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Joseph Marie Vien

(1716 Montpellier – 1809 Paris)

Attributed. Head Study of a Bearded Man. Oil on paper, mounted on canvas. 34.8 x 27.4 cm.

The head of an elderly bearded man has been rendered with remarkable virtuosity and psychological sensitivity. His gaze is directed upwards and the artist has used deft, accurate strokes of the brush to convey in a varied and chromatically very differentiated manner the imposing flowing beard and the thick, wavy hair. The warm, very ruddy complexion emanates great inner energy and vitality. In many respects the man’s face matches that of a male model found in several of Vien’s paintings and oil studies. Vien was a pensioner (scholarship holder) at the Académie de France in Rome from 1744 to 1750; the painter’s model is a beggar whom the artist met in the streets of the city in 1747. The bearded man thus served as the prototype of the man sitting in the right foreground of the painting Sainte Marthe prêchant l’Évangile à Tarascon (Tarascon, Église Sainte-Marthe) completed in 1748. A few years later he figured in Vien’s early main work (1750) L'Ermite endormi (Paris, Musée du Louvre). See Thomas Gaehtgens, Jacques Lugand, Joseph-Marie Vien 1716–1809, Paris 1988, pp. 136–137, 139–140, nos. 32 and 51; cf. figs. 32, 40, 51, 52. The similarity of our character head with works by Vien as well as the sophisticated painting culture, which owes a considerable debt to the great Italian predecessors of the Seicento, make it appear plausible that Vien is the author.

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