SALLE DENON, marked Room XV. on the plan, is re-served for portraits of artists. It was opened in 1887 and is modelled on the general lines of the collection of portraits in the Uffizi. The portraits here, however, do not begin to compare with those in the Florentine gallery either in number or extent.
One of the most important in the room is Tintoretto’s Portrait of Himself. Indeed, of all the long list of paintings ascribed to Tintoretto in the Louvre, it is only in this portrait that a half-adequate idea of his. genius can be obtained. It is supposed to have been painted either just before or just after he did the Paradise and represents him therefore as an old man. He is in full face, dressed in black against a dark background, the deep tones of his surroundings making more striking the whiteness of his curly beard and short-cropped hair. It is a face in which the fires of youth still burn in the slumberous depths of the great dark eyes, a face that is marked genius from the square, ridged, long forehead to the mouth which though hidden under the moustache, reveals itself in the sensitive lines that mark the shadows above and below. It is a worn face, with shadows under the eyes, with hollow cheeks, with mournful furrows reaching downward from the nose. It is a self-contained, solitary spirit that yet looks out at the world eagerly, passionately, and if the stoop of the shoulders hints of the weary years that rest upon them, there is a firmness of pose, a calmness even in the flames within the eyes that bespeak the undying creative spirit.
The Portrait of Le Brun by Largillière is one of the best known of all Largillière’s works. Seated before an easel on which is a large sketch of one of his Versailles compositions, Le Brun, in his enormous curled wig that reaches almost to his waist, points to this sketch while his face is turned outward as if he were speaking to some one about it. His ample cloak of red velvet covers his legs, and seems to accentuate the princely character of the man. Beside him on the right, on a table, is an engraving of the Tent of Darius, a small cast of Antinoüs and of the Gladiator. At the left, on the floor, are a head and a torso modelled upon the antique, a globe, a book, a drawing and papers. It is the portrait best recognized as Charles Le Brun, and though, so far as surroundings and treatment go it is a thoroughly academic portrait, it has besides much more than the elements of style, individuality and characterization. Its very pseudo-classicism is after all extremely fitting in a portrait of that great champion of the Grand Monarch.
Another Portrait of Le Brun is by Rigaud, Largillière’s great friend. Le Brun is here painted on the same panel with Mignard, and the two, if less beautiful examples of Rigaud’s skill than the celebrated double portrait of his mother, are worthy of the painter who was the great favourite of kings and princes. The two men are behind a sort of railing. At the right, Le Brun, turning to the left is seen in three-quarters position, his costume a dead-leaf colour, his cloak of violet velvet. In one hand he holds his palette and brushes, his maulstick in the other. Mignard is on the left, almost full face, his head bare, as is Le Brun’s, dressed in black velvet, one hand resting on a drawing, the other raised, pointing to something out of the picture.
Tocqué is represented in this gallery by two admirable portraits, one of the painter Louis Galloche, the other of the sculptor Jean-Louis Lemoyne. Tocqué had a vigour and simplicity in portraiture rare in that day, though he was injured by Nattier’s influence.
One of the best portraits that Greuze ever painted is that of himself in this room. He was an extremely interesting man in appearance, of middle height, with a striking head, full, high forehead, large, luminous eyes, finely formed nose, rather thin mouth. His hair he wore in curls on either side of his face, the front being combed straight back. This portrait shows him rather late in life, in three-quarters position, turned toward the left. The hair is powdered and he has a blue coat, a gray waistcoat and a loosely tied white cravat. About the mouth and the eyes there is, perhaps, a hint of the self-esteem and vanity which were his worst faults.
Three portraits by Madame Vigée-Le Brun are here, of Joseph Vernet, of Hubert Robert and of herself and daughter. This latter is one of her best known and most successful works. She is seated upon a green sofa, in a white muslin dress that leaves her right arm, shoulder and neck bare. Bound about her waist with a red sash the ends of an olive-toned mantle behind her drop on to her lap. Her soft blond hair with the fascinating loose curls about her face, is partly confined by a red ribbon. Leaning against her mother’s knee, with both arms clasped about her neck, and her head against her shoulder, is the small daughter, dressed in blue. Her tender little face with its half-open mouth expresses a childlike and very real devotion. Madame Le Brun herself, if somewhat conscious of her delicate oval face, shining eyes and pink cheeks, shows a maternal love that is both spontaneous and unaffected. This picture is painted with a full if delicate brush, the general tone is most harmonious, the scheme of colour distinguished.
Hubert Robert is posed in an attitude absolutely free from affectation. It is exactly as if he had suddenly leaned upon the stone balustrade before him while working at his painting, and for a moment stopped to turn and talk. His hair is white, his full neck is bound about with a soft white kerchief giving a brilliant high light to the rather gay costume. His coat is violet with a red collar, displaying a yellow waistcoat. In his left hand he holds his palette and brushes. There is a vigour of expression about the face, a very living feeling in the modelling, that indicates that it must have been a most excellent portrait. The brush-work is free, loose and supple. There is none of the dryness Madame Le Brun sometimes fell into in her later years.
The Portrait of Himself by Delacroix, painted in 1827, shows clearly the kind of man he was. For strangely enough, this painter who revelled in colour, in warmth, in movement, in a very orgy of emotion on canvas, lived the simplest, quietest, most reserved of lives. All his strength, energy and passion went into his brush, he had none left for his daily life. Fighting disease always, fragile from boyhood, it was only by thus conserving all his powers that he could have begun to produce the enormous mass of work he left behind him. This pale-faced young man, with the deep, shadowed eyes, the heavy hair over the full square brow, the sensitive, firm mouth, was almost a recluse. He left the portrait to his governess with the verbal stipulation that it should be given to the Louvre so soon as a Bourbon should be once more on the French throne.
The Man with the Leather Belt by Courbet is a portrait of the painter himself when he was a young man. Seated beside a table, he is shown in three-quarters view, facing to the right of the picture. His right elbow rests upon a volume or portfolio on the table and his head leans slightly against his right hand which is drawn up to his neck. His left hand fingers the broad leather belt which has given the name to the picture. He is dressed in black, has bushy, curling black hair, worn long, black eyes and a thin black moustache and beard. The face that Sylvestre likened to an Assyrian bas-relief, shows the finely-drawn eyebrows, the full forehead, the mobile lips, the deep, passionate eyes that made Courbet, especially as a young man, so remarkably handsome. Even with greater power are the hands portrayed. The virile strength, yet fineness of line and construction of that flexible right hand would alone mark Courbet as a powerful draughtsman.