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Charles François de Silvestre

(1667 Paris – 1738 Versailles)

A Turkish Man in a Caftan; a Turkish Water Carrier. Two red chalk drawings each measuring circa 17 x 10.5 cm.

The painter, draughtsman and engraver, Charles François de Silvestre, hailed from a respected French artist family with many branches. Appropriately enough, given his family background, he was artistically successful early on in life, taking up the office of draughtsman to the pages of the Great Royal Stables in Versailles at the age of fourteen. In 1691 he was given a studio in the Louvre; in 1695 he was appointed to the office of drawing master to the children of the king and in 1717 to that of a draughtsman of Louis XV. Silvestre was clearly a very deft and capable draughtsman, as is illustrated by these two dashing and charming depictions of Orientals. Turqueries, as they were called, were very much en vogue in 18th century France, since they gave artists an opportunity to depict exotic personages and fancy folklore details. 

Silvestre himself produced a series comprising 29 engravings of Turkish costumes entitled Différents / habillements de Turcs ..., which the artist dedicated to the Duke of Burgundy. Both of our drawings are likely to have served as models for this series. Silvestre’s drawing style is precise and succinct. The different thickness of the red chalk strokes produces subtle chiaroscuro effects. The careful hatching patterns are a further indication of the use of these drawings as models for engravings. Irrespective of this function, however, the works possess a great artistic charm. The appeal of the depictions lies in their lightness of stroke and delicate elegance. The Ottoman in the caftan dances with the grace of a prima donna; no less subtle is the depiction of the water carrier who skilfully carries the two heavy containers, apparently effortlessly keeping them in balance; the right-hand bucket intersects the drawn framing line, thus appearing to extend the boundaries of the scene. 

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