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Frieze with Satyrs, Maenads and Putti. Etching and roulette on greyish-violet-tinted paper. 11.6 x 55.3 cm. 1787. Undescribed.
This aristocratic artist with a fine-sounding name is an example of the man of parts so typical of the period of the Ancien Régime. Le Gentil engaged in painting, was active as a medal-maker and etcher, tried his hand at writing and was also a passionate collector of ancient Etruscan vases. The biographical notes of Portalis and Béraldi convey a lively picture of the artistic and social milieu of this man, who turned to art after a military career and, as a pupil of Janinet, experimented with colour printing techniques. Le Gentil was a close friend of the painter Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, who had one of the leading salons in Paris.
The present frise à l’antique, a compositional formula very popular in the 1780s, is striking for its deft and witty style. In a great tour de force nymphs, satyrs and mythical creatures are rhythmically linked with one another to form a charming figural arabesque, which contrasts effectively with the black background of the narrow rectangular format. The whole exudes exuberant sensuality and joie de vivre. Le Gentil’s drawing style is accurate and distinguished by a great economy of means. The bodies, anatomical details and various poses of the revellers are shown vividly and convincingly by means of a few lines and tiny strokes, while simple parallel hatching is used to render chiaroscuro contrasts and areas of shadow. The artist has employed a roulette to create the velvety-black fond noir, which makes the contrast with the lightly tinted paper even more effective.
A superb impression, printed with burr and rich plate tone, with full margins. Minor defects in the margins, otherwise in excellent condition.