Jean Raoux: A Lady at her Mirror, 1720s
French painting around 1700 was in full transformation. Jean Raoux (1677-1734) was part of a generation of French painters who developed their personal and highly innovative styles in the first years of the eighteenth century. Raoux's most influential and famous contemporary was Antoine Watteau (c.1684-1721).
Their generation shared an interest in Netherlandish and Venetian painting which had already been common in France for several decades. But these younger artists were at the same time exploring new subjects: scenes of everyday life (“genre painting”) following the Dutch and Flemish model that they translated into a new, French reality. They also experimented with new types of portraiture. A Lady at her Mirror is a good example for these new tendencies. The work refers to Dutch genre paintings such as Godfried Schalcken’s Woman Threading a Needle by Candlelight which can be seen in East Gallery I here at the Wallace Collection. Like Schalcken, Raoux combines the rendering of a simple domestic occupation with an interest in light effects. Raoux translated Schacken’s scene into a contemporary French situation: The young woman is dressed in contemporary French fashion and the mirror she is holding resembles a more elaborate mirror at the Wallace Collection (see right) which can be dated to 1713. Raoux also added an overtly erotic tone to the scene. The beautiful, young woman is fashionably dressed and looks at herself in a mirror rather than concentrating on a household task.
Raoux experimented with more complicated colour effects than his Dutch model. The painting shows two different sources of light: daylight from the left and light reflected by the mirror. The vibrant colours – blue, pink, yellow and white – reveal an obvious interest in Venetian painters such as Veronese. Raoux knew these sources well: Venetian paintings were prominent in French collections, but more importantly, he lived and worked in Venice from at least 1708 to 1713. During these years, he painted his first Lady at her Mirror (today in Padua).
That he spent a much shorter time in Rome than in Venice during his Italian journey is typical for the new interests of his generation. For them, antiquity was less important than the masterful colour of the Venetians. The combination of Netherlandish and Venetian sources in Raoux is very similar to Watteau’s work and became typical for the innovation of French painting initiated by their generation.
Their new style appealed to English collectors from the beginning. Watteau stayed in London in 1719/20 and Raoux might have been in England at the same time. A Lady at her Mirror only reached England much later. The 4th Marquess of Hertford bought this painting in Paris in 1854. It came to London with the rest of the collection in 1871.