A major portrait painter of the king and his Court, Rigaud fixed for three centuries the image of the official portrait of European courts.
Born in Perpignan, Rigaud arrived in Paris in 1681. On the advice of Le Brun, he devoted himself to portraiture, a genre that he raised to its highest expression. He was noticed by the king and the Court with the portrait of Monsieur, the king’s brother, in 1688, and then that of Philippe d’Orléans, the future Regent, in 1689. Louis XIV wanted his own portrait in armour, delivered in 1694. But it was above all the portrait in his coronation costume, dating from 1701 (Louvre; studio copy in Versailles), which ensured the painter’s celebrity. He produced here an emblem of the French monarchy and definitively froze the image of the official portrait: column and background landscape, glistening drapes, solemn pose, intense colours. French and European sovereigns had their portraits taken up to the 19th century. Rigaud returned to the same subject for Louis XV in 1730 (Versailles).
The reputation of the artist then reached its highest point: he produced nearly 400 paintings and ended his career as director of the Royal Academy of Painting. Apart from the Court, he painted all the high society of his time (bourgeois, financiers, aristocrats). His reputation also grew in Europe: portraits of Philippe V of Spain (Versailles), of the king of Poland Augustus III (Dresden), etc. Overloaded with commissions, he had to pass on the painting of certain parts to his collaborators: for example, Joseph Parrocel painted the background battle scene of his portrait of the duc de Bourgogne (Versailles). Certain paintings achieved a paroxysm of pomposity as in the portrait of the marquis de Dangeau (Versailles).
The painter sometimes showed a more intimate side, as in the astonishing double portrait of his mother Marie Serre (Louvre). No less astonishing are his studies of hands and drapery which show the artist’s refinement and close attention to detail. The taste for the double portrait is once again manifest in the almost provocative confrontation of two great rivals, Le Brun and Mignard (Louvre).
Rigaud also showed his talent in some religious paintings: e.g. the Presentation in the Temple (Louvre). Although influenced by Van Dyck and Champaigne, Rigaud played a capital role in the French and European art of portraiture.