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Louis-Rolland Trinquesse ( circa 1746 – circa 1800 )
Portrait of Charles Grant, vicomte de Vaux, in uniform as a Lieutenant Colonel of the Garde du Roi, attended by his groom with their horses, a fortress beyond
Oil on canvas – 113 7/8 x 81 1/4 inches, 289.3 x 206.4 cm
- Painted for presentation by the sitter to Sir James Grant of Grant, 8th Bt. (1738-1811), in 1781-2 and by descent at Castle Grant, Aberdeenshire, and Cullen House, Banffshire, through his sons, Lewis Alexander, 5th Earl of Seafield and Francis William, 6th Earl of Seafield, to Ian, 13th Earl of Seafield; Christie's sale on the premises, Cullen House, 23 September 1974, lot 530.
- [Sir] W. Fraser, The Chiefs of Grant, Edinburgh, 1883, I, p. 536, no. 68, II, pp. 541, 544, and 546-50.
Charles Grant, vicomte de Vaux (1749 - circa 1818), served as a sous-lieutenant in the Scots Company of the Garde du Roi, and by 1781 was a lieutenant colonel. His father, Louis-Charles Grant de Vaux, had been in command of the Isle of Bourbon, but in 1758 settled in Normandy on the estate of Vaux, which the vicomte subsequently inherited. He claimed descent from the Grant family and this striking portrait was painted as a direct result of his successful endeavours to secure recognition of this. After the French Revolution, the vicomte escaped to England, where, in 1802, he appealed for an appointment on refugee allowance from the war office.
The vicomte was obviously fascinated by his ancestry and published his Mémoires de la Maison Grant in London in 1796. Without the income from his property in Mauritius or France, Grant devoted much of his time in exile to his writing. His earliest publication, Le Dauphin enlevé, had appeared in 1793 but his most ambitious work, The History of Mauritius ... composed principally from the papers and memoirs of Baron Grant ... by his son, was issued in London in 1801. His last recorded publication, The Means of Finding the Longitude at Sea, was issued in London in 1808 and reprinted in a second edition in 1810.
The circumstances in which the Colnaghi portrait was painted are detailed in a series of letters to Sir James Grant, 8th Bt., from his kinsman, Baron Grant de Blairfindy, a catholic in the service of King Louis XVI, who was colonel of the Légion Royale and had, in 1774, secured the Château d'Ottmarsheim near Huningue in Haute Alsace. The Baron's uncle, the Abbé Peter Grant had helped Sir James acquire pictures when he was on the Grand Tour in 1759-60 and he may thus have been aware of the latter’s interest in works of art.
Because of the French participation in the American War of Independence, Grant of Blairfindy had been out of touch with Sir James, the head of the clan, but on 30 January 1781 he wrote, enclosing a 'memorial', setting out the vicomte de Vaux's descent from Sir John Grant - who had served under Wallace and been a prisoner in London in 1297. “His future fortune depends on his being acknowledg'd [by] you as chief of the family, which act, authentically documented and sign'd by you and three or four peers of the realm, will be sufficient in this country...” (Fraser, II, p.541). Grant of Blairfindy wrote again on 6 May, uneasy not to have received a reply, the explanation being that Sir James had referred the matter to James Cummyng at the Lyon Office in Edinburgh. The latter reported on 23 May, recommending that Grant “certify in general terms that the Viscount is an ancient cadet of [his] family”, and that the document be authenticated by the “seal and subscription” of the Lord Lyon. Progress must have been slow, as on 25 July Blairfindy wrote, apparently to his cousin Colquhoun Grant, W.S., that he still had received no reply. On the basis of his own recognition of de Vaux's kinship supported by a number of Scots in France, including the 'Drummonds of Melfort, the Camerons and Lord Morton', Blairfindy had already presented the vicomte - as M. de Grant, vicomte de Vaux - to the King. The vicomte, whose first wife had died, wished to marry the daughter of the President of the States of Brittany, who would only permit the marriage if he was satisfied as to de Vaux's genealogical credentials, and would only do so if his descent was acknowledged by Sir James and the Herald Office of Scotland: that de Vaux's income was between twenty and twenty-five thousand livres a year, considerably outweighing his chosen bride's dowry of 40,000 livres, was a lesser consideration.
