The Wallace Collection

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Antoine Coysevox Charles Le Brun (S60)
Antoine Coysevox, Bust of Louis XIV,
Antoine Coysevox, Bust of Louis XIV,
Treasure of the Month - January 2003

Antoine Coysevox Charles Le Brun (S60)

The Sculptor: Antoine Coysevox

Antoine Coysevox (1640-1720), the son of a Lyon joiner, rose to become one of the very greatest sculptors of the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715). A series of brilliant portrait busts executed in the 1670s established his position as the leading portrait sculptor at court, and he also made several fine funerary monuments (including Le Brun’s, c.1692). Coysevox is best known for his extensive work for the gardens and château of Versailles, most famously the imposing stucco relief of the Triumph of Louis XIV (Salon de la Guerre). In his graceful sculptures for the gardens at Marly, made at the end of his long career, he showed his ability to respond to the spirit of the emerging rococo style. Official recognition culminated in his election as Director of the Académie Royale and the granting of a substantial royal pension in 1702.

The Subject: Charles Le Brun
Few artists have so dominated the arts of their nation as did the French painter and designer Charles Le Brun (1619-1690) between the 1650s and 1680s. He benefited from an early age from the protection of highly-placed political figures, including Chancellor Séguier, Cardinal Richelieu and Nicolas Fouquet. For the latter’s extravagant château at Vaux-le-Vicomte, Le Brun was not merely the principal painter, but also the presiding ‘interior designer’ and master of entertainments. In 1664, he became Premier Peintre du Roi, having been appointed Chancellor of the Académie Royale (which he had co-founded in 1648) the previous year, and Rector in 1668. Under Colbert, Chief Minister to the King, Le Brun organised at Gobelins the new Manufacture Royale des Meubles de la Couronne. He led a team of some 250 artists and craftsmen that from 1663 to 1690 produced innovative and luxurious furnishings (tapestries, furniture, silver) of a quality unsurpassed in Europe. His profound concern for the theory and practice of art was expressed in the lectures he organised and gave at the Académie, and in his founding of the Académie de France in Rome (1666). Le Brun’s greatest work was for the gardens and interior at Versailles, above all the magnificent decoration of the Escalier des Ambassadeurs (1674-8) and the Galerie des Glaces (1678-84).

The Bust: Style, Technique and Provenance
Only a handful of terracotta busts modelled by Coysevox survive, of which this is generally regarded as the finest. It was exhibited before the Académie in 1676, and served as the preparatory model for the version in marble (Paris, musée du Louvre) that he offered as his
reception piece in 1679. Thereafter it is unrecorded until inventoried at Hertford House in 1890. In all aspects, but especially in the landscape of the face, Coysevox has sensitively exploited the colour and texture of terracotta (unglazed baked clay) to create a palpable, psychologically penetrating likeness. In contrast to his imposing and imperious image of the Louis XIV, as represented by the superb bronze bust at the other end of this wall, Coysevox has here created an intimate, informal portrait of a fellow artist, the head animated and alert. Dressed in his day shirt, only the diamond-encrusted miniature of Louis XIV tucked in his cloak, presented by the King in 1667, indicates Le Brun’s status.