From 17 November 2020 to 14 March 2021, the Palace of Versailles will be presenting the first major monographic exhibition dedicated to the work of Hyacinthe Rigaud. This most famous portraitist of the Sun King dominated portraiture for nearly a century and set new codes in the discipline.
Laid out chronologically and by theme, the exhibition illustrates Hyacinthe Rigaud’s career from his early years in Catalonia to his consecration in Paris. Special focus is given to the artist’s self-portraits painted throughout his life, while a particularly spectacular section is entirely dedicated to portraits of Louis XIV.
In another section, visitors will be able to discover the very process of making a portrait, from the choice of format through to popular distribution through engravings, including the production of sketches and their presentation to the models. The portraits on display reflect the remarkable diversity of Rigaud's clientele from both France and abroad. The exhibition also highlights his sensitivity for sculpture: in 1695, his final trip to Catalonia was motivated by his desire to capture the features of his mother, Mme Rigaud (born Marie Serre), and to have them set in marble by the sculptor Antoine Coysevox.
Hyacinthe Rigaud (1659-1743) or the Sun Portrait is also an opportunity to highlight the exceptional wealth of the collections of the Palace of Versailles, which are unrivalled for 17th- and 18th-century French portraits. Having been looked down upon by art historians for a long time, this genre of painting is now the focus of keener attention. Monographic exhibitions have already been dedicated to François de Troy and Nicolas de Largillière, painters with fewer ties to the French court. The exhibition dedicated to Hyacinthe Rigaud, whose portrait of Louis XIV is today so iconic of 17th century France, could be held nowhere else but at The Palace of Versailles.
Quelques portraits peints par Hyacinthe Rigaud
Born in Perpignan, Hyacinthe Rigaud studied in the south of France before moving to Paris in 1681. Upon the advice of Charles Le Brun, he decided to specialise in portraiture, which he elevated to its highest expression. He became known at Court and by the king thanks to the protection of the Duke of Orléans, whose portrait he painted in 1688. In 1700, he was received as a History painter at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, but in 1701 he became the most famous portraitist of his time. This was the year that Louis XIV commissioned a portrait in coronation attire from him, which later became a major icon of the absolute French monarchy. With this painting, he set the codes of ceremonial portraiture: column and landscape in the background, shimmering drapery, solemn pose and intense colours. European kings and queens had their portraits painted in this way until the 19th century. Hyacinthe Rigaud also painted portraits of his fellow artists, such as Charles de La Fosse and François Girardon, as well as religious and judicial figures and financiers. Thanks to his select clientele, he was able to build up a remarkable collection of books and works in his private mansion on Rue Louis-Le-Grand, where he died on 29 December 1743.
Laurent Salomé, Director of the Musée National des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon
Élodie Vaysse, General Curator of Heritage
Ariane James-Sarazin, General Curator of Heritage, Assistant Director of the Musée de l'Armée
Pier Luigi Pizzi and Massimo Pizzi Gasparon Contarini
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