Portrait of Count Antoine Français de Nantes, State Counsellor
Paris, 1748 - Bruxelles, 1825
1811, oil on wood, 114 x 75 cm
Jacques-Louis David was for a long time recognised for his skill as a historical painter, while his talent as a portraitist went unnoticed. Yet it should not be a surprise to encounter this masterpiece in the Jacquemart-André collection.
Antoine Français de Nantes, a fiery revolutionary and later ardent defender of Bonaparte, was ennobled by the French Empire. When Jacques-Louis David painted this portrait of him, he had just been named Grand Officier de la Légion d’Honneur [Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour]. The painter thought up a composition around the red ribbon of the decoration and blissful satisfaction of the Count. Sitting for a three-quarters portrait occupying the width of the panel, he is seen from slightly below, giving him a dominant position. This position is well suited to the personality of the model that comes across as authoritarian and disdainful. His suit, in itself a masterpiece, defines the social importance of the person. David painted the silk, velvet, feathers, lace and embroidered foliage with sumptuousness, in a frozen harmony of whites, blues, gold and silver. To give more truth to his painting, he used a wood panel as support, and not a canvas, in the manner of early Flemish painters.
David succeeds here in expressing the personality of the model, as well as the grandeur of the society he incarnates. Favourite painter of Napoleon, he definitively glorified the French Empire.