The Clouets in France

(taken from "The Clouets in France from a Catalogue of periodical literature, journals & transactions" by Bernard Quaritch 1882)

“The origin of Clouet is still unknown. It is probable from a study of his works that he was a Fleming, but it must not be forgotten that but a few years since Fouquet was also believed to be a Fleming, and treated as a direct disciple of van Eyck. We know that Clouet was in the service of Francis I in 1516 from a document relating to the king's household now in the national library. In 1521 he changed his name changed from Jamet to Jehannet Clouet, and he held with Perreal the first place among the portrait painters to the king, his salary being at the same time being raised to 240 livres. After 1525 he held the first place to the prejudice of Perreal himself. Soon after this the name of a new comer, Petit-Jean Champion is found in the king’s accounts. He was evidently a painter of considerable repute or he would never have been so prominently mentioned- After 1528 Perreal disappeared, and Jehannet and Champion were left; and some five years later an interesting change occurred, which serves to show how the relative merits of the two painters were regarded.

Champion was made ‘valet de garderobe’ at a salary of 200 livres, and his colleague was appointed painter and ‘valet de chambre’. This was the first recognition of the superiority of Clouet. It is curious that he should disappear from the records as mysteriously as he had come into them; but as in 1540 his son Francis is mentioned as receiving the same wages and privileges as his father, it is more than probable the latter was then dead.

The work of the elder Clouet has only within the past few years been recovered from the oblivion into which it had fallen. By far the greater part of his works, together with those of his pupils and his son, have been assigned to the hand of the younger Holbein. One or two were exhibited as such at the Tudor exhibition held some years ago in London, but since that time the work of re-arrangement has been steadily proceeding. In some ways, indeed, this has been carried to extreme, one might not unreasonably say to absurd, lengths ; one critic has even gone so far as to claim the so-called ambassadors by Holbein in the National gallery for the younger Clouet.

To settle the works of Jehan Clouet is an exceedingly difficult problem, for one knows so little that can with any degree of certainty be given to him, a document of the utmost importance in this respect is the wonderful collection of three hundred drawings to-day housed at Chantilly. These were purchased en bloc by the late duke of Aumale from the Earl of Carlisle in 1889. Now, curiously enough, unlike the Holbein drawings at Windsor, these portraits do not always bear the names of the personages represented, and it is only by comparison with known and well-authenticated portraits of the period that some of them have been identified. In this way the late Henry Bouchot rendered great service; for he succeeded in affixing names to a not inconsiderable number. The series covers the period from about 1515 to 1570, and it is thus quite fair to presume that many of the earlier specimens are the work of Jehannet Clouet. They are generally masterly in treatment, and quite worthy of such a master as Clouet is reputed to have been. But even when a portrait is on technical or historical grounds fairly confidently given to him, there is the ever haunting recollection of the existence of Guety, Perreal, Bourdichon, and Champion to trouble one.

Much of the obscurity which envelops the life and work of the elder Clouet does not exist in relation to his son Francis. He was born at Tours before 1522, his mother being Joan Boucault. That he had achieved a considerable reputation is conclusively proved by the fact that he was appointed to succeed his father, whom he had assisted for some years before his death, and from whom he had doubtless received his artistic education. Conclusive proof is furnished in the king's letters appointing Francis to his father's office of the foreign origin of the Clouets. When a foreigner died his goods were confiscated to the crown, but the king held his painter in such esteem that he permitted the son to become possessed of his father's effects and in the same letter not only eulogised Jehan Clouet's productions, but added that Francis had followed creditably in his footsteps, and expressed a hope that in appointing him he would proceed from good to better. This was the praise of a king who was an enthusiastic patron of art, and who did everything he could to advance its progress in his kingdom, a king whose reign was one of the most important periods in the history of French art. The tastes of the ruler were reflected throughout his dominions, and under his wise guidance a great impetus was given to artistic activity in every direction.

