Garnier d’Isle (1697–1755) was an architect and a garden designer whose rise to influence coincided with the ascendency of Madame de Pompadour as Louis XV’s mistress, and he is associated with the remodeling of several of her properties, including Bellevue. In 1748 he became the comptroller of the Luxembourg and Tuileries palaces. He commissioned from La Tour a portrait that was exhibited at the 1751 Salon. Two other portraits of Garnier d’Isle by La Tour survive: one, the same size as this work, shows him in a gray moiré silk coat (Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass.), and the other is a smaller head-and-shoulders view in which he also wears gray (Musée Antoine Lécuyer, Saint-Quentin). Here the artist’s impeccable handling of costume details pales by comparison with the fleeting and perhaps self-satisfied smile of the sitter.
A native of Saint-Quentin, in northern France, this gifted pastellist (for Maurice Quentin de La Tour was exclusively a pastellist) arrived in Paris in 1719 to apprentice with a now little-known painter, Claude Dupouch (d. 1747). He was thus fortunate to see at an early age the work of the famous Venetian pastellist Rosalba Carriera (1675–1757), who made a much-heralded visit to the French capital in 1720–21. La Tour settled permanently in Paris in 1727. Ten years later he became a candidate member of the Académie de Peinture et de Sculpture and began to show at the Salon. He was received as a full member in 1746. He sent to the Salon of 1748 pastel portraits of Louis XV (1710–1774), Queen Marie Leszczynska (1703–1768), and the Dauphin Louis (1729–1765), becoming for the balance of his long career one of the most highly placed, successful, and prolific portraitists in France. La Tour is famous not only for his highly finished and blended works, in which the strokes of the pastel crayons are not visible, but also for his lively and engaging préparations, which present a first, spontaneous record of the expression of a sitter taken from life.
Born in 1697, Jean-Charles Garnier d'Isle was admitted to membership in the Académie Royale d'Architecture in 1728. He must have owed his advancement in part to his wife, the daughter of the architect Claude Desgotz (1655–1732), who was in turn related to, and trained under, the celebrated French building and garden designer André Le Nôtre (1613–1700). Garnier's rise coincided with the ascendency of Madame de Pompadour (1721–1764) as Louis XV's mistress and his name is associated with the design of formal gardens at properties remodeled or constructed for her use. These include Crécy, which was bought by the King in 1746; Bellevue, where several years later she built a château; and the Hermitage at Fontainebleau. In 1747, Garnier was appointed director of the Gobelins tapestry manufactory; in 1748, he became an associate member of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture and assumed the powerful post of controller of the Luxembourg and Tuileries palaces. He commissioned from La Tour a portrait that was exhibited at the Salon of 1751.
It may have been this one, but we shall never be sure, as there are three undated pastels by La Tour representing Garnier. Another of the same size shows him seated in a damask-upholstered chair and wearing a gray moiré silk coat (Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass.), and there is also a smaller head-and-shoulders study in that costume (Musée Antoine-Lécuyer, Saint-Quentin). The artist's impeccable handling of details of costume pales by comparison with the sitter's fleeting and perhaps self-satisfied smile.
[Katharine Baetjer 2010]
the sitter (until d. 1755); his daughter, Mme Louis Antoine (Adélaïde Julie) Mirleau de Neuville (1755–d. 1780); by descent in the Mirleau de Neuville family (1780–1871); Albert-Louis-François Mirleau de Neuville de Marcilly (from 1871); his son, Jean-Joseph-Albert Mirleau de Neuville de Marcilly, comte de Belle-Isle, Vernon (by 1872–at least 1877, as Antoine Pierre Mirleau de Neuville); his daughter, Jeanne, comtesse de Joybert, château de Lilly, Fleury, near Lyons-la-Forêt (by 1880–d. 1938, as Jean Charles Garnier d'Isle); her daughter, Mme Pierre (Marie-Antoinette) Duffour (1938–d. 1990); her daughter or daughter-in-law (1990–2001; sold to Colnaghi); [Colnaghi, London, 2001–2002; sold to MMA]
Paris. Salon. 1751, no. 48 (as one of "Plusieurs Têtes au Pastel sous le même No.," possibly including this work).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Pastel Portraits: Images of 18th-Century Europe," May 17–August 14, 2011, no. 17.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Eighteenth-Century Pastels," August 6–December 29, 2013, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Eighteenth-Century Pastel Portraits," July 26–October 29, 2017, no catalogue.
