The half-length portrait of a dashing French gentleman of good size, the sitter probably in his forties and being clean shaven with a good head of dark hair looking out towards the viewer, painted in oils on canvas to a dark ground, shown seated in an armchair and in an unbuttoned black shirt with his hand clasped to his lap, the work being indistinctly signed and presented unframed, and surviving from the second quarter of twentieth century France in attic condition.
The picture remains in original though unrestored condition with no over-painting and a good deal of craquelure, with marks and dirt to the surface. He remains uncleaned and there is some evidence of heat damage and paint shrinkage but the canvas remains untorn with no structural repairs. The signature bottom right is highly flamboyant though we can only make out ‘Van’; though further research may prove fruitful.
The picture label to the reverse is for James Bourlet and Sons marked with number K0044. Established in 1828 and still making frames today, James Bourlet and Sons has a detailed history which can be seen on the National Portrait Gallery British Picture Framemakers 1630-1950. They were at 18 Nassau St between 1895-1974.
The stretcher is also stamped for the The Société des Artistes Français meaning "Society of French Artists" is the association of French painters and sculptors established in 1881. Its annual exhibition is called the "Salon des artistes français". Georges Labro was the president in 1957. The stamp shows a date for Salon 1957. The label for Bourlet however is at latest, 1930s.
As with the ‘selfie’ today, portraits were also a chance for more self-conscious sitters to be depicted in the latest fashions. In the eighteenth century, the upper classes entered a new era of prosperity. No longer the preserve of royalty, commissioned portraits, of oneself or one’s ancestors, became a coveted symbol of wealth and status which continued even more so in the nineteenth century. The portraits took pride of place in the home, or were given to others as gifts.
Despite the dark tones used in its execution this is a breezy and sizeable portrait full of laid back sensitivity.