Pastel on paper; 18 by 15 in; 44 x 36 cm; held in a 19th century gilt frame
Provenance: Private Collection, France
Directly drawn from the original by La Tour c.1763, this fine 19th century portrait of Abbé François-Emmanuel Pommyer is a version of that in the Musee Antoine Lecuyer, Saint Quentin, France. As the art historian and pastel specialist Neil Jeffares observes, “a good many repetitions of La Tour’s works were made in his lifetime: some are evidently autograph…Others may be contemporary copies by unrelated artists. A substantial proportion however were probably made by pupils working under his guidance…unlike most pastellists La Tour evidently has a substantial studio and the practices and names of those involved have yet to be fully uncovered.” Certainly the skilful observation and the apparent spontaneity mark this out as an accomplished work and by an artist well aware of the techniques of La Tour.
The present portrait depicts François-Emmanuel Pommyer who became Abbé of Bonneval, Conseiler de la Grande Chambre de Parlement, honorary Deacon of the Metropolitan church of Reims, Canon of Saint-Martin of Tours and Président de la Chambre Souveraine du Clergé. In addition to this, he was also an honorary, and very active, member of the Académie royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, a prominent intellectual and one of the leading personalities of the ancient regime. Well known in artistic circles he was friends with artists such as Maurice Quentin de la Tour, Jean-Siméon Chardin and Charles-Nicholas Cochin. He was even present at the appointment of François Boucher to the position of Premier Peintre du Roi in July 1768. La Tour has chosen to represent the Abbott in a relaxed, informal pose – his slight smile suggests a man of wit and good humour as clearly as the ecclesiastical costume indicates a man of position.
Finished pastels emerged as a format for portraiture in France in the late 17th century and by the middle of the 18th century Maurice-Quentin de La Tour was among the most celebrated and accomplished portraitists in the medium. His considerable success led to commissions from the royal family, the court, the rich bourgeoisie and from literary, artistic and theatrical circles. Such was his influence that many artists still continued to study his techniques well into the 19th century.