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Sunday, January 3, 2016

Jean-Francois de Troy

Diane Surprised by Actéon, 1734, Jean-Francois de Troy
Painters and other artists today don't realize how lucky they are when it comes to choosing a career. Until the advent of the modern era, if you were a boy, there was a very good chance that your life's work would be a foredrawn conclusion at the time of your birth. Boys were expected to learn their fathers' trade and carry on the family tradition of excellence or in the upper classes, continue to run a family business. If your father was a blacksmith (for instance), you'd have a "battle royal" if you wanted to become an artist (especially if you wanted to be an artist). However, by the same token, the reverse was true. A painter or sculptor was expected to train his sons in his art, who were expected to dutifully follow in their father's footsteps, perhaps becoming even greater than their father. Anything less involved open rebellion, tantamount to disrespect for the father and dishonor to the family name. It's hard for us today to imagine that kind of pressure and to fathom just how intense it could be. Nicholas de Troy trained his son, Francois to become a painter and engraver like himself and his brother, Jean de Troy. Likewise, Francois trained his son, Jean-Francois de Troy to become a portrait painter like himself. In each case the sons outshone their fathers.

Four self-portraits (not many for a portrait painter).
Adam and Eve, 1718,
Jean Francois de Troy
Jean-Francois de Troy was born in 1679. He spent his early years in Paris under the traditional tutelage of his father until he was around twenty, whereupon he left for Rome (and elsewhere in the country). There he spent the next seven years learning to paint like an Italian. There too, he also picked up a taste for high-flown allegorical works and painting mythology, which came to dominate his work once he returned to Paris in around 1706. Little is known of the younger de Troy for the next ten or fifteen years. It's likely he simply lived at home and worked in his father's atelier painting portraits of wealthy society ladies. (Ladies' portraits, especially French ladies, tend to outnumber those of men by about two to one.) De Troy's earliest notable works date from the 1720s. though his "extremely" nude Adam and Eve (right) is listed as from 1718. The artist is usually categorized as a Rococo painter, and in general, Rococo painters loved to paint nudes; but even for a Rococo artist, de Troy's sheer quantity of mostly female nudes is notable, as seen in his Diana Surprised by Acteon (top) from 1734. (I counted fourteen.)

The Ascension, 1721,
Jean-Francois de Troy
De Troy's Ascension (left) is from 1721, also one of the earliest works. I know it's not the artist's fault, but despite the serious, religious nature of the subject, I found the image vaguely amusing (Superman, anyone?). Speaking of amusing, check out the little sacrilege at the bottom. Although de Troy painted a religious works--Moses, a nativity, David with the Head of Goliath, Lot and his Daughters, Bathsheba, and of course, more than one depiction of Eve, you'll note that in each case the subject seems to have been chosen relative to how easily nude figures might be included in the composition. Of course, de Troy was far from alone in this regard, but his religious works, coupled with his multitude of mythological paintings, seem to bear out this theory. Quite apart from Adam and Even, far and away the most erotic encounter de Troy ever painted is his Venus and Adonis (below), dating from 1729.

Venus and Adonis, 1729, Jean Francois de Troy
Even by Rococo standards this piece is quite erotic. De Troy uses the much-abused tale of Venus and Adonis to depict two lovers frolicking in the woods, though the scene appears quiet natural and poetic. De Troy goes well beyond what most painters of his time might try to get away with. François Boucher himself, the Rococo king of the naked ladies, who made a career of painting sensual nude women, would not have attempted a scene quite like this. The frankness of their lust indicates that de Troy's turning away from religion in favor of the relative freedom of mythology was not enough to satisfy his visual lust for sexualized female flesh. With Venus and Adonis, the artist can be seen moving toward a more life-like scene that was not embraced by any art movement, in effect, paving the way for pornography in the modern age. That's not to say de Troy painted pornography. He merely portrayed a sort of timeless sexuality, thinly disguise as mythology, gracefully opening the door to a kind of visual poetic erotica. In this regard alone, de Troy can be considered a French master, not only ahead of his time, but vastly underrated.

The Declaration of Love, 1731, Jean François de Troy
In 1731, we find de Troy moving toward the typical, high-fashion scene with which Rococo painting is more commonly associated. His Declaration of Love (above) from that year, with its rich textiles and garments of lavish design, set against the architecture and indistinct, verdant background, illustrates his ability to humor the upper class. The body language, the distinctive use of hands, and facial expressions suggests a relationship governed by status and upward mobility rather than actual love. The attention to clothing and his figure's physical presence set against the elegant perspective of the stairs, indicates the compositional sensitivities of an extremely versatile artist, well trained in all the classical basics acquired from his time in Italy.

The Oyster Lunch, 1735, Jean-Francois de Troy
From 1735, we find many of the same traits seen in Declaration of Love carried over into a much more ambitious work of upper class social genre. The exquisite detail alone in the enlarged area (lower-right), which was pulled from the center of the much larger vertical composition of The Oyster Lunch (above), is a tour de force far beyond that which is usually seen in Rococo painting. Despite his lack of formal academic training, it marks de Troy, as being on a par with Boucher, Watteau, Fragonard, Chardin, Tiepolo, Bellini, and two or three other Rococo painters I could name. The Oyster Lunch (above), incidentally, is said to be the first painting in which sparkling champagne is depicted.

The Bulls of Mars, a 1789 tapestry from a cartoon by Jean François de Troy
At the height of his career, de Troy undertook commissions for Versailles and Fontainebleau. In the years between 1724 and 1737, the artist designed tapestries for the Gobelins Tapestry Works, each depicting seven subjects. The example above was part of the History of Jason series (1743–46). The meal of Esther and Ahasuerus, (below) is from the History of Esther series (1737–40). Beginning in 1738, de Troy was appointed Director of the French Academy in Rome. He spent the rest of his life there. Later he was also elected as an honorary member of the Roman Academy of St Luke. De Troy's wife died at a young age. Moreover, Jean-Francois de Troy was unable to propagate the family tree with future artist. Every one of his seven children died in childhood. Jean François de Troy died on January 26, 1752 in Rome. He was seventy-three.

The meal of Esther and Ahasuerus, 1737-40, Jean Francois de Troy
The Ascension,
Jean-Francois de Troy,
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