Saturday 8 November 2014

Joseph Ducreux: Self Portrait of the Artist in the Guise of a Mockingbird

Today I return to my occasional series on works of art that have caught my eye though I think it would be fair to say that the painting I have chosen to feature is a little unusual. It is a portrait, though not a traditional one by any means, and it has gone on to enjoy a rich life in the modern era as the basis for a famous and popular meme, making it something of a one-off among Georgian artworks! 

Portrait of the Artist in the Guise of a Mockingbird by Joseph Ducreux, 1791

The painting is, of course, Joseph Ducreux's Portrait de l'artiste sous les traits d'un moqueur or, to give it its English title, Self Portrait of the Artist in the Guise of a Mockingbird. It was painted in 1791 and received its first exhibition in 1793, by which point Ducreaux was already well-established as a painter with some illustrious clients.

Ducreaux had painted Marie Antoinette prior to her marriage to the man who would become Louis XVI. She was so pleased with the work that Ducreaux was eventually named First Painter to the Queen, a somewhat controversial appointment given that he was not even a member of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture! Still, what the queen wanted, the queen got, so the artist was duly honoured with the coveted title.

In addition to his celebrated portraiture, Ducreux also had something of a line in somewhat more unusual self-portraits, and this work is one of them. From within the canvas he presents an assured, self-possessed figure pointing and laughing directly at the audience. He strove to convey an impression of the character of the sitter through facial expression in these self-portraits, so shows himself here as a rambunctious, mischievous sort of fellow and one who absolutely must be the centre of attention.

Looking at this work we take away an impression of Ducreaux as a man full of character and possessed of a sense of fun and, I suspect, a rich vein of humour. This painting has become widely known in recent years across the internet; I wonder what Ducreaux would have made of that!


Sarah said...

As selfies go, this is perhaps one of the best around... a man who can laugh at the world and at himself must have been a treasure. Perhaps Marie Antoinette enjoyed his personality as much as his skill.

Catherine Curzon said...

It's one of several, I shall definitely feature the others!

Lucinda Brant said...

I LOVE this selfie! It shows so much of his personality. His other Selfies are also priceless. Glad you are going to feature them, too! :)

Catherine Curzon said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed it; I love his work!