Nicolas Lagneau

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Nicolas Lagneau
approximately 1590-1666
Portrait of a Man, three-quarter view
ca. 1625
Black chalk with smudging and red and white chalk on tan paper; ruled lines in pen and brown ink along edges.
13 3/4 x 10 1/4 inches (355 x 260 mm)
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan.
III, 67a

Inscribed on verso in graphite at upper right, "L'agneau", at lower right, illegible.
Watermark: Fleur-de-lis and stars inside shield, surmounted by head of armor (fragment).

Possibly Alphonse Wyatt Thibaudeau (1840-1892), London; his sale, London, Sotheby's, 9 December 1889; Charles Fairfax Murray (1849-1919), London and Florence; C&E Canessa, Paris; from whom purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan (no mark; see Lugt 1509) 18 May 1907.

This is one of a large body of quasi-portrait drawings of peasants and laborers that are often identified as the work of Nicolas Lagneau, but it is not clear who the artist was, whether he was really named Nicolas, or whether the various drawings are actually the work of a single artist. It is also difficult to determine if these depictions are examples of blunt realism, or if their visages are accentuated or even imagined, giving credence to the pseudoscience of grotesque physiognomy. They reveal, nonetheless, a taste among artists and collectors for portrayals of the faces and expressions of those in the humbler ranks of society.
Curiously, Pierpont Morgan purchased this sheet from the Naples-based dealers C&E Canessa via their outlet in Paris, two years before agreeing to his purchase of the Fairfax Murray collection of 1500 drawings. This, plus a group of court portraits attributed to the Clouet family also purchased ca. 1907 from Canessa (now considered eighteenth century copies), indicate his interest in historical portraits in colored chalks produced during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in France.

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