Mengs, born in Bohemia, was for the most part trained in Rome, where he settled in 1751 and lived for much of his life. His contemporaries knew him as a gifted practitioner and theorist of Neoclassicism. Among his most famous works is the Parnassus ceiling in Cardinal Albani’s villa in Rome, completed in 1761. During a stay in Dresden, about 1744, he saw pastels by the artist Rosalba Carriera and emulated them, developing a successful practice as a court portraitist. The present work was studied from a model and perfected in accordance with Mengs’s understanding of classical standards. The figure represents Pleasure and is based upon an iconographical type developed by Cesare Ripa. The coloring is varied, the modeling delicate and softly blended.
Mengs was a gifted portraitist, and when, in 1744, he returned to the court of Dresden from Rome after four years of training, he had for a short time a successful practice in pastel portraiture, in which he was inspired by Rosalba Carriera (1673–1757), whose work was well represented there. Mengs's portraits in pastel, painted with close and honest attention to appearances, are blond in tone and smoothly modeled, the colored strokes disguised, rather as in a highly finished oil painting.
By contrast, the present work, while studied from a model, was probably improved in accordance with what Mengs understood to be the classical standard. Pretty and androgynous, this allegorical figure of Pleasure lies midway between the Rococo and Neoclassicism. The forms are soft and pleasing. Mengs must have intended that the figure, in its anatomical perfection, should be reminiscent both of Raphael and of the antique. Pleasure may have been conceived as belonging to a group of three, with Truth (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston), and Innocence (of which at present only copies are known). For these personifications the artist relied closely upon descriptions in the Iconologia of Cesare Ripa, whose book directs that Pleasure should be shown as a handsome smiling youth of sixteen with a garland of roses on his head, dressed in green, and much adorned. The work may date to the mid-1750s.
[Katharine Baetjer 2010]
?Lepine or Pierre François Lejeune; Baron d'Holbach, Paris (by 1756–89; his sale, Le Brun, Paris, March 16, 1789, no. 2, as one of "Deux Pastels, l'un représente un jeune homme; l'autre une jeune fille avec les attributs de l'innocence . . . vus à mi corps," 23 pouces by 18 pouces 6 lignes, "forme ovale & sous glace"); private collection, Rome (in 1960/61); private collection, Italy (until 2004; sale, Il Ponte Casa d'Aste, Milan, March 25, 2004, no. 556, as "Flora," by Maestro francese del sec. XIX, to Coatalem); [Eric Coatalem, Paris, 2004–5; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Pastel Portraits: Images of 18th-Century Europe," May 17–August 14, 2011, no. 6.
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.
Friedrich Melchior Grimm. Bulletin. June 1, 1756 [published in Maurice Tourneux, ed. "Correspondance littéraire, philosophique et critique par Grimm, Diderot, Raynal, Meister, Etc.," Garnier Frères: Paris, 16 vols., 1877–82, vol. 3, 1878, p. 234], mentions "le Plaisir" and "l'Innocence," pastels by "M. Mengs, jeune Saxon, actuellement à Rome," in baron d'Holbach's collection, and admires their elegance and touch; explains that the marquis de Croismare, having seen them, wrote to Mengs to order two pastels for himself in the same taste and that the pastels arrived in Paris late May 1756.
Denis Diderot. Salon de 1763. 1763 [published in Jean Seznec and Jean Adhémar, eds., "Diderot Salons," 2nd. ed., Oxford: Clarendon Press, vol. 1, 1975, p. 225], mentions the deep impression made on Maurice Quentin de La Tour by the two pastels at baron d'Holbach's; describes this one as "la figure d'un jeune garçon enlacé de soie, couronné de fleurs et la tête entourée de l'arc-en-ciel".
Giuseppe Niccola d'Azara and Carlo Fea. Opere di Antonio Raffaello Mengs: Primo pittore del re cattolico Carlo III. Rome, 1787, p. xlii, with "Innocence," in baron d'Holbach's collection, but commissioned for the sculptor "M. d'Epine," whose portrait Mengs also painted.
M. Watelet and M. Lévesque. Dictionnaiare des arts de peinture, sculpture et gravure. Paris, 1792, vol. 4, p. 612, mention "Innocence" and "Pleasure" as the artist's best work, having seen them in Paris.
G. Schilling. Anton Raphael Mengs: sämmtliche hinterlassene Schriften. Vol. 1, Bonn, 1843, p. 28, no. 81, catalogued as painted in Rome for Lepine, and then in the Holbach collection in Paris.
J[ean]. Assézat. Oeuvres complètes de Diderot: Revues sur les éditions originales. Vol. 10, Paris, 1875, pp. 197–98, quotes Diderot's comments on the Salon of 1763.
