Unknown European Gentleman
c. 1780. Pastel on laid, watermarked paper. The sheet retains signs of having been stretched, as these types of portraits typically were. Dampstain upper right corner, tear lower right corner, otherwise excellent condition. Sheet size: 16 x 12 3/4"
A strikingly well done portrait of a successful European gentleman with piercing eyes
Pastel portraits were popular in Europe, Great Britain and America during most of the 18th century, especially in the 1770's and 80's. They provided a more rapid way of rendering a likeness in bright colors that didn't yellow.
This was a golden age for portrait painting, which exemplified the optimistic views of the Enlightenment: a sitter was not ashamed to show his or her wealth, contentment or character. Our self -assured subject looks directly at the viewer with piercing eyes, calm, practical, not likely to be fooled. It is an astounding accomplishment; we feel that this was exactly how he was.
The artist allowed himself or herself (there were a number of excellent female pastel portraitists, particularly in France) to be subject entirely to what was seen and sensed about this strong, indomitable personality.
Baetjer & Shelly, Pastel Portraits. Images of the 18th Century. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011.