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A Drapery Study. Black and white chalk on blue paper. 45.5 x 45.5 cm.
The painter Pauline Desmarquets-Auzou was a pupil of the Classicist Jean-Baptiste Regnault. The artist made her debut at the Paris Salon in 1793 and in the subsequent period acquired quite a reputation, mainly as a painter of historical scenes. Her prestige in this field is remarkable, as women had only limited access to academic instruction in art, and female artists devoted themselves chiefly to portrait and genre painting. Auzou was also active as an art teacher. For about two decades she headed her own private painting school, where mainly female students were trained, while also keeping very busy as an artist. Her sponsors included such illustrious personalities of her day as the Empress Marie-Louise of Habsburg, Napoleon’s second consort, the Duchesse du Berry, and King Louis XVIII. Auzou’s historical scenes are distinguished by their pleasing artistic idiom, with the lovingly observed genre-like details lending the portrayals a feminine grace (see A. Sutherland Harris / L. Nochlin, Women Artists 1550–1950, New York, 1976, pp. 46, 210–212).
As a draughtswoman, however, Auzou demonstrated another aspect of her talent. Her female nude studies show an uncompromising sense of form and a sensuousness of line reminiscent of Pierre-Paul Prud’hon. The present large-format drapery study owes its charm to the simplicity and scale of the project and its fine graphic sense. Prud’hon’s influence is again noticeable here. With great economy of means the artist has caught the play of the soft, vibrant light on the heavy fabric as it falls in broad folds. The massive drapes are defined with a few accurate lines giving a strong suggestion of depth. The sweeping wipes and the sparing, pointed use of white heightening create a stunning light effect and lend the study a Renaissance-like grandeur.
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