A Magnificent Pastel by Simon Bernard Lenoir Acquired by the Louvre

21/1/14 - Acquisition - Paris, Musée du Louvre - A masterpiece by a little-known painter is worth more than a mediocre work by a famous artist. The recent purchase made by the Département des Arts Graphiques at the Musée du Louvre from the Bayser Gallery in Paris illustrates the wisdom of this aphorism. The work is a pastel (ill. 1) by Simon Bernard Lenoir who is relatively unknown although he led an honorable career as a portraitist, notably various depictions of the Prince de Condé. This one represents the actor Lekain in the role of Orosmane ( a character in Voltaire’s play, Zaïre). Everything about it is remarkable : from the actor’s determined expression, and the conviction he put into his role as Orosmane, to the subtle colors of the costume he wears.

1. Simon-Bernard Lenoir (1729-1789)
Pastel on several sheets glued
on canvas - 116 x 88 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo : Galerie de Bayser

2. Simon-Bernard Lenoir (1729-1789)
Portrait of Lekain in the role of Orosmane
Oil on canvas
Paris, Comédie Française
Photo : P. Lorette/Comédie-Française.
Pastel on several sheets glued on canvas - 116 x 88 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo : Galerie de Bayser

Readers will look at the entry with interest, along with a short catalogue of Lenoir’s pastels which Neil Jeffares published on the artist in which some of the images reveal that Lenoir’s production was generally uneven. He produced several portraits of the actor Lekain ; here Jeffares lists at least ten pastels. Lenoir also painted him in oil : the Comédie Française holds one version (ill. 2) of this same composition in a canvas which was presented recently at the exhibition at the Petit Palais.
In 1764, at the Salon de l’Académie de Saint-Luc, Lenoir displayed Mr. Lekain playing the role of Orosmane in a work which, according to the critics [1], "drew everyone’s attention. Although the description and size might perhaps correspond to those of this work, the latter - known up to now only thanks to a mention in an auction catalogue - is dated 1767, meaning this is probably another version, unless he set down the date three years later, which seems improbable. The Louvre did not own any works by Lenoir before making this acquisition.

Version française

Didier Rykner, mardi 21 janvier 2014


[1] Quoted by N. Jeffares.

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