Gabriel de Saint-Aubin (1724-1780)
When I was in Paris last April, I saw the exhibition of Saint-Aubin at the Louvre. It was in America before it came over to Paris. But now it’s finished touring …. The reason why I thought a little review might be of interest was because this artist was a prolific sketcher as well as being a veritable mixed-media artist. Mixed-media, in his day, had a dirty name, as