Anthelme-François Lagrenée

(Paris, 1774–1832)

Portrait d'un jeune officier cuirassier

45 1/2 x 35 in. (115.5 x 89 cm.)
oil on canvas
signed ‘Lagrénée’ (lower right)

Provenance:

Collection de Sologne.
Sale, Rouillac Commissaires-Prises, Artigny, 4 October 2020, lot 108, when acquired by the present owner.

Catalogue Entry

Fig. 1. Anthelme-François Lagrenée, Portrait of François-Joseph Talma as Hamlet, oil on canvas, 137 x 105 cm., 1810, Comédie Française, Paris.

The son of painter Louis-Jean François Lagrenée (1724–1805), Anthelme-François Lagrenée was a celebrated portrait painter active at the turn of the nineteenth century. Born in Paris in 1774, he trained with his father and later became a pupil of François-André Vincent (1746–1816), before serving in the French army during the Revolution. He returned to painting in about 1799, when he participated in the Salon for the first time, where he would continue exhibiting periodically until 1831.1 After marrying a comedienne, Lagrenée portrayed numerous actors and actresses, as exemplified by his famous portrait of actor François-Joseph Talma (1763–1826) as Hamlet (1810, Comédie Française, Paris, Fig. 1). As his fame as a portrait painter grew throughout Europe, in 1817 Lagrenée moved to Russia, where he remained for eight years. In Saint Petersburg, he received commissions from the most eminent aristocrats of the time, including Emperor Alexander I (1777–1825). In Russia, Lagrenée specialised in miniatures and imitations of cameos, to which he dedicated himself assiduously after he returned to Paris in 1825.

Fig. 3. Breastplate of a cuirassier officer of the Royal Guard, Musée de l’Empéri, Montée du Puech, France.

Fig. 2. Portrait d’un jeune officier cuirassier (detail).

The present work is an arresting example of Lagrenée’s excellence as a portrait painter. It depicts the glowing figure of a young man set before a landscape, gazing at the viewer. The figure is dressed in a resplendent uniform, which identifies him as a military man. He has taken off one of his white gloves, which he now holds in his right hand, while he places his other hand on top of his sword’s grip. The man casually leans against a rock, where his helmet is glimpsed behind his right arm, resting on the grass. A military scene appears in the background, on the right. Cavalry is lined up during a military exercise, with three horsemen coming forward from the group towards a fourth figure, who gives orders with his arm stretched out in front. A small town surrounded by walls appears in the far distance.

Fig. 4. Portrait d’un jeune officier cuirassie (detail).

Fig. 5. Sword from the Berry regiment, from Michel Pétard, Des sabres et des épées, Vol. II. Troupes à cheval, de l’Empire à nos jours, 1999.

Although the identity of the sitter remains unknown, a close analysis of his outfit allows to identify him as a cuirassier. Cuirassiers first appeared in Europe at the end of the fifteenth century, originating from armoured cavalry. At the end of the following century, they abandoned their limb armour in favour of the cuirass, or breastplate, hence their name. Cuirassiers achieved great prominence during the Napoleonic Wars, becoming the heaviest and most splendid section of the French cavalry.2 Referring to his cuirassiers, in 1812 Sergeant-Major Thirion affirmed that “Never had more beautiful cavalry been seen! Never had the regiments reached such high effectives. And never had cavalry been so well mounted.”3 In the first ten years of the nineteenth century, cuirassiers were indeed supplied with splendid uniforms. Their distinctive cuirass comprised a breast and back plate made of polish steel, lined with silk and fabric, as can be seen in the present work. The two plates were connected by two long hinges, riveted on the black plate, hinged at the shoulder and coming down over the breastplate. A long, straight sword, characterised by a four bar brass guard with a black leather grip bound with wire and embellished by a cord knot, was one of the typical attributes of cuirassiers.4

Fig. 7. De Berry coat of arms.

Fig. 6. Illustration of belt buckle from the Berry regiment. From Michel Pétard, Équipements militaires de 1600 à 1870, Tome 6, De 1814 à 1830, première partie, 1989, p. 67.

The present uniform suggests that the sitter was a cuirassier officer, serving in the army during the Restoration. The man’s rank is suggested by the lion heads decorating the extremities of the breastplate’s hinges (Fig. 2). This was a motif reserved to officers exclusively, as attested, for example, by a rare armour today at the Chateau de l’Emperi (Fig. 3). The sitter’s status is also confirmed by his polished steel helmet, enriched by chin straps covered in brass and surmounted by a large horsehair mane, as well as by the precious épaulettes – a type of ornamental shoulder piece used as an insignia of rank by armed forces – made of silver passementerie trim. The man’s uniform also provides key information for dating the portrait. The breastplate’s model is that of 1812, which was modified in 1816 and remained in use until 1825, when a new design was introduced. The trousers model dates to 1817.5 This provides a terminus post quem and a terminus ante quem that place the painting’s execution between 1817 and 1825. Lagrenée might have painted the portrait before leaving Paris, immediately after returning there or during a possible sojourn in France while he was living in Russia.