Sir James wrote on 16 August, enclosing a letter to the vicomte, whose character Blairfindy extolled in a letter of 20 September: “he is a clever, brave officer, polite in company, no man more, as brave as his sword ... He never drinks.” (op. cit., p. 544). In his next letter, of 26 March 1782, Blairfindy referred for the first time to the Colnaghi picture: “As to his figure, you are to have his portrait, which was finished some days agoe. It is a very fine piece, ten feet high, etc. and represents himself, groom and horses as they are in full life and hight. This he intends you should putt up in Castle Grant. It is a very fine piece which, I can assure you, might be put up in a King’s apartment” (op.cit., pp. 546-7).
A letter of 4 April 1782 to Sir James from James Garden establishes that the picture was to be shipped from Ostend, then a neutral port, and quotes a fuller description of the picture from Blairfindy - in French, which was evidently his first language (op. cit., p. 547). “Such a thing”, Garden writes, “is of great value, a present of noble sentiment and gratitude.” He suggested that de Vaux “would think that nothing could grace so much his château as your picture sir.” (op. cit., p. 548): and said that the vicomte would like the highlander's “whole accoutrement and dress, the Strathspey or Grant’s plaid, etc.”
A letter of 11 May from Blairfindy establishes that Sir James indeed offered to send a highland dress, saying that it should be made for a man “about six feet high”. Blairfindy recommended that if Sir James sent his portrait he should:
“En tableau ordinaire and not of such a prodigious size as his is of 10 feet high. Had he consulted me before to get it made I would have given him the same advice. It is done by the King's first painter and of the same size as those the King sends of himself to the foreign courts” (op.cit., pp. 549-50).
Based on Grant's letter of 1782 stating that the portrait was “done by the King's first painter”, previous attributions to the present picture have included Jean-Baptiste-Marie Pierre, as well as Jacques Callet, Antoine Vestier and Joseph-Siffred Duplessis. (The late Peter Murray, for example, suggested a date of 1782.) The attribution to Louis-Rolland Trinquesse was proposed by Dr. Colin Bailey on the basis of photographs.
While one of the most accomplished genre and portrait painters of his day Trinquesse operated outside the academic establishment during the reign of Louis XIV and is best known for his paintings in the tradition of the tableau de monde and in the bourgeois tradition and style of Frédéric Schall and Louis-Joseph Watteau de Lille. He was a student at the Académie Royale, sponsored by Noel Hallé, from 1758 to circa 1770 where he won medals. He was never elected to the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture because his choice of subjects did not meet the serious criteria set by the arts administration under Louis XVI. He thus exhibited numerous paintings from 1779 to 1793 at the Salon de la Correspondance, an independent learned society, organised by Pahin de la Blancherie and supported by subscriptions. Trinquesse’s genre paintings were collected by private patrons and he also painted a small number of portraits, among whom were the Vicomtesse de Laval and the Governor of Paris, the duc de Cossé-Brissac, whom he depicted in a full-length portrait, signed and dated 1777 (private collection, France). His works, often artificial in appearance, demonstrate his enjoyment in depicting rich and decorative materials. His chief subject was the pursuit of love and pleasure in whether the intimate confines of the boudoir or the shaded recesses of gardens. Where Trinquesse’s portraits of female sitters are usually gentle and honest depictions in pastel colours (see Young Girl, 1777, Louvre, Paris), his portraits of men are strikingly different. His male portraits, of which the Colnaghi picture is a superb example, are grand and demonstrate a more sombre mood (for example, Abbé Gentil, 1783, Bagnols-sur-Cèze, Mus. Bagnols-sur-Cèze and the Portrait of the architect – formerly identified as Jacques-Denis Antoine, 1780, Paris, private collection). Our portrait is more smoothly executed than many of Trinquesse’s male portraits, which tend to be painted with a looser brush. Nevertheless the slightly bibulous nose of the sitter can be compared with that of the Portrait of Jacques-Denis Antoine of 1744 (private collection, France) and there are very close parallels between the physiognomy and the hands of the young man presenting the boot and the pose of the young gallant in the Interior scene with two women and a gentleman of 1776 (Maurice Segoura Gallery, New York). A closer comparison in terms of the subject matter is the Portrait of the Duc de Cossé-Brissac (See Jacques Wilhelm, “Les portraits masculins dans l’oeuvre de L.R. Trinquesse”, Revue de l’Art, 1974, no. 25), a similarly flamboyant portrait where the Duke’s grandeur is emphasised by the attentions of a courtly young man.