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The Artistic Heritage of Modena: At the Origin of the Galleria Estense


André François Alloys de Theys d'Herculais (1692–1779)

Nicolas de Largillierre (French, Paris 1656–1746 Paris)

Oil on canvas
54 1/4 x 41 1/2 in. (137.8 x 105.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1973
Accession Number:
  • Catalogue Entry

    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, Largilliere’s competitor among society portraitists of the next generation, would attain comparable mastery.


  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Signed and dated (reverse): peint par N. de Largillierre / 17[2?]7

  • Provenance

    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 André-François de Theys d'Herculais au siège de Fontarabie (1727?), 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)

  • Exhibition History

    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).

  • References

    "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 in "Paintings, Drawings." The Wrightsman Collection. 5, [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 18th century," and that the helmet and breastplate should be viewed as allegorical attributes; questions whether the sitter actually owned the armor, as it reappears in three near-contemporary portraits by Largillierre.

    R. A. Cecil. "The Wrightsman Collection." Burlington Magazine 118 (July 1976), pp. 516–18.

    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, 267–69, ill.

    Everett Fahy in The Wrightsman Pictures. New York, 2005, pp. 167–69, no. 47, ill. (color).

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History