Traces of the Hand: Master Drawings from the Collection of Frederick and Lucy S. Herman
Jean Baptiste Joseph Wicar
Three Portrait Drawings, c. 1800–1810
Black and red chalk on wove paper
left: 6 3/4 x 4 3/4 in, 17.2 x 10.8 cm (sheet);
center: 6 13/16 x 4 1/8 in, 17.3 x 10.48 cm (sheet);
right: 6 3/4 x 4 11/16 in, 17.15 x 11.9 cm (sheet)
Watermark: (left) ROGGE (unidentified); (right) ADR [** undecipherable] (unidentified)
Provenance: Sir Philip Sassoon, Christie’s, London, 3 April 1984, part of lot 107
(as Johann Heinrich Tischbein the Elder); acquired from Galerie Grünwald, Munich, 1984 (as Tischbein)
Gift of The Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2007.15.82
While these drawings were acquired as the work of Johann Heinrich Tischbein, Cara Dufour Denison identified their author as Jean Baptiste Joseph Wicar, noting their resemblance to three black-and-red-chalk drawings of nearly identical size in the Pierpont Morgan Library.1 The Herman drawings typify Wicar’s portrait drawings in their delicacy of touch and engaging immediacy and frankness, created by the different glances, tilts of head, and eye and mouth expressions distinctive to each sitter. The drawings’ small scale connects them to similar images Wicar drew and often gave to his friends.
These portraits are also very likely related to a sketchbook Wicar filled with portraits in Rome beginning around 1800.2 The Roman sketches depict similar fashions as well as the same regular outlines, structural volume in the faces, and bust-length formats.3 Only the use of red chalk differentiates the Herman drawings from the Roman sketchbook.
Although Jean Baptiste Joseph Wicar was a student of the famous neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825), he is best known as a draughtsman and art collector. By the late 1790s, some artists like Wicar began to explore drawing as an independent medium, rather than treating it primarily as a preparatory step in producing paintings. As director of the French Academy of Fine Arts in Rome between 1806 and 1809, Wicar emphasized drawing and figural studies, as well as copying old master works, with the desire to promote drawing as fundamental to art education.4 Because Wicar was primarily a draftsman, some contemporaries including David himself thought him unable to formulate an individual style, though they appreciated his talent.5
Wicar’s drawings exemplify the way early nineteenth-century portrait drawings create a sense of intimacy between viewer and subject and suggest each sitter’s individual psychology. These images also remind us that amid the period’s grand history paintings, such delicate and sophisticated portrait drawings were prized as well.
1. Pierpont Morgan Library accession nos. 1976.23:1–3. The third has the same watermark, "ROGGE," as the Herman Portrait of a Woman, at left (Museum curatorial files).
2. Arnauld Brejon de Lavergnée, "Un carnet inédit de portraits florentins de Wicar," in Maria Teresa Caracciolo and Gennaro Toscano eds., Jean-Baptiste Wicar et son temps, 1762–1834, Villeneuve d'Ascq, 2007, 367–382.
3. Brejon de Lavergnée, "Un carnet inédit," 368.
4. "Jean-Baptiste Wicar," Oxford Art Online.
5. Thomas Crow, Emulation: David, Drouais, and Girodet in the Art of Revolutionary France, New Haven, 2006, 92.