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Portrait of the painter Jean-Pierre Houel (1735-1813)

François André Vincent

(1746 - 1816) | 808.1.1

Date : 1772 | Medium : Oil on canvas

This magnificent portrait by François André Vincent from 1772 records on canvas the features of the Rouen landscape painter Jean-Pierre Houel at the age of thirty-seven. The artist was then at the height of his fame.

The son of a Rouen plaster merchant, he studied drawing with Jean-Baptiste Descamps in his celebrated non-fee-paying drawing school, then established himself over the next few years as one of the leading engravers of his day. The famous engraver Le Bas recommended him to the son of Blondel, a great lover of painting in the first half of the 18th century. After the death of his father in 1764, Houel began mastering the technique for the genre that was to bring him success: landscapes. He studied with Casanova, an Italian-born painter of battles and landscapes now living in Paris, and attended the salon of Mme Geoffrin, where he rubbed shoulders with the philosophers Diderot, D’Alembert and Marmontel, and eminent painters such as Boucher, Vien, Van Loo and Vincent.

Houel met Vincent again in Rome when the latter was living at the Palazzo Mancini from 1771 to 1775. Houel also found himself in Italy, sent there by the special favour of Marigny, Superintendent of the King's Buildings. In 1772, the painter should have returned to France but decided to lengthen his stay in order to visit Sicily, subsequently the subject of many of his best paintings. That was the year in which Vincent executed the portrait of the artist now in the Musée de Rouen.

We can sense in this portrait a resolute, wilful and ambitious character with his square jaw and a gaze with no illusions. And there is little sign of the Rouen plaster merchant's son in this man richly dressed in a sumptuous vermillion outfit, wearing a wig typical of his time.