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Work Noël-Nicolas Coypel (1690-1734)
Department of Sculptures: France, 17th and 18th centuries
Noël-Nicolas Coypel (1690-1734)
© R.M.N./R.G. Ojeda
France, 17th and 18th centuries
At the age of twenty-six, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne produced this dashing portrait of his friend, the painter Noël-Nicolas Coypel. The malleability of the clay perfectly suited the impetuous temperament of the sculptor, who produced lively, expressive portraits well before Houdon. He became one of the greatest portraitists of his century and Louis XV's favorite in this field.
The model and the sculptor
Admitted to the Academy in 1720, Noël-Nicolas Coypel belonged to a dynasty of painters. But he was far from attaining the glory enjoyed by his half-brother Antoine Coypel (twenty-nine years his elder) or his nephew Charles-Antoine Coypel, who were both directors of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. He is famous for his mythological compositions, including The Rape of Europa in 1727 (Philadelphia, Museum of Art). The Louvre houses his Venus, Bacchus, and Cupid. Coypel did not court favor, and suffered hardship, dying at the age of forty-four.
Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne came from a dynasty of sculptors. He won the Academy's Prix de Rome but stayed to help his blind father instead of taking up his prize in Rome. His bust of Coypel, executed in 1730 when he was twenty-six, was not a commission but a mark of the friendship between the two artists. At the time, they were working together on the decoration of the Chapel of the Virgin in the church of Saint-Sauveur in Paris (now destroyed), in a surprisingly illusionist and baroque style.
A spirited work
The bust is a youthful work, brilliant and spirited. The head is boldly turned to the side, a fold of cloth is blithely tossed over the right shoulder and rolled around the bust to the back where it falls on the pedestal on the other side. The cloth is held by a gold chain over the naked neck and chest. The wig is full of movement, too, and the freely treated tangle of curls is tied with a bow. The pose and the lifted chin express rather theatrical pride, which is belied by an evasive, slightly hooded gaze, with a melancholy tinge. Well before Houdon, Lemoyne understood the importance of the eyes in giving the portrait life and expression: he has outlined the irises and hollowed out the pupils. The malleability of the clay has enabled him to catch the mobility of the flesh and infuse the portrait with all his youthful energy.
Busts of artists
The representation of an artist usually demands a slightly neglected air, often shown by an unbuttoned shirt. The Louvre has many examples of such artistic casualness: the bust of Pierre Mignard by his friend Desjardins in the late 17th century, the portrait of Augustin Pajou by his pupil Roland in 1797, the self-portraits of Coysevox and Pigalle, and Pajou's bust of the engraver Pierre-François Basan. But the bust of Coypel is particularly spontaneous and vivacious. Lemoyne himself settled down in later years, although he did not lose his verve as his portrait of Réamur demonstrates.
Lemoyne was also skilled in rendering the majesty and pomp of the royal family and he became Louis XV's favourite portraitist. He trained a generation of brilliant sculptors, including Pigalle, Falconet, Caffiéri, and Pajou.
BibliographyPaul Vitry, "Quelques bustes du XVIIIe siècle récemment entrés au musée du Louvre", Les Arts, n 117, septembre 1911, pp. 2-6.
Louis Réau, Une dynastie de sculpteurs au XVIIIe siècle : les Lemoyne, Paris, 1927, pp. 106-108 et p. 151.
Jean-Baptiste II LEMOYNE (Paris, 1704 - Paris, 1778)
Noël-Nicolas Coypel (1690-1734)
H. 0.65 m; W. 0.36 m; D. 0.43 m
Acquired in 1910
Display case 2
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