Portrait of the Painter Sébastien Bourdon

ca. 1730-33

Black and white chalk on blue paper
Inv. No. 1067

36.1 × 24.9 cm

zur  Biographie

Hyacinthe Rigaud’s drawing of the painter Sébastien Bourdon (1616–1671) is a superb example of early eighteenth-century French portraiture. In the late seventeenth century, Rigaud had risen to be the leading portraitist of the French court and the upper ranks of society, thanks to a style of painting that endowed his sitters with an imposing aura while also achieving a sensuous impact through his use of colour. His famous formal portrait of Louis XIV (now in the Louvre in Paris) set the standard for the courts of other absolutist rulers. Although Rigaud’s portrait drawings were highly prized, only relatively few have survived. This circumstance lends added significance to the Städel Museum’s group of four excellent drawings, which come from Johann Friedrich Städel’s personal collection and testify to his interest in eighteenth century French drawing as well as in portraiture. The most outstanding work in this quartet is the portrait of Sébastien Bourdon.


Bourdon, who had died in 1671, was one of the founding members of the French Academy and for a time its rector. The likeness we see here is based on an oil portrait of Bourdon which Rigaud himself owned and which he gave to the Académie in 1735. The drawing, executed wholly in black and white chalk on blue paper, shows a picturesque stone window-opening through which the subject looks out at the viewer. Bourdon seems to be glancing back as he turns towards an easel seen in the interior; the sumptuous drapery around him creates an inward movement that draws the viewer’s eye into the scene. The painter’s equipment – palette, brush, portfolio, book and sheet of paper – have been laid in front of the window on a stone ledge. Rigaud’s masterly chalk technique captures the textural differences between the subject’s luxuriant dark hair, his velvet jacket, the glossy silk drapery and the stonework around the window. Despite this precision, the overall effect of the work is one of confidence and freehandedness.


In 1733 the engraver Laurent Cars (1699–1771) executed an engraved copy of Rigaud’s picture, a masterpiece of extraordinary skill that earned him admission to the Académie. It is likely that the drawing was made only a short time earlier, though it is not certain whether Rigaud intended from the outset that it should form the basis for a print. However, the multiple connections with the Académie suggest that this was the case.

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