For a first post on this blog, I thought I would talk about a “hidden” gem in the Louvre: the portrait of Madame de Pompadour by Delatour. You’ll have to go in a little room of the second floor, far away from the Joconde and the crowd, but you won’t regret it.
This portrait, dated from 1755, is a huge pastel (1,77 m by 1,36 m) with added gouache colors. Madame de Pompadour (lover, friend and counselor of Louis XV) is sitting down in her study decorated by blue-green woodwork with some touch of gold. Her dress, a french dress from around 1750, shows her wealth. However this portrait is still a private one, as the absence of jewelry and her simple hairstyle indicate. On her desk, you can see books from Voltaire, Montesquieu, and the fourth book of the Encyclopedia as well as a book about engraving (an art she particularly appreciated). A print from this last book can be seen on her desk. Delatour signed it “Pompadour sculpsit“, attributing it to the Marquise even though the real author was the Comte de Caylus (a proto-archaeologist and a man of letters). She is posing herself as the protector of the Encyclopédistes, of the Lumières and of the Arts (by the Pastor Fido of Guarini, a play, and the musical sheets). All of this is against the Rocaille, which was the main art style at that time. The marquise wanted to show the King of France the different evolution (intellectual, moral, philosophical, political) that occurred in his kingdom but didn’t touch Versailles.
The artist used a soft blue harmony in this work. The different shades of blue guide the spectator’s eyes and make the dress the most important object in the pastel. The colors and the light used for the dress itself reflect the delicacy of the fabric, which is probably in satin. The pastel was used a lot in the second half of the 18th century. Its powdery and velvety aspect gives it a peculiar charm. Its granular nature refracts the light giving it a particular brightness.
This pastel was already important in the 18th century because it change the view that people had of portraits. Now, it is a testimony of this evolution and the importance of Madame de Pompadour in the society. The fragile colors are beautifully preserved, which makes this artwork even more remarkable and breathtaking.