Desrais first appeared at the salons de la Jeunesse in 1768 exhibiting drawings of religious subjects receiving much praise for his bistre drawing of the martyrdom of Saint Laurent in 1771. He was still exhibiting wash drawings in 1799 when he described himself as a pupil of Canova but was evidently earning a living making drawings for Esnaults & Rapilly’s fashion plates and small portrait engravings, a good many of which survive.
The pastel work of Desrais is perhaps a little misunderstood; the charming subject matter possibly at times a little sentimental and slightly at odds with his earlier Salon pictures resulting in much of it being overlooked and unintentionally dismissed. The portrait presented here is quite typical and identical in manner and style to a pair of signed works recently discovered in 2011.
I am grateful to art historian and expert on French pastellists Neil Jeffares for his views concerning this work.