Chiswick Auctions announces rediscovery of Joseph Vivien work and its private sale

Art Daily
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Portrait of a Lady shown in the guise of Minerva by Joseph Vivien, sold privately for £17,000.
Portrait of a Lady shown in the guise of Minerva by Joseph Vivien, sold privately for £17,000.

LONDON.-Chiswick Auctions announced the private sale of a re-discovered art work by the great French master of pastels Joseph Vivien (Lyon 1657 – Bonn 1735). The work titled: Lady shown in the Guise of Minerva has been acquired by the Friends of The Sinebrychoff Museum in Helsinki, through Chiswick Auctions in London. It was purchased for £17,000.

Commenting on this important sale, Laetitia Masson, Head of Old Master Paintings and Drawings at Chiswick Auctions, said: “I am thrilled that this rediscovered pastel portrait, which has undergone much research by ourselves and an external expert, has now found such a good home. It is one of the best examples of the mythological portrait genre that was in vogue in the early 18th century Europe and is one of the finest examples of Joseph Vivien’s talent as a pastellist.

When the work was brought in, its owner was unaware of who the revered artist was, however Laetitia immediately recognised the quality of the work, she says: “I knew by the delicate handling of the pastel medium that the work had been created by an important hand and someone who had mastered the technique. I immediately consulted the Art Historian and Pastel expert Neil Jeffares who, as I excited as I was, came over to inspect the piece in the flesh and fully attributed the work on the spot”.

The work’s provenance can be traced back to possibly have been in the collection of Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III. The seller of the portrait, a private collector, purchased the work very close to the Empress Eugenia’s home in near Farnborough hill, England, where she lived in exile until her death in 1920.

The female sitter in the portrait sports an armoured breast plate, alluding to Minerva, the Roman goddess of Wisdom, War and Commerce. The oval-shaped work is typical of the format of miniatures popular at the time and suggests the level of intimacy that would have existed between the artist and his sitter.

The pastel technique was in use as early as the Renaissance in Italy, and its wider-spread use of the medium in Europe dates from a century later, but it was in France in the 18th century that the medium reached its apogee, aesthetically moving ever closer to painting as colour, not line, came to dominate.

Both the esteem in which the pastel medium came to be held and Joseph Vivien’s skill in the medium, is acknowledged in his reception into the French Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1701, as the first ever ‘painter in pastel’. Indeed, his forte as a pastel portraitist, earned him the moniker ‘the Vandick du siècle pour le pastel’ (‘the Van Dyck of the century for pastel’) by his contemporary, the art critic Florent Le Comte.

Commenting on the work, Art Historian Neil Jeffares said: “Joseph Vivien was the dominant pastellist of the later years of Louis XIV and the Régence, taking the medium to an unprecedented level in terms of tonal range, bravura composition and even physical size.

His work is highly finished, intended to demonstrate that pastel was the equal of oil painting. Today however he is overshadowed by later artists. So I was delighted to be shown one of his works that had lost its attribution and to recognise in the technique and even the materials used, the hand of an artist who in his day was known as the French Van Dyck.”

Other especially fine examples of Vivien’s pastel portraits can be found in the collections of the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the Alte Pinakotek in Munich and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Art Historian Neil Jeffares will include the work in the forthcoming update to the dictionary: www.pastellists.com His book on the genre is titled: Dictionary of Pastellists Before 1800 and was published in April 2006.