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Self-Portrait with a Chalkholder

ca. 1757
Europe, France

After Carle van Loo (Charles Andre vanloo) (Nice, France, 1705 - 1765, Paris, France)

18th century CE
Red chalk on paper, 15 3/4 x 14 3/4 in.
Gift of The Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2007.15.54

Object Type: Drawing and Watercolor

Goedde Class
Traces of the Hand: Master Drawings from the Collection of Frederic and Lucy S. Herman | January 25, 2013 - May 26, 2013

Carle Van Loo (1705-1765)
Self-Portrait with a Chalk Holder, c. 1757
Red chalk on paper
15 7/16 x 14 1/8 in., 39.2 x 35.8 cm.
Provenance: E. Günter Troche Collection, San Francisco; acquired from Julius Böhler, Munich, 1975
Gift of The Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2007.15.54

Through the use of the half-length format and garments that belong to the domestic sphere, Carle Van Loo imbued his self-portrait with a sense of ease and intimacy, apparently capturing an informal moment in the studio. Executed in sanguine or red chalk, the artist is shown grasping a chalk holder, or porte-crayon, and a rag, both critical tools for any draughtsman of the eighteenth-century. This reference to production, however, goes beyond the classic trope of depicting an artist at work. In Van Loo’s process, the final step of any polished work was the application of white highlights. This sheet, however, did not receive this treatment. The inclusion of a white piece of chalk on one end of Van Loo’s porte-crayon has been read as a desire for the Self-Portrait to be viewed as a “drawing in progress.”1 In any case, the drawing reveals the artist’s command of the wide range of effects possible in red chalk from precise contours to soft hatching to darker values achieved by pressing harder.

This drawing’s rhetorical intent, however, is closely related to a print reproducing its design by Gilles Demarteau dated 1757, a few years after Van Loo was appointed the director of the French Academy.2 The print is executed in “crayon manner,” a newly invented medium meant to reproduce the characteristics of chalk drawings like this.3 The object of the sitter’s gesture with his left hand, puzzling in the drawing, is clarified in the print where the artist points towards an inscription identifying himself as painter to the king and dedicating the image to his wife.4 In both the print and the drawing then, Van Loo was celebrating himself as a “painter-teacher of high status,” who recognized drawing as the foundation of all the other arts.5

Other drawings of this composition are known, and the Herman version has been described as a copy.6 Nonetheless, certain features of the Herman Collection Self-Portrait argue for it as the model for the 1757 print, not the least of which is its being the only known version executed in red chalk. Demarteau’s reproduction of the design in crayon-manner extended to his printing it in red ink; and Van Loo tended to use sanguine for his drawings for prints.7 The absence of the background architecture seen in the print is very likely explained by the drawing’s having been trimmed at the top, evident in the absence there of the border line found along the other three edges.

Katherine Baker

1Chappell, Form, Function, and Finesse, 26.
2Chappell, Form, Function, and Finesse, 26.
3Chappell, Form, Function, and Finesse,, 26; and Linda C. Hults, The Print in the Western World: an Introductory History, Madison WI, 1996, 296.
4Carle Vanloo peintre du Roy, Ecuier - Chevalier de l’ordre de S. Michel, / Directeur des Eleves - Protegés par Sa Majesté. / Dedié à Madame - Vanloo son Epouse. Marie-Catherine Sahut, Carle Vanloo: Premier peintre du roi (Nice, 1705 – Paris, 1765), Serg: Ivry, 1977, 152.
5Chappell, Form, Function, and Finesse, 26.
6For locations of the other drawings, see Chappell, Form, Function, and Finesse, 27. Sahut’s catalogue raisonné identifies the Herman drawing as a copy (Carle Vanloo, 152).
7Perrin Stein and Mary Tavener Holmes, Eighteenth-Century French Drawings in New York Collections, New York: Metropolitan Museum, 1999, no. 31, 73-75.

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