The present portrait dates from circa 1795-1800, a period in which Greuze created a gallery of portraits of many of the leading personalities of the Revolutionary Règence and the Directory.
As Anita Brookner (see A. Brookner, Greuze, the Rise and Fall of an eighteenth-century Phenomenon, London, 1972) thus describes Greuze's 'revolutionary' period portraits : 'all are painted in a distinctive and recognisable manner. All are dark but not drab in colouring, with a great deal of plain black and white, and neutral backgrounds, while the painting of the heads returns to the style of La Tour. The flesh is ruddy and highly coloured with pronounced blue shadows round the chin and jaw, and the surfaces are thick and chalky'.
Edgar Munhall observes, the physical similarities between the sitter of the present portrait and the features of Charles-Maurice de Tallyrand-Pericord as evident in portraits y Prud'hon (such as that in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). He also points out similarities between the present picture and the pastel portrait by Greuze of Baptiste Ainé (The Frick Collection, New York).
The sitter might indeed be Baptiste Aîné, one of the most famous French actors of the late eighteenth century. His Parisian career started in 1793, when Beaumarchais hired him to play the first role in his new Théâtre du Marais. In 1798, he became trustee of the Comédie-Française. He was portrayed twice by Martin Drolling, in 1802 (Paris, Musée de la Comédie-Française) and 1803 (Caen, Musée des Beaux-Arts). Jean-Baptiste Isabey (Paris, Musée de la Comédie Française ) and Louis-Léopold Boilly also painted portraits of him.
We are grateful to Mr. Edgar Munhall for confirming the attribution to Greuze and for providing cataloguing information for this lot (private communication, 23 July 2002).