Clouet remained the only painter in the service of the king until 1546, when the celebrated enameller of Limoges, Leonard Limousin, was appointed his colleague at a salary of 120 livres per annum. This renowned master worked upon much the same lines as Clouet and the other great master of the period, Corneille de Lyon, by whom beyond doubt he was greatly influenced. This influence can be traced in his large portraits in enamel, which are conceived in the same spirit as theirs.

Upon the death of Francis I Clouet entered the service of his successor, Henry II, upon the same conditions as he had previously enjoyed, and an assistant was appointed named William Boutelou, a native of Blois. Clouet maintained his popularity, and additional offices were from time to time bestowed upon him. In 1551 the superintendence of the Chatelet was made over to him, and eight years later the important post of controller-general of the mint fell to his lot. In this high position he was the predecessor of the sculptor Germain Pilon. In the same year, in the presence of the parish priest of Saint Merry, he made a will which reveals several interesting details of his life. It shows that he could by this time be accounted fairly wealthy, that he lived in his own house in the Rue Sainte Avoye, and that he had never been married, but had two illegitimate daughters, Diana and Lucretia, for whom he provided comfortably. To his sister, Catherine, who had married Abel Foulon, he bequeathed 600 livres. Catherine had a son, Benjamin, who followed in the footsteps of his uncle ;and his work may perhaps prove to be an important factor in determining what should finally be assigned to Francis himself. Mr Bouchot conjectures that in all probability the studies of Clouet and all his drawings fell into Foulon's hands after his death, and that the younger man continued to work as nearly as possible in the same style, and that consequently, with the lapse of time, these productions by the nephew became confused with those of his uncle. This hypothesis would tend to solve the inequality shown in different works ascribed to Francis Clouet. The theory is substantially corroborated by the examination of a series of drawings purchased for the national library in Paris in 1825, Although they all have the appearance of having been executed at the same time, two distinct hands are observable. On the one hand there is a series of portraits of celebrated persons, dating from 1560 to 1567, quite worthy to be ranked with the best we know of Clouet ;on the other a number of drawings of inferior quality, and one of these happens to be signed " Fulonius fecit." Mr Bouchot was, doubtless, quite right in assuming that this is in reality none other than Benjamin Foulon. If any further evidence is needed that the earlier specimens are by Francis Clouet, it is to be found in the fact that many have the names of the originals beneath them, and, in addition, details of events which happened long after Francis was dead. These could not have been drawn by Foulon ; but upon their falling into his hands he added the names and also the notes of interesting events.

The method of both Clouets, of Corneille de Lyon, and probably of most of the contemporary portrait painters, appears to have been similar. They made sketches of notable persons of whom they might be called upon from time to time to make portraits, and from these memoranda they were able to make as many portraits as might be desired without requiring any more sittings. Thus, for many of the pictures and miniatures which can with a tolerable degree of certainty be attributed to them, drawings exist. Rarely indeed did they paint a portrait in oil from life, and in the few specimens in which we can assume that they did so the result is not nearly so satisfactory from the artistic standpoint. Few life-size portraits by Francis Clouet exist, the principal one being the full-length portrait of Charles IX in the Vienna gallery, but quite recently another important and signed example, the portrait of Peter Quethe, has been added to the Louvre. The master was not, however, nearly so happy in pictures of large dimensions as he was in smaller ones. The attractive Elizabeth of Austria, for instance, in the Louvre is not so satisfactory from a purely artistic standpoint as many of his smaller works. That, as a miniaturist, he ranks high in the French school, the well-known miniature of Charles IX in the Imperial Treasury at Vienna, for which a superb drawing exists in the national library in Paris, and the portrait of Mary Stuart at Windsor are quite sufficient evidence.

It is inconceivable that the success of such men as the two Clouets should not have stimulated other painters to emulation, but it is practically impossible after this lapse of time to identify any considerable number of their followers, and consequently the greater part of the portraits of that period must forever remain anonymous. Even could a list of the painters be made, it would be more than difficult to assign any particular work to any individual.”

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