The Frick Collection
The West Gallery of The Frick Collection
 
Exhibitions: Gabriel de Saint-Aubin
 

Gabriel de Saint-Aubin (1724–1780)
October 30, 2007, through January 27, 2008

Gabriel de Saint-Aubin (1724?1780), Gabriel de Saint-Aubin, Concealed behind a Screen, Making a Portrait of the Bishop of Chartres, 1768, pen and black ink and brush and gray wash over graphite, The Art Institute of Chicago  
Gabriel de Saint-Aubin (1724–1780), Gabriel de Saint-Aubin, Concealed behind a Screen, Making a Portrait of the Bishop of Chartres, 1768, pen and black ink and brush and gray wash over graphite, The Art Institute of Chicago  

For all its thematic sophistication and frequent visual complexity, Saint-Aubin’s art is, first and foremost, beautiful and engaging, brimming with humor and imagination. This is nowhere more apparent than in a drawing of 1768, Gabriel de Saint-Aubin, Concealed behind a Screen, Making a Portrait of the Bishop of Chartres (right). It records an unusual commission the artist received from the comte de Maillebois. According to the inscription beneath the drawing, Saint-Aubin was engaged to hide behind a screen at a dinner party to prepare secretly a portrait of the bishop of Chartres, who had previously refused to have his likeness taken. One wonders whether this elegant pen-and-wash drawing cleverly depicting the circumstance — with Saint-Aubin and his inspiring genius on one side of the screen, opposite the coconspirators seated at dinner with the unsuspecting bishop on the other — was as much a part of the assignment as the painted portrait, no trace of which has survived.

  Gabriel de Saint-Aubin (1724?1780), Germain-Augustin and Rose de Saint-Aubin, Drawn by Their Uncle, 1766, brush and gray wash over black chalk and graphite, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  Saint-Aubin, Germain-Augustin and Rose de Saint-Aubin, Drawn by Their Uncle, 1766, brush and gray wash over black chalk and graphite, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

A more profound expression of the artist’s gifts as a portraitist is found in a dual likeness of his niece and nephew Rose and Germain-Augustin de Saint-Aubin (left). The young boy and girl are characterized with sincerity and respect, recalling Chardin’s attentiveness to the dignity of childhood. The sense of a moment suspended is enhanced by the way in which Rose holds the hurdy-gurdy resting in her lap, as if she were preparing to play. The artist’s special sensitivity to children points up the irony that he never married or had a family of his own.

There also may be a component of family portraiture in one of Saint-Aubin’s best known sheets, The Flirtatious Conversation (below right). It is a superb example of his inimitable painterly drawings, intricately layered with watercolor and gouache. He inscribed it with verses of his own composition, which translate: “Old, unreformed debauchee / You think you are seducing this beautiful creature / But long ago the damsel / Made up her mind to be honorable.” Saint-Aubin hereby creates an ostensibly conventional genre scene, entirely suitable for reproduction in an engraving. Yet the “old debauchee” bears a sneaking resemblance to known profile portraits of Saint-Aubin’s recently widowed elder brother Charles-Germain, then thirty-nine years old.

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The accompanying catalogue is available, in both English and French, in the Museum Shop and on our Web site, at www.shopfrick.org.

Gabriel de Saint-Aubin (1724–1780) was organized for The Frick Collection by Colin B. Bailey, Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator, and Kim de Beaumont, Guest Curator; the curators at the Musée du Louvre are Pierre Rosenberg, President-Director Emeritus, and Christophe Leribault, Chief Curator in the Department of Drawings.

Major funding for Gabriel de Saint-Aubin (1724–1780) has been provided by The Florence Gould Foundation. Additional generous support has been provided by The Christian Humann Foundation, the Michel David-Weill Foundation, and The Grand Marnier Foundation.

NEA (National Endowment for the Arts   The project is also supported, in part, by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

 

 

 

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