Charles Antoine Coypel (French, 1694–1752)
Pastel on paper
39 3/8 x 31 1/2 in. (100 x 80 cm)
Mrs. Charles Wrightsman Gift, in honor of Annette de la Renta, 2011 (2011.84)
This double portrait is among Coypel's latest and most accomplished: it displays his dazzling and unerring control of a variety of materials—principally pastel but also black chalk and watercolor (with traces of a black chalk underdrawing) on four abutting sheets of handmade blue laid paper, with one seam, rather incredibly, passing through the woman's chin. Traditionally, the sitters are identified as François de Jullienne and his young wife Marie Élisabeth de Séré de Rieux, who were married in 1741. François was the son of Jean de Jullienne (1686–1766), a wealthy textile merchant, collector of paintings, and patron of Antoine Watteau (1684–1721).
The pastel portraits made by Coypel and other eighteenth-century artists were judged by a picture-viewing public of patrons and critics who greatly enjoyed imagery that expressed the ambiguity between reality and deception. As exemplified here, pastel portraits had become viable alternatives to oil portraits, well suited to display the wealth and prestige of the sitters. Working with a vast assortment of crayons, Coypel portrayed his subjects with verisimilitude, the young couple gazing out at the audience as François extends his hand in welcome. This standard of realism, widely appreciated by amateurs and connoisseurs alike, was based on a time-honored concept of painting redefined by Roger de Piles as an imitation of nature, an "artifice" whose purpose is to deceive. Coypel found the strongest and most spirited effects that could be achieved with pastels were tactile. He created thick, irregular, and light-capturing details such as the smooth dark watercolor voids in the magnificent lace of Madame de Jullienne, using mixtures of scraped crayon powder and a wet vehicle applied with a brush both during the working process and as final touches. That the image, made of colored dust, would disappear if one touched it heightened the sense of marvel.