The exhibition “Hyacinthe Rigaud or the Sun Portrait” will bring together a unique collection of works by Louis XIV’s portraitist. The collection will include The Portrait of Pierre Mignard, which has been recently restored thanks to the patronage of Mrs Krystyna Campbell-Pretty and her family. Élodie Vaysse, curator of the exhibition, tells us about a portrait which united two of the most famous artists of the 17th century.
Who was Mignard for Rigaud? When was the work commissioned?
The Portrait of Pierre Mignard was an early work by Hyacinthe Rigaud, painted in 1690 and 1691. Pierre Mignard was one of the greatest French artists of the 17th century on a par with Charles Le Brun. The designer of decorations for Versailles, Saint-Cloud and the Val-de-Grâce, was also an excellent portraitist, as shown by several works preserved at the Palace. Mignard was quick to detect the young Rigaud’s talent and asked him to paint his portrait after his appointment as First Painter to the King and Director of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, ultimate consecration which came five years before his death. He is posing with a stylus in his hand and is holding a board with sheets of paper protruding from behind, as though he is about to draw the viewer.
Why restore the painting today? What type of work was carried out?
The painting joined the collections of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1744 and was seized during the French Revolution, before being sent to Versailles during the reign of Louis Philippe. Exhibited with Mignard's works in the Louis XIV rooms in the Palace, on the first floor of the North Wing, it suffered from the presence of a thick yellow varnish in which a network of cracks had formed that seemed to cast a dark veil over the portrait. It was therefore suggested to remove part of the varnish in order to make the work more readable and bring out the colours. The operation was carried out in the Centre for Research and Restoration of French Museums (C2RMF) by France de Viguerie, a qualified restorer trained at the Institut National du Patrimoine. Emmanuel Joyerot, a specialist restorer in substrates, was in charge of improving the adhesion of the paint to the canvas. In parallel, the luxurious 17th-century frame accompanying the painting was restored in the workshops at the Palace of Versailles under the direction of Céline Blondel.
How important was the patronage of this painting for the work and the exhibition?
The restoration of the Portrait of Pierre Mignard was made possible thanks to the patronage of Mrs Krystyna Campbell-Pretty and her family and has allowed the painting to find its place in the Hyacinthe Rigaud or the Sun Portrait exhibition, where it embodies the fascinating moment when an ageing artist passes the baton on to a promising young painter.