In the possession of the d’Herculais family for generations, this painting was always thought to be a portrait of André François Alloys de Theys d’Herculais (1692–1779). In 1727, d’Herculais would have been about thirty-five years old. He came from a bourgeois family in the region of Grenoble. His father, Claude Alloys (d. 1698), held several important posts in the service of Louis XIV; his mother was Marie de Theys de Tournet. In 1725 he held the rank of captain of cavalry. According to family tradition, he participated in the Battle of Fontarrabie in June 1719.
The sitter's sword is ceremonial and his wig and greatcoat are formal attire, while his helmet and breastplate are allegorical attributes. The breastplate reappears in other portraits by Largillierre, notably those of Jacques François Léonor de Goyon-Matignon, Duc de Valentinois (collection of the late Prince Rainier III of Monaco), of 1718, and Sir Robert Throckmorton (H. M. Treasury and the National Trust, Coughton Court, near Alcester, Worcestershire), of 1729. The artist may have owned the armor and kept it in his studio for the use of clients.
Painted when Largillierre was over seventy, the portrait exemplifies the quiet, restrained style with which he ushered in the Régence period. It would not be until the 1740s that Nattier, Largillierre’s competitor among society portraitists of the next generation, would attain comparable mastery.
[Katharine Baetjer 2012]
Inscription: Signed and dated (reverse): peint par N. de Largillierre / 17[2?]7
Antoine-Marie-Jules Alloys d'Herculais, Lyons (until d. 1869); by descent to Amaury Alloys d'Herculais (in 1928); sale, Palais Galliéra, Paris, March 30, 1963, no. 27, as "Portrait d'André-François Alloys de Theys d'Herculais au siège de Fontarabie," for Fr 54,000 to Germain Seligman; [Jacques Seligmann, New York, 1963–64; sold to Wrightsman]; Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, New York (1964–73; cat., 1973, no. 14)
Paris. Petit Palais. "N. de Largillierre," May–June 1928, no. 57 (as "François-André Alloys de Theys d'Herculais," lent by M. Amaury Aloys d'Herculais).
THIS WORK MAY NOT BE LENT, BY TERMS OF ITS ACQUISITION BY THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART.
"Alloïs d'Herculais." Annuaire de la noblesse de France 31 (1875), pp. 121–22, states that the portrait belonged to the sitter's grandson Antoine-Marie-Jules Alloïs, comte d'Herculais, who in his will expressed the wish that it remain in the family; adds that after an ownership dispute, Jules Kunckel was declared the rightful owner.
Camille Gronkowski. "L'Exposition N. de Largilliere au Petit Palais." Gazette des beaux-arts 17 (June 1928), p. 322.
Everett Fahy inThe Wrightsman Collection. Vol. 5, Paintings, Drawings. [New York], 1973, pp. 127–32, no. 14, ill. p. 129 (color), figs. 1–4 (details), accepts the traditional identification of the sitter; relates the painting to a type of military portrait that first appeared in Italy during the mid-sixteenth century; notes that "the wig and greatcoat are actually part of the 'grand habit', or formal attire, worn in the early eighteenth century," and that the helmet and breastplate should be viewed as allegorical attributes; suggests that the armor belonged to Largillierre himself, as it reappears in three near-contemporary portraits by him.
R. A. Cecil. "The Wrightsman Collection." Burlington Magazine 118 (July 1976), p. 518.
Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, p. 361, figs. 652, 673 (color detail).
Myra Nan Rosenfeld. Largillierre and the Eighteenth-Century Portrait. Exh. cat., Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Montreal, 1981, p. 269, fig. 54a, under no. 54, p. 383.
Everett Fahy inThe Wrightsman Pictures. Ed. Everett Fahy. New York, 2005, pp. 167–69, no. 47, ill. (color).