Fig. 8. Théodore Gericault, Cuirassier blessé quittant le feu, oil on canvas, 358 x 294 cm, 1814, Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Fig. 9. Théodore Gericault, Cuirassier blessé, oil on canvas, 46 x 38 cm, 1800-1825, Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Doubts remain regarding the officer’s regiment. After the restoration of Louis XVIII, in 1815 the six Cuirassiers regiments were renamed after Queen Marie-Joséphine de Savoie (Régiment de la Reine), the Dauphin Count d’Artois, future Charles X (Régiment d’Artois), his sons Louis Antoin Duke d’Angoulême and Charles Ferdinand Duke of Berry (Régiment d’Angoulême and Régiment de Berry), and the two aristocratic families of the d’Orléans and de Condé (Régiments d’Orlèans and Régiment de Condé). Visual information suggests the sitter possibly belonged to the Berry regiment. The red colour of the uniform’s lining and collar, as well as of the trousers’ stripes and belt recalls the colours scarlet, crimson and dark pink distinctive of the Reine, Dauphin and de Berry regiments respectively. The sword’s hilt showcases a medallion – the key element for identifying a military man’s rank6 – with three lilies surmounted by a crown and sided by flags (Fig. 4). This blazon appears almost identical in the hilt of a sword (Fig. 5) and in a belt plaque (Fig. 6) from the de Berry regiment. The border encircling the three lilies might visualise the “bordure engrêlée de gueules,”or red scalloped border, distinctive of the de Berry coat of arms (Fig. 7), which in more modern times was also depicted crenelated, as on this occasion.7

Fig. 10. Baron Antoine Jean Gros, Portrait of Liutenant Charles Legrand, oil on canvas, 248.9 × 161.9 cm., 1809-1810, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles.

The present work can be compared to other portraits of cuirassiers painted in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Some of the most famous were Géricault’s Cuirassier blessé quittant le feu, (1814, Musée du Louvre, Paris, Fig. 8), exhibited at the Salon in 1814, and one of its preparatory studies Cuirassier blessé (1800-1825, Musée du Louvre, Paris, Fig. 9), where uniforms similar to the present one appears. While Géricault caught his subjects in action, struggling on the battlefield, Lagrénee portrayed his sitter in all his splendour. From this perspective, Portrait d’un jeune officier cuirassier feels closer to the Portrait of Liutenant Charles Legrand (Los Angeles County Museum, Fig. 10), painted by Gros circa 1810. Legrand’s father, the Comte Juste Alexandre Legrand, one of Napoleon’s most distinguished generals, commissioned the portrait from Gros after his son died in the Madrid rebellion of May 2, 1808. Whether posthumous or not, alike Gros’, Lagrenée’s portrait belongs to a type of glorifying portraiture of the young members of the French elite proudly serving in the army and, in many instances, dying for their country. Lagreneé depicted his sitter while wearing his most splendid uniform, which he would have worn during military ceremonies and parades rather than on the battlefield. The city in the background, yet to be identified, might evoke a place that was particularly dear to the sitter or to his regiment. Although the conditions of the present commission are unknown, one can hypothesise Lagrenée got it through his acquaintances or family connections. He had himself served in the army and his family was close to military circles, as attested by some portraits of military men executed by Lagrenée’s father and uncle Jean-Jacques (1739-1821), including the Equestrian Portrait of General Jean Rapp (Musée d’Unterlinden, Colmar) by the former and the Portrait du Colonel Poudavigne (Museée des Beaux Arts de Bordeaux, Bordeaux) by the latter.

The extreme clarity and precision of the painting, the lack of visible brushstrokes and the modelling of volumes by half tones is reminiscent of the Neoclassical style of Ingres rather than of the turbulence of Romantic painting. The depiction of the sitter does not reveal any inner tension, but a confident aloofness. Lagrenée displays his skill as a painter in rendering different materials, from the metallic nuances of brass and steel to the shiny details of silver and the softness of folded fabric. He pays special attention to tiny details, including the touches of light illuminating objects’ surfaces. Lagrenée masterfully rendered the man’s cuirass, which simultaneously shines and reflects the man’s hand and sword grip. The inclusion of such a detail might suggest once again Lagrenée’s knowledge of Ingres, who often included reflections in his portraits.8 Lagrenée’s would exploit his pictorial precision to the full when dedicating himself to miniature painting, which became the main section of his production in the last ten years of his life.

 

1 For a concise biography on the artist, see Grand Dictionnaire Universel du XIXe Siècle Franc̨ais, Historique, Géographique, Mythologique, Bibliographique, Littéraire, Artistique, Scientifique, etc., etc. L.M, Vol. X, p. 10. 
2 For a detailed study on Napoleon’s army, see John E. Elting, Swords Around a Throne, Napoleon’s Grande Armée, (London: Orion, 1999).
3 Paul Britten Austin, 1812. Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia, (London: Greenhill Books, 2000), p. 46. 
4 For a detailed study on cuirassiers’ uniforms, see Emir Bukhari, Napoleon’s Cuirassiers and Carabiniers, (London: Osprey Publishing Ltd, 1977). 
5 I am grateful for this information to Dr Thibault de Noblet, Adjoint de conservation, Département Moderne of the Musée de l’Armée, Paris.
6 I am grateful for this information to Lisa Laborie-Barriere, Directrice du Patrimoine Culturel, Les Musées de l'Empéri, et de Salon & de la Crau. 
7 I own this information and hypothesis to Dr Thibault de Noblet. 
8 See, for example, the Portrait of Madame Moitessier (The National Gallery, London) and The Portrait of Comtesse d’Haussonville (The Frick Collection, New York).
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