Black chalk, with stumping, with framing in brown lines. Oval.
Partly inscribed in pencil on the old backing board: De Jean-Charles Cochin / Portrait de son fils… [illegible]
15.6cm. (6 ¼ in.) [diameter]
Talabardon & Gautier, Paris, 2009.
As the old pencil inscription on the backboard helpfully explains, the cherubic and confident young boy in this portrait is one of Jean-Charles Tardieu’s sons, drawn by his father. There were three sons born to Tardieu and his wife Prudence: Alexandre, in 1803; Jules Romain, in 1805; and Armand-Louis, in 1807. All three were born in Rouen, and would go on to have successful literary and legal careers. Jules-Romain was the most prominent, becoming a well-known publisher and author. As the second half of the inscription has become illegible, it is not possible to determine which son we are looking at in Tardieu’s intimate portrait.
As the boy is aged perhaps three or four, the drawing can be dated to 1805-1810. Given the difficulty in getting a child of this age to sit still for any length of time, Tardieu presumably had to execute the portrait rapidly. And yet he manages to successfully convey that sense of mischievous curiosity and liveliness inherent in many children at an age when they are able to properly explore the world for the first time. Tardieu’s image is quite reminiscent of numerous portraits by Louis-Léopold Boilly, who also enjoyed portraying his young sons at a similar age, likewise wide-eyed with wonder (fig. 1).
Fig. 1, Louis-Léopold Boilly, Portrait of the artist’s son,
c. 1800-5, oil on canvas, 22 x 16.5 cm, Ramsbury Manor Foundation
Born in Paris in 1765, Jean-Charles Tardieu, also known as Tardieu-Cochin after the small legacy left to him by his father’s cousin Charles-Nicholas Cochin, was from a family of eminent engravers. His father, Jacques-Nicolas, and paternal grandfather, Nicolas-Henri, were both academicians and graveurs du roi, and his mother, Claire Tournay, and paternal grandmother, Marie-Anne Horthemels, were both also professional engravers. Tardieu entered the studio of Jean-Baptiste Regnault and obtained the second grand prix de Rome in 1790, debuting at the Salon three years later. Tardieu had excellent social connections and managed to maintain elite patronage through the successive upheavals and regime changes of the time, working for Napoleon, Louis XVIII and Charles X. Under these three sovereigns he received many official commissions for various imperial and royal residences, such as the palaces of Luxembourg, Versailles, Saint-Cloud and Fontainebleau (fig. 2).
Fig. 2, Jean-Charles Tardieu, Halt of the French Army at Cyrene 2nd February 1799, 1812, oil on canvas, 113 x 169 cm,
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