Artist: Maurice Quentin de La Tour (French, Saint-Quentin 1704–1788 Saint-Quentin)
Medium: Pastel on blue paper, arched top
Dimensions: sheet (original sheet): 12 7/8 x 9 7/16 in. (32.7 x 24 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Mary Tavener Holmes, in honor of Donald Posner, 2005
Accession Number: 2005.66
In the age of Enlightenment when the medium of pastel gained immense popularity, Maurice-Quentin de La Tour was perhaps its most gifted practitioner. He was distinguished from his peers by his ability to capture the inner spirit and intellect of his sitters. To achieve this end he developed a method of preparing his works through preliminary studies of the head, seen from different angles and with different expressions. Described by the French term préparation, these rapid drawings in pastel, often done on blue paper, showcase La Tour’s virtuoso talents.
This pastel study was made as part of the preparatory process for La Tour’s first portrait commission of king Louis XV, exhibited in the 1745 Salon. This close study of his head was undoubtedly done from life and makes clear the access and time granted to La Tour. The sense of underlying bone structure, and the tone and texture of the complexion are expertly achieved, but most impressive is La Tour’s ability to convey the quality of mind behind the young king’s eyes, projecting an animated and engaged intellect.