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Nicolas de Largillière
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One of the leading portrait painters in Paris during the late 17th and early 18th centuries, Nicolas de Largillière specialized in portraits, creating perhaps more than 1,500. He also produced history paintings, landscapes, and still lifes., His clientele was primarily the wealthy bourgeoisie who found his taste for warm color tones, sumptuous fabrics, and a regal manner of presentation very much to their liking. Largillière was extremely successful during his long life. He is pivotal in the transition from the baroque to the rococo portrait style during the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV. Born in Paris in 1656 and baptized on October 10, he was the son of a hat merchant who moved the family to Antwerp in 1659. At the age of nine his father sent him to London for twenty months. He was apprenticed in 1668, after his return to Antwerp, to the still life and genre painter Antoine Goubau (1616-1698), and became a master in the artists’ Guild of St. Luke during the Guild’s year 1673-74. The artist returned to England in 1675, where he worked under Antonio Verrio (ca. 1639-1707) in the decoration of Windsor Castle and also worked as an art restorer. The suggestion that he worked in the London studio of Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680) has not been documented, but he was probably one of Lely’s friends. No doubt spurred by anti-Catholic persecution in England, Largillière went to Paris in 1679; his first known portrait was engraved that year. Largillière was introduced to Charles Le Brun (1619-1690), who took him under his protection. Le Brun was a very influential artist, the principal painter to King Louis XIV (1638-1715) and Director of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. Largillière painted the King’s portrait in about 1681 (known from the engraving of that year). Becoming successful, Largillière was accepted into the Royal Academy and finally completed his initial work for the Academy, a portrait of Le Brun, and presented it to the Academy on March 30, 1686. Later that year he went to England, where he painted the portraits of King James II (1633-1701) and his wife, returning to Paris the following year. Largillière’s patrons over the next four decades included the Paris City Council, which gave him numerous important commissions. In 1699 he married Marguerite-Elisabeth Forest, the daughter and niece of prominent artists. That year he began teaching at the Academy, and held several important posts in the hierarchy of that institution over the next 40 years. Also in 1699 he began exhibiting at the Academy’s Salon, showing thirteen paintings. Largillière probably organized a workshop sometime before 1700. Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1686-1755) was his apprentice from 1707 to 1712. Largillière earned a large fortune, and in 1716 completed the construction of a large house in what is now the 3rd arrondissement on the Right Bank, where he lived for the balance of his life. The scope of his patronage broadened after 1720, to include aristocrats and right merchants from the French provinces. He continued painting into his eighties; his last painting was created in 1741. He died on March 20, 1746 in Paris. (Rev. TNB 5/2013) Selected bibliography: Rosenfeld, Myra Nan. Largillierre and the 18th century portrait. Montreal: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1982.