Jean Locquin. La peinture d'histoire en France de 1747 à 1785: Étude sur l'évolution des idées artistiques dans la seconde moitié du XVIIIe siècle. Paris, 1912, p. 147, remarks on the importance for French artists of Winckelmann and Mengs; dates "Pleasure" and "Innocence" to 1755.
Kurt Karl Eberlein. "Winckelmann und Frankreich. Zur Geschichte des deutschen Kultureinflusses im französischen Klassizismus." Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte 11 (1933), p. 593, dates Croismare's visit to Holbach, where he saw "Pleasure" and "Innocence," to 1755.
Michel Florisoone. La peinture française: Le dix-huitième siècle. Paris, 1948, p. 86, observes that German connoisseurs living in Paris launched the art of their contemporaries, giving Holbach and the two Mengs pastels as an example.
Hans Diepolder and Walther Rehm, ed. Johann Joachim Winckelmann: Briefe. Vol. 2, Berlin, 1954, p. 471, state that Croismare ordered his pastels in June 1754.
Dieter Honisch. Anton Raphael Mengs und die Bildform des Frühklassizismus. Recklinghausen, 1965, p. 125, no. 258, as commissioned by the sculptor Lepine and thence to Holbach; whereabouts unknown.
Thomas Pelzel. Anton Raphael Mengs and Neoclassicism. PhD diss., Princeton University. New York, 1979, pp. 74, 77–78, 300 n. 178, catalogues the pastels as lost, while suggesting that Diderot's descriptions indicate "the purest Rococo style and taste".
Else Marie Bukdahl. Diderot: Critique d'art. Vol. 1, Théorie et pratique dans les Salons de Diderot. Copenhagen, 1980, pp. 376, 391 n. 86.
Steffi Roettgen. Anton Raphael Mengs, 1728–1779. Vol. 1, Das malerische und zeichnerische Werk. Munich, 1991, pp. 183–84, 186, no. 122, ill., as in a private collection, Rome, in 1960/61; relates the iconography to Cesare Ripa's encyclopedia, and notes the influence of Rosalba Carriera.
Steffi Röttgen. "L'interprétation idéaliste du bonheur: une commission romaine du marquis de Croismare." Winckelmann: la naissance de l'histoire de l'art à l'époque des Lumières. Ed. Édouard Pommier. Paris, 1991, pp. 164, 166, 168, fig. 17, as painted in Rome in 1753, and influenced by the Antinoüs relief at Villa Albani.
Steffi Roettgen. Anton Raphael Mengs, 1728–1779. Vol. 2, Leben und Wirken. Munich, 2003, pp. 143–45, 155 n. 313, fig. II-41, notes that Mengs was in direct contact with Paris by 1754, through Lepine (or more likely Pierre François Lejeune, 1721–1790), who commissioned the two pastels.
Katharine Baetjer in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2005–2006." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 64 (Fall 2006), p. 43, ill. (color).
Katharine Baetjer and Marjorie Shelley. "Pastel Portraits: Images of 18th-Century Europe." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 68 (Spring 2011), pp. 14–15, 25, 39, no. 6, ill. (color, overall and detail).
Geneviève Haroche-Bouzinac. Louise Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun: histoire d'un regard. [Paris], 2011, pp. 55, 544 n. 51, as in a private collection.
When in the Holbach collection in 1756, Pleasure had as a pendant an oval pastel representing Innocence, whose present whereabouts are unknown. A black chalk copy of Innocence in the British Museum (T-05-12) shows a young girl dressed in white with a garland on her head, and holding a lamb. A third oval pastel by Mengs, representing Truth, is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (98.590); a copy is in the British Museum (T-05-13). The two same-sized copies entered the British Museum's collection in 1789. Mengs drew on Cesare Ripa's iconographical encyclopedia, the Iconologia (1611 ed., especially p. 423), for descriptions of the allegorical subjects.
The composition of Pleasure may also have been influenced by a famous Roman relief fragment representing Antinous (Villa Albani, Rome). The marquis de Croismare, having seen Pleasure and Innocence, requested that Mengs paint two more in a similar style (see Grimm 1756 and Pelzel 1979), Allegory of Vanity and Allegory of Wisdom. These may have been completed by December 1755, were delivered in 1756, and are now presumed lost. The preparatory drawings for them are in the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Karlsruhe.
Artist: Anton Raphael Mengs (German, Ústi nad Labem (Aussig) 1728–1779 Rome)Date: mid-18th centuryMedium: Pen and brown ink, squared for transfer in black chalkAccession: 1970.113.5On view in:Not on view
Artist: Anton Raphael Mengs (German, Ústi nad Labem (Aussig) 1728–1779 Rome)Date: n.d.Medium: Black chalk, heightening with white, brown wash (?), on gray-brown paper.Accession: 1978.411.2On view in:Not on view