the ‘fête galante’, whose premature death had left an opening in the growing market for elegant scenes of flirtation and romance, which Watteau’s closest followers - Nicolas Lancret and Jean-Baptiste Pater - were beginning to fill with success. At the Paris Salon of 1725, De Troy exhibited seven paintings, offering the public the most complete survey to date of his wide repertory: history pictures and mythologies, both large and small, and three ‘tableaux de mode’: The Declaration of Love and its pendant, The Garter (bequest of Jayne Wrightsman to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), painted in 1724 and the earliest examples of his work in the genre; and The Game of ‘Pied-de-Boeuf’ (private collection), from the same year. As the connoisseur Pierre-Jean Mariette recounted (in 1762), the pictures made an immediate sensation ('He pleased many in Paris with his little ‘tableaux de mode', which are more carefully painted than his history paintings'). De Troy followed shortly thereafter with The Rendezvous at the Fountain, or ‘The Alarm’ (c. 1727; London, Victoria and Albert Museum; fig. 1); The Reading from Molière (c. 1730; private collection) and it pendant, The Declaration of Love (1731; Potsdam, Sanssouci Palace); A Lady Showing her Bracelet Miniature to her Suitor (c. 1734) and its pendant, A Lady Attaching a Bow to a Gentleman’s Sword (1734; both in a private collection); the present painting, which is signed and dated 1735; and the Toilette Before the Ball (1735; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles) and its pendant, After the Ball (1735; private collection).
Given their success, it is not clear why De Troy painted fewer than a dozen examples in what proved to be his unexcelled chronicle of urbane society at leisure, but it is likely that he found them too demanding of his time. For a famously quick painter who was said to design his history compositions in his head without the use of drawings and studies, and to refrain from repainting once he had begun, the small, intricate designs of the ‘tableaux de mode’, with their polished, porcelain finish and meticulous attention to rendering every detail of costume and furnishings, required a commitment of preparation and labour that he may have found more taxing than he wished. François Boucher, whose own ‘tableaux de mode’ were deeply indebted to De Troy’s example, himself largely abandoned the genre in the 1740s, complaining that the elaboration of such pictures’ high finish was dimming his eyesight.
The precedent of Watteau’s ‘fêtes galantes’ informs all of De Troy’s ‘tableaux de mode’, but none more so than The Reading Party. Three exquisitely dressed figures – two young women and an attentive young man – recline in a semi-circle on a grassy knoll in an overgrown glade. On the left, a seated woman in an extravagantly rich silk robe volante (covering her extravagantly elongated legs) reads to her companions from a book, likely a popular romantic novel. Another woman sits beside her, holding an open fan and slightly obscured by the shadows from overhanging trees, her gaze affixed on the reader and alertly listening. The young man listens with complete engagement, leaning on his elbow, his head resting on his hand, enchanted by the story being told, but also, one suspects, by the woman reading it. Its lush garden setting, beautiful and graceful figures, meticulous attention to the rendering of silks, satins and brocades, and the gentle hints of romantic intrigue among the characters all speak to the influence of Watteau. However, the ‘fêtes galantes’ of Watteau are always marked by an element of fantasy – ‘commedia dell’arte’ characters, seventeenth century ‘fancy dress’ – and a certain mood of nostalgia. De Troy’s innovation was to render the ‘fête galante’ in entirely contemporary terms, his scenes wholly of the present, rendered in the most up-to-date settings, manners and fashions – indeed, costume historians have dated his paintings to the exact year they were executed. The pictures also precisely identify the social class of their subjects – careful observers will note the ‘talons rouges,’ or red heels, of the young man’s shoes, a distinction conferred only on those who had been presented at court. De Troy’s paintings are free of nostalgia and any moralising overtones, distilling – as Christophe Leribault has noted – 'the spirit of a time, which we can easily imagine being divided between the pleasure of conversation and the pleasure of flirtation', unimpeded by 'the psychological torments of love' so characteristic of Watteau’s complex and imaginative world.
Curiously, considering their immediate public success, few of the first owners of De Troy’s paintings are known, apart from Germain-Louis de Chauvelin, who served as Garde des Sceaux and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and was the first owner of four of them: A Lady Showing a Bracelet Miniature to her Suitor and its pendant, and Toilette Before the Ball and its pendant. The earliest history of The Reading Party remains unknown, but it is recorded in the Extrait de la vie de M. de Troy (published in 1854) and was engraved by Charles-Nicolas Cochin and published in a print of 1735, the same date clearly inscribed on the painting itself; it reappears again only in the later nineteenth century, in the collection of Baron Louis de Rothschild in Vienna.
De Troy’s ‘tableaux de mode’ had a wide impact on European art of the Ancien Régime, from Nicolas Lancret and François Boucher in France, to Pietro Longhi in Italy, to William Hogarth and the masters of the British ‘Conversation Piece’ in England. As in the stylish comic plays of his contemporary Marivaux, De Troy created a world of stately, unhurried rhythms, whose subjects are seductive and flirtatious but never vulgar, in which – as Christophe Leribault has observed – 'everything is a matter of attraction, of declaration, of feigned resistance, and of feelings that have to be admitted to oneself as much as to others'. For twenty-first century observers, as for the artist’s contemporaries, the ‘tableaux de mode’ provide the truest and most delightful window into the rarified world of fashionable Paris at the dawn of the Enlightenment, the rarest and most perfect emblems of la douceur de vie.
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