Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object

Jean Jacques Caffieri (1725–1792)

Jean-Baptiste Greuze (French, Tournus 1725–1805 Paris)
Oil on canvas
Oval, 25 1/4 x 20 3/4 in. (64.1 x 52.7 cm)
Credit Line:
Bequest of Ethel Tod Humphrys, 1956
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 613
This subtle portrait, with its smoothly blended surface and narrow color range, is believed to represent Jean Jacques Caffieri, Greuze’s exact contemporary and a prominent sculptor. The sitter’s mild expression belies a strong character. A very old label with the names of artist and sitter is glued to the stretcher bar that supports the canvas, so that when the work reappeared in 1912 it was tentatively identified with the portrait of Caffieri that Greuze showed at the 1763 Salon. Despite the fact that there is a discrepancy between the measurements in the Salon list and the size of this canvas, other evidence indicates that the identification is almost certainly correct.
This relatively undemonstrative portrait offers no indication that it represents an artist and absent further information the sitter would be identified simply as a gentleman in a velvet coat with a brocaded waistcoat and a lace ruff. In fact, he is believed to be Jean Jacques Caffieri, who was the same age as Greuze and a prominent sculptor specializing in busts of both his contemporaries and historical personages. A very old label with the names of artist and sitter is glued to the stretcher bar that supports the canvas. Therefore, when the work reappeared at auction in 1912, it was tentatively identified with the portrait of Caffieri that Greuze exhibited at the Salon of 1763, despite the fact that there is a discrepancy between the measurements in the Salon list and the size of the canvas.

In the nomenclature of eighteenth-century France, the Salon exhibit measured two pieds six pouces by two pieds, which is 81.1 by 65 centimeters, or 31 7/8 by 25 1/2 inches. The present oval portrait measures 64.1 by 52.7 centimeters, or 25 1/4 by 20 3/4 inches, a discrepancy of more than six inches in height and nearly five in width. The difference could perhaps be accounted for if the original frame was included in the overall size.

In 1748 Caffieri had won the coveted first prize for sculpture at the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture and from 1749 to 1753 he trained at the Académie de France in Rome. Returning to Paris, he was received in 1757, admitted a full member of the Académie in 1759, and appointed adjunct professor in 1765 and professor in 1773. He was therefore an academician rising steadily through the ranks. The presumed sitter’s mild expression in the Museum’s portrait belies what was evidently a strong character. The smoothly blended surface is traditional while the narrow range of color contributes to the relatively modest effect.

The Museum owns two sculptures by Caffieri, a terracotta bust (1973.315.19) and a marble bust of Louis Nicolas Victor de Félix, Comte du Muy (28.193), signed and dated 1776.

[Katharine Baetjer 2012]
Jacques Doucet, Paris (until 1912; sale, Georges Petit, Paris, June 6, 1912, no. 156, as Portrait présumé de Caffieri, for Fr 37,000 to Wildenstein); [Wildenstein, Paris and New York, from 1912; sold to Mrs. Humphrys]; Ethel Tod Humphrys, New York (by 1935–56)
Paris. Salon. 1765, no. 118 (as "Le Portrait de M. Caffiery, Sculpteur du Roi," 2 pieds, 6 pouces, by 2 pieds).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "French Painting and Sculpture of the XVIII Century," November 6, 1935–January 5, 1936, no. 36 (lent by Mrs. Julian Humphrys).

New York. Wildenstein & Co., Inc. "Fashion in Headdress, 1450–1943," April 27–May 27, 1943, no. 52 (lent by Mr. and Mrs. Julian S. L. Humphrys).

Bordeaux. Galerie des Beaux-Arts. "Profil du Metropolitan Museum of Art de New York: de Ramsès à Picasso," May 15–September 1, 1981, no. 109.

Martigny. Fondation Pierre Gianadda. "The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'œuvre de la peinture européenne," June 23–November 12, 2006, no. 37.

Barcelona. Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. "Grandes maestros de la pintura europea de The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nueva York: De El Greco a Cézanne," December 1, 2006–March 4, 2007, no. 29.

Charles Joseph Mâthon de la Cour. Lettres à Monsieur ***, sur les peintures, les sculptures et les gravures exposées au sallon du Louvre en 1765. Paris, 1765, p. 57 [see Ref. Rivers 1912] (Collection Deloynes, vol. 8, no. 108; McWilliam 1991, no. 0173), notes that "the portraits of M. Wille and M. Caffieri are painted in a most spirited manner, as indeed, artists ought always to be painted".

Jules Guiffrey. Les Caffiéri, sculpteurs et fondeurs-ciseleurs: Étude sur la statuaire et sur l'art du bronze en France au XVIIIe et au XVIII siècle. Paris, 1877, p. 423, states that a portrait of Caffieri painted by Greuze at the height of his talents was exhibited in the 1765 Salon; present whereabouts unknown.

Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt. L'art du dix-huitième siècle. Vol. 1, 3rd ed. Paris, 1880, p. 341.

Ch. Normand. "J. B. Greuze." Les artistes célèbres. Paris, 1892, p.109.

J. Martin and Charles Masson. Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint et dessiné de Jean-Baptiste Greuze [published as supplement to C. Mauclair, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Paris, 1905]. Paris, 1905, p. 66, no. 1073, as measuring 81 x 65 cm; "Portrait enlevé avec fougue. Salon de 1765, no. 121".

Louis Dumont-Wilden. Le portrait en France. Brussels, 1909, p. 196.

John Rivers. Greuze and His Models. London, 1912, pp. 173, 272, quotes from the letter by Mâthon de la Cour.

Marcel Nicolle in Collection Jacques Doucet. Vol. 2, Catalogue des sculptures & tableaux du XVIIIe siècle. Paris, 1912, p. 54, no. 156, as "Portrait présumé de Caffieri", according to a very old inscription on a sticker on the frame; observes that the significantly larger dimensions of the portrait exhibited at the 1765 Salon do not permit certain identification.

Edgar Munhall. "Greuze." PhD diss., Yale University, 1959, as the portrait shown at the Salon of 1765.

Jean Seznec and Jean Adhémar, ed. Salons. By Denis Diderot. Vol. 2, 1765. Oxford, 1960, pp. 35–36, fig. 51, tentatively connect the Salon portrait with the oval in the Doucet sale, and publish as "Caffieri?" a photograph of our picture labeled "vente Doucet 1912" from the archives of the Bibliothèque Nationale.

Anita Brookner. Greuze: The Rise and Fall of an Eighteenth-century Phenomenon. Greenwich, Conn., 1972, p. 64.

Edgar Munhall. Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1725–1805. Ed. Joseph Focarino. Exh. cat.Hartford, 1976, p. 22.

James Thompson. "Jean-Baptiste Greuze." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 47 (Winter 1989/90), pp. 27–28, ill. (color).

Edgar Munhall in The Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 13, New York, 1996, p. 641.

Edgar Munhall. Greuze the Draftsman. Exh. cat.London, 2002, p. 24.

A smaller presumed portrait of Caffieri attributed to Greuze (in a different pose, oval, 55 x 45 cm) is illustrated in the catalogue of the Detaille sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, March 10–11, 1913, no. 30. A portrait of Caffieri by Duplessis was exhibited at the Salon of 1771 as no. 210 (identified in Seznec and Adhémar, Diderot Salons, IV, 1967, with their fig. 77).
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