[Anne Claude Philippe de Tubières, comte de Caylus]. "Exposition des ouvrages de l'Académie royale de peinture faite dans une des sales du Louvre le 25 août 1751." Mercure de France (October 1751), pp. 166–67 (Collection Deloynes, vol. 4, no. 50, pp. 9–10; McWilliam 1991, no. 0069), mentions a pastel portrait of "M. Dille" in the 1751 Salon, possibly this picture.
A[uguste]. Jal. Dictionnaire critique de biographie et d'histoire: errata et supplément pour tous les dictionnaires historiques d'après des documents authentiques inédits. 2nd ed. Paris, 1872, pp. 1318–19, identifies the pastel, belonging to the family of the vicomte de Belle-Isle, Vernon, as a portrait of the owner's great-grandfather, Antoine-Pierre Mirleau de Neuville, fermier général and secrétaire du roi; as "un morceau que tout amateur voudrait avoir dans son cabinet".
Élie Fleury and Gaston Brière. Catalogue des pastels de M.-Q. de La Tour: Collection de Saint-Quentin et Musée du Louvre. Paris, 1920, p. 37, mention this pastel as one of three (the others at Saint-Quentin and in the David Weill collection) representing Jean Charles Garnier d'Isle, noting that it is the same size as the David Weill work but shows a different costume; fail to identify it with a portrait called "M. de Neuville," which had been brought to their attention by the comte de Joybert.
Albert Besnard and Georges Wildenstein. La Tour: La vie et l'oeuvre de l'artiste. Paris, 1928, p. 143, no. 158, identify the sitter for the portrait published by Jal as Monsieur Garnier d'Isle.
Élie Fleury and Gaston Brière. Collection Maurice-Quentin Delatour à Saint-Quentin: Catalogue. Saint-Quentin, 1954, p. 53, under no. 22, note that the two larger pastels belong respectively to the Fogg Museum and the comte de Joybert.
Christine Debrie and Xavier Salmon. Maurice-Quentin de La Tour: Prince des pastellistes. Paris, 2000, pp. 161–63, 169 n. 51, colorpls. 83–84 (overall and detail), mention that this pastel was doubtless commissioned by the sitter or his daughter and may have been exhibited at the Salon of 1751.
Tim Warner-Johnson and Florian Härb in "2002: The Year in Review at Colnaghi." Old Master Paintings and Drawings. London, 2003, p. 14, fig. 8 (color), state that the "rocaille" frame is original.
Katharine Baetjer in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2002–2003." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 61 (Fall 2003), p. 24, ill. (color), dates it about 1750.
Marjorie Shelley. "Pastelists at Work: Two Portraits at the Metropolitan Museum by Maurice Quentin de La Tour and Jean Baptiste Perronneau." Metropolitan Museum Journal 40 (2005), pp. 105–19, figs. 1, 3, 6, 9 (overall, details, and infrared reflectogram), colorpl. 8, mentions the exceptional use of an unplaned surface for the vertical bars of the strainer; discusses in detail the laying out and preparation of the paper surface; notes that the clasps of the the sitter's jacket have been painted "with a brush loaded with a thick liquid mixture of gray, white, and black gouache, producing an effect that virtually sparkles".
Katharine Baetjer inPhilippe de Montebello and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1977–2008. New York, 2009, p. xiii, fig. 2 (color).
Katharine Baetjer and Marjorie Shelley. "Pastel Portraits: Images of 18th-Century Europe." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 68 (Spring 2011), pp. 16, 25, 29, 33, 39, 51, no. 17, ill. (color).
Colnaghi, Past, Present and Future: An Anthology. Ed. Tim Warner-Johnson and Jeremy Howard. London, 2016, pp. 202–3, colorpl. 10.