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Work Egret

Department of Prints and Drawings: 18th century

Grande aigrette

Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN-Grand Palais - Photo S. Nagy

Prints and Drawings
18th century

Author(s):
Boyer Sarah

Oudry copied this little egret, recognizable by its white plumage, the long feathers on its neck, and its pose, from a sketch in oils by the Flemish painter Pieter Boel, a student of Rubens, who worked with the Manufacture des Gobelins on designs for tapestries for the royal household. The bird is astonishingly life-like thanks to the left leg tucked up under the body, the curve of the long neck, and the effect of light on the plumage.

Animal painting

Oudry specialized in animal painting, an area where his taste agreed with that of the public at large. He produced his first studies of live animals in 1720-22. Like Desportes, he drew at the Royal Menagerie in Versailles, which was renovated in 1722. Between 1738 and 1753, the king's surgeon, La Peyronie, commissioned him to produce animal drawings to illustrate a work of natural history for the king's botanical garden. This egret may be part of this commission, along with another drawing in the Louvre of a vulture (Inv. 31487) and two albums of watercolor studies of birds (Bibliothèque d'Art et d'Archéologie, Paris, and Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge). Oudry captures the plumage and characteristic pose of this wading bird in a few lines of black chalk with white highlights on blue paper. Sometimes he also used gray or grayish-brown paper. These drawings were very popular among Oudry's contemporaries, as witnessed by Pierre-Jean Mariette's collection.

Works commissioned by patrons

Unlike Desportes, Oudry was less interested in depicting the particular expression of an animal's pose than its grace and beauty. What he particularly wanted to capture was the living arabesque of the animal's body, its supple, harmonious rhythm and the agility of the quivering muscles ready for flight. The realism of his drawings, allied with a superb sensitivity and an eye for light and color characteristic of Oudry's art, meant his works were in tune with the taste of the day. Contemporary interest in natural history led to the creation of collections of living animals and birds, both common and rare, some imported from China or India. Many more people than had access to these collections wanted to see portraits of these animals. In 1728 Louis XV commissioned Oudry to follow the royal hunts and make a large painting of the king and his retinue at the hunt. The painting took him two years to complete.

Bibliography

Opperman H. N., Jean-Baptiste Oudry, New York - Londres, Garland, 1977, 2 vol.
Opperman H. N., J.-B. Oudry 1686-1755, catalogue de l'exposition Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, 26 février - 5 juin 1983, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1982.
Droguet Vincent, Salmon Xavier, Véron-Denise Danièle, Animaux d'Oudry : collection des ducs de Mecklembourg-Schwerin, catalogue de l'exposition Fontainebleau, musée national du château, 5 novembre 2003-9 février 2004 ; Versailles, musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, 5 novembre 2003-8 février 2004, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2003, n 80.

Technical description

  • Jean-Baptiste Oudry (Paris, 1686-Beauvais, 1755)

    Egret

    Between 1738 and 1753

  • Light pencil sketch, black chalk and chalk highlights on blue-gray paper

    H. 34 cm; L. 28.5 cm

  • Pierre-Jean Mariette collection, sold in Paris on November 15, 1775, part of lot 1035; purchased by Lempereur for the Royal Cabinet of Curiosities

    3931486

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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