In making the announcement, Mr. Campbell said: “This magnificent canvas by the leading painter of King Louis XIV is a landmark in the history of French portraiture. It depicts the family of a major figure in the world of finance and one of the most important collectors in 17th-century Europe. Its acquisition transforms the Museum’s European paintings collection by adding a defining work both in the history of art and in cultural and political history.”
Keith Christiansen, John Pope-Hennessy Chairman of the Department of European Paintings, added: “The acquisition of Le Brun’s masterpiece transforms the Metropolitan’s collection of French painting. Its patron was a figure of immense importance: a German banker whose collection of paintings and drawings was sold to the French crown and forms the core of the Louvre’s collection. He deeply admired Le Brun, who in this picture included himself, reflected in a mirror, at work on the canvas, making the work the French equivalent of Velázquez’s Las Meninas—an allegory of the relationship between painter and patron and the act of painting. Its importance for the history of French baroque portraiture is equivalent to that of two other masterpieces in the Met’s collection—Jacques Louis David’s great neo-classical portrait of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier (1743–1794) and His Wife (Marie-Anne-Pierrette Paulze, 1758–1836) and Renoir’s Impressionist portrait of Madame Georges Charpentier (née Marguérite-Louise Lemonnier, 1848–1904) and Her Children, Georgette-Berthe (1872–1945) and Paul-Émile-Charles (1875–1895).”
Charles Le Brun (1619-1690) was easily the most important painter at the court of Louis XIV. He supervised the decoration of major projects such as the Louvre and Versailles, and headed the Gobelins manufactory for tapestries and furniture. His work rarely appears on the market, since almost all of his major paintings reside in the collection of the Louvre. Last spring the Museum acquired The Sacrifice of Polyxena (1647), an early work by the artist in the field of history painting, in which he excelled. The newly acquired work is entirely different in character and ambition: it is a life-size family portrait of one of his principal, non-royal patrons. It dates from circa 1660, at the height of Le Brun’s career.
Among Le Brun’s works, Everhard Jabach (1618-1695) and His Family can only be compared to the portrait of Royal Chancellor Pierre Séguier on horseback accompanied by pages, which is in the collection of the Louvre and is illustrated in virtually every history of French painting. The newly acquired work—long thought lost—is comparable in importance to the Louvre picture and ranks as one of Le Brun’s masterpieces. It was admired by no less a critic than Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), who saw it during a visit to Cologne, where the picture was moved following Jabach’s death.
Everhard Jabach was a banker, patron, and collector of German origins. Born in Cologne, he was a naturalized French citizen who lived in Paris for most of his life. He built the imposing Hôtel Jabach at the corner of rue Neuve-Saint-Merry and rue Saint-Martin (designed by Pierre Bullet and now destroyed) as his main residence in the city—this is likely the setting for the family portrait. There he assembled one of the most significant collections of paintings of the second half of the 17th century in Europe. Jabach was Cardinal Mazarin’s (1602-1661) personal banker and followed the examples of his father and of Thomas Howard (1585-1646), second Earl of Arundel, in his collecting tastes. He was one of the chief buyers at the sale of the royal collection in London in 1650-51, after the beheading of King Charles I, purchasing, among other things, Leonardo da Vinci’s Saint John the Baptist, Holbein’s Portrait of Erasmus, Titian’s Concert Champêtre, Guido Reni’s Labors of Hercules, and Caravaggio’s Death of the Virgin. His first major collection (more than 100 paintings and about 6,000 drawings) was sold in two installments (1662 and 1671) to Louis XIV and provided the foundation of what is now the Musée du Louvre’s collection. Jabach’s second collection included 687 paintings and another 4,000 drawings, which were dispersed at his death.
Jabach was one of the great personalities of his age. He was portrayed twice by Van Dyck (1636, private collection; 1641, Hermitage, Saint Petersburg), by Peter Lely and possibly Sébastien Bourdon (both ca. 1650, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne), and by Hyacinthe Rigaud (1688, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne). Le Brun was one of the sitter’s favorite artists and the two were united—in the words of Claude Nivelon, Le Brun’s earliest biographer—by “friendship and shared interests” (‘il était uni d’amitié et d’inclination’). The family group was one of the few pictures Jabach did not sell to the King of France, and therefore one of the few that did not enter the collection of the Louvre.
The picture is at once a portrait of family relations and of a painter’s relationship to a key patron. The assemblage of objects lying on the floor at the feet of Jabach symbolizes his cultural interests: a Bible, an open copy of Sebastiano Serlio’s architectural treatise, a compass (architecture and geometry), a porte crayon and drawn sheet (drawing), an ancient marble head (sculpture), a book (literature and poetry), and a celestial globe (astronomy). Most prominent among these objects is a bust of Minerva, goddess of wisdom and the arts. She is identified by her distinctive helmet and the Medusa on her chest. Behind Jabach is the mirror in which we see Le Brun at work.
This canvas is a recent and major rediscovery for European art history. Le Brun painted two versions of the portrait—both for Jabach—and both evidently of comparable high quality. They were kept in the 18th century in two different family houses in Cologne, where they were seen by visitors to the city, including Goethe and Reynolds. The second version was acquired by the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin in 1836. Destroyed in 1945, during World War II, it is known today only from a black-and-white photograph. Until recently, the present version was considered lost. It was, however, in a private collection in England where it has been since the late 1790s, when Jabach’s descendent, Canon Johann Matthias von Bors of Cologne, sold it to Henry Hope (1735-1811) in London. Its provenance is unbroken. Because the present picture has not been easily accessible, the Berlin canvas has often been given precedence, though various scholars already recognized that the “lost” (present) version was probably the prime one.
After conservation and framing, Everhard Jabach (1618-1695) and His Family will go on view in the Metropolitan Museum’s European Paintings Galleries (Gallery 617) in 2015.
Extensive information about the painting is available on the Metropolitan Museum’s website.
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May 16, 2014