A Hunt Breakfast and Death of a Stag by Jean-François de Troy, 1737 (P463) and (P470)
The pleasures and thrills of an aristocratic French hunting party are brought to life in this month’s delightful pair of ‘treasures’, acquired by Sir Richard Wallace in 1872.
The Hunt Breakfast shows a party of richly dressed ladies and gentlemen, attended by servants, enjoying a picnic outside a cottage on the outskirts of a forest. The Death of a Stag shows the party gathered by a pool deep within the forest to witness the dramatic capture of their prey.
In 18th-century France stag and boar hunting was considered an elite recreation, forbidden to everyone but the nobility. In late summer they would retreat to their country chateaux, to hunt, shoot and make general improvements to their estates. One nobleman, the Duc de Croy, described these occupations in a journal entry of 1751: ‘All kinds of sport, especially stag and boar hunting with my two packs. Building works and builders’.
De Troy has depicted a rather modest hunting party by the standards of the 18th century; some hunts consisted of 250 riders and hundreds of hounds. Generations of the Royal Family enjoyed the excellent hunting in the forests surrounding the palace of Fontainebleau and had filled the palace with images of ‘la chasse’.
These paintings are actually preparatory oil sketches for much larger works, commissioned by Louis XV, and intended for his dining room at Fontainebleau. The pair are in their original frames, and were submitted to the king for approval in 1737, before De Troy continued with his commission. The sketches have a lively charm that owes much to the artist’s swift application of paint. Fragile wine glasses and shiny silverware have been suggested with just a few dashes of paint. The apparently effortless way in which he has rendered the elegant poses and engaging expressions of the diners in A Hunt Breakfast creates a wonderfully convivial and relaxed atmosphere.
In contrast, the brushstrokes of the finished version finally submitted to Louis XV, and now at the louvre in Paris (fig.1), are smooth and imperceptible. De Troy has taken pains to enhance the details of the fashionable costume, and the contrast between master and servant is more marked. It appears to be a much more formal party. By comparing this painting with the sketch we are able to see how the artist’s concept of this work developed, perhaps incorporating changes suggested by the king himself.
- Christophe Leribault, Jean-François de Troy, Paris, 2002.
- Mark Girouard, Life in the French Country House, London 2000
- Stephen Duffy and Jo Hedley, The Wallace Collection’s Pictures: A complete catalogue, London 2004*
* Available in the Wallace Collection Shop