ANTOINE VESTIER (1740-1824)
Eugene Joseph Stanislas Foullon d’Ecotier (1785)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Oil on canvas (80 x 64 cm)
Antoine Vestier was born in Avallon, Burgundy. Very little is known about his early years. By 1760 he had moved to Paris where he became a pupil of the miniaturist Antoine Reverand. In 1764 he was registered as a pupil in the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture.
In 1776 Vestier travelled to England where he visited the English miniaturist William Peters (1746-1814) and became acquainted with the work of the leading British portrait painters of the period (Reynolds, Gainsborough and Romney). On his return to France Vestier devoted himself to portraiture, motivated perhaps by the great prestige of the British portrait painters and their success. Towards the late 1770s, he evolved a style similar to those of Joseph Siffred Duplessis (1725-1802) and Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805) favouring a cool palette dominated by white, black and grey applied in a slick enamel-like surface.
In 1785 Vestier was proposed as a member of the Royal Academy by his friend Duplessis. He had to present two portraits of fellow artists: Gabriel Francois Doyen (Louvre) and Nicolas Guy Brent (Versailles). He was accepted in September 1786.
Towards the end of the 18th century and perhaps due to the growing popularity of Jacques-Louis David, Vestier’s style underwent a significant change. He placed less emphasis on the rendering of fabrics and lace and more on the sitter’s character. Two of his finest portraits were painted around that time; those of Jean Theurel (Tours, Museum of Fine Arts) and Jean Henri Latude (Paris, Musee Carnavalet).
Vestier’s popularity declined after the 1790s, however, he carried on exhibiting at the Salon until 1806.
Eugene Joseph Foullon d’Ecotier (1752-1821) was a French civil servant who started his career in 1772 at the age of nineteen as a Conseiller (legal advisor) in the prison of Chatelet in Paris. In 1776 he was promoted to the exalted and prestigious position of Maitre des Requetes (Master of Requests) as such his duty was to receive, analyze and approve or reject requests made to the King. On June 1785 Louis XVI appointed him Governor of Guadeloupe, one of the islands that belonged to the French Antilles. Foullon d’Ecotier served as Governor until 1791 when he returned to France to declare his loyalty to the Republic and to request be reinstated as Governor of Guadaloupe. The government not only refused his request but also arrested him. Luckily he survived the Terror and was liberated in 1793. When Napoleon came to power Foullon d’Ecotier renewed his request for a post in the Antilles but it was again refused. In 1815, he wrote to Louis XVIII and got a favourable reply. He returned to Guadaloupe in 1816 but a year later he was recalled to France accused of embezzlement. We don’t know if he was found guilty or not, he declared himself bankrupt and requested a pension that was granted. He was a mediocre and probably corrupt civil servant that will only be remembered as the subject of a beautiful portrait thanks to the talent of Antoine Vestier
“This portrait, painted in 1785, holds references to Foullon d’Ecotier’s new appointment. The book on the shelf, for instance, is one he would need in his work. Titled Ordonnances de la Marine, it contains regulations for administering French colonies. Next to the book is a pamphlet titled Memoire, which might possibly be a copy of the report given to Baron Clugny (Foullon’s predecessor) by the Marechal de Castries when Clugny was named governor, dated 10 March, 1784 it carries instructions concerning all branches of the administration of Guadaloupe and its dependent islands. The most obvious allusion to Foullon d’Ecotier’s new assignment is the map which covers the territory under his jurisdiction (…) Vestier faithfully copied its cartouche, reproducing every detail except the Roman numerals of the date, for which he substituted his own name and the date of the portrait.”
(Everett Fahy: The Wrightsman Pictures (p. 247) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2005)