Jean-Baptiste Perroneau, French, 1715-1783
Title: Portrait of a Man
Date: 1766
Medium: Oil on canvas
72 x 59 cm
Signed: upper right: Perronneau, 1766
Credit Line: Purchased, 1929
Object Number: NGI.920
DescriptionPerronneau is best known as a pastellist, but he also painted and exhibited regularly in oil. This painting has captured something of the fragility and softness of finish of a pastel portrait. The subtle tonality and neutral background - relieved by the loosely but carefully painted white lace of his shirt, and the glimpses of freer brushwork in his brocade waistcoat - draws the viewer to the steady, clear gaze of the sitter. The light, coming from the upper left, models his face and falls down to his hand where the slip of paper inscribed Agriculture, Arts et Commerce presumably records his achievements and holds the key to his identity.

Despite the comment from a contemporary critic that Perronneau's portraits, particularly those in oil, should be viewed from a short distance, the artist has sensitively differentiated between the white of the wig, that of the shirt, and of the piece of paper. The features are painted with fine brush strokes, while broader sweeps of paint capture the velvet texture of his jacket. The appeal of the portrait lies in its simple, underestimated realism.

(National Gallery of Ireland: Essential Guide, 2008)

ProvenancePurchased Thos. Agnew & Sons, London, 1929
Exhibition HistoryExhibition of French Art 1200-1900, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1932

French Art Exhibition, City Art Gallery, Manchester, 1932

Centenary Exhibition, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, October - December 1964

France in the Eighteenth Century, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1968

Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Ireland, National Gallery, London, 1985

Master European Paintings from the National Gallery of Ireland, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 6 June - 9 August 1992; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, 19 September - 6 December 1992; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 13 January - 28 March 1993; IBM Gallery, New York, 27 April - 26 June 1993
Label TextThe identity of this man continues to intrigue. He holds a sheet of paper bearing the words ‘Agriculture, Arts and Commerce’. This is the very embodiment of Enlightenment France, where reforms were sought in these and other areas. He looks out at the viewer with an unwavering eye, the neutral background and lack of extraneous detail giving him a great sense of presence. Perronneau brought honesty and psychological insight to his depiction, an approach that meant he was less highly regarded than rivals at the time.