This warm and touching portrait of the artist's father, Hubert, remained with the painter's descendants for nearly a hundred and fifty years. Both father and son were accomplished portraitists, the former a pupil and collaborator of François de Troy and later Jean-Baptiste van Loo, Jean-Baptiste Oudry and Jean-Marc Nattier as well as a favorite at the court of Louis XV, where he painted princes, princesses, and actresses of the Comédie-Française. Like his father, François-Hubert was an exponent of the grand manner in society and court portraiture, so this informal and intimate representation of a family member stands out in his oeuvre as a powerful reminder of the artist's ability to capture a sitter's inner life as well as his countenance and accoutrements.
Drouais fils shows his father seated in his studio, holding a drawing pad bursting with folios that he props against his casually crossed knees. The sitter's gold-green eyes and sharp features are carefully drawn to create a vivid physiognomy whose faithfulness is borne out by comparison with Jean-Baptiste Peronneau's 1754 pastel portrait in the museum at Orléans (fig. 1). Porte-craie at the ready, Hubert turns his head toward the viewer and smiles gently as if he were greeting a visitor or studying a face while preparing to capture a likeness. On the canvas behind him he has sketched a woman's head, the beginnings of a painting whose future completion is alluded to by the beautifully rendered palette on the upholstered stool at left. In the shadowy background, an ornamental table is adorned with a gilt bronze Laocoön after the renowned marble sculpture in the Vatican, perhaps a reminder that one of Hubert's diploma pieces for admission to the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture was a portrait of the sculptor Robert Le Lorrain (Musée du Louvre, Paris).
This homage to the artist's father was painted around 1760, not long after François-Hubert had been summoned to Versailles to paint a portrait of the two infant sons of the Dauphin (Louis XVI and Louis XVIII), a work whose success ensured him royal patronage for the rest of his life. In the same decade, Drouais painted royal favorites Madame de Pompadour (London, National Gallery) and Madame du Barry (New York, private collection), and Louis XV himself sat to Drouais in 1772. It must have been a great pleasure for the artist, at the height of his success, to paint a more relaxed sitter than that to which he was accustomed at the French court, and particularly one whose amiable, bright gaze is clearly filled with pride and admiration.