Attributed to Francois Quesnel (1543-1619) Portrait of a Woman with a High Ruff and Cap
Attributed to Francois Quesnel (1543-1619)
Portrait of a Woman with a High Ruff and Cap
12 x 9 1/4 inches
Black and red chalk and stumping
Inscribed in brown ink verso: Madame de Kier [?]
Reference: Italian, French and Spanish painting before 1800 in prominent collections, edited by Gerhard Holland, Published 1997 by Blick in die Welt in Frankfurt am Main; Dimier, Louis. French Painting in the Sixteenth Century. Arno Press: New York, 1969.
In the 1580s and 90s, two families of artists successfully maintained the court’s interest in the tradition of portraiture, creating realistic and refined renditions of iconic figures of the time: the Dumoustiers (trained at the Fountainblaeu) and the Quesnels. Francois Quesnel (1543-1619) was among the best known in the family. Born in Edinburgh where his father Pierre painted for James V of Scotland, Francois’ name first appeared in the French royal accounts in 1572 having been involved with the procession of Charles I and Elizabeth of Austria into Paris.
Maintaining a career in France, his strict rendering of the subjects he painted found great success at the court of Henry III and IV. His conscious Mannerist influence was fitting for his portrait of King Henry III (painted c. 1582-1586) as well as the unknown sitter of Mary Ann Waltham, his only signed and dated portrait (1572). Very few painted portraits from his hand have survived.
While he developed his own unique drawing style and technique, Quesnel successfully carried on the Clouet and Corneille de Lyon tradition of portraiture. Employing white paper rather than the grey sheets of the past, he utilized
pencil, red chalk, and vermillion wash in a tricolor palate of brown, black and white to render his subjects.
Louis Dimier, the author of French Painting in the 16th Century (1969) includes Quesnel in his writing, attributing a number of works by him in notable collections, namely 12 drawings that makeup the Fevret de Fontette Collection (Paris/Brussels), the Wickert collection (Paris) and the Cabinet des Estampes (Louvre, Paris).
Despite commissions and relationships with elite members of society, namely the Chancellor de Cheverny, Louis XIII and the Constable Henri de Montmorency, in terms of attribution, Louis Dimier states it best, ‘unfortunately,
all this does not put us in possession of a single authentic work by this master’ (p. 290). One piece, however, has helped identify the countless other examples by this prolific artist. Discovered among chalk drawings at the Cabinet in Paris rested a portrait of Henrietta d’Entragues (see image) on which Quesnels name appears as the painter besides that of the engraver Thomas de Leu. This has served to ‘authenticate,’ so to speak, his vast oeuvre for lack of any better method.
The present drawing is extremely close in style and technique to the work of Francois Quesnel, having been artfully rendered with several of his signature details: her delicately rendered costume, hair style and facial features.
Several prominent museums feature the work of Francois Quesnel: To name but a few: the Detroit Institute of Art, Michigan; Kunsthistorisches Museum Databank, Vienna; Louvre Museum, Paris;
The Royal Collection, London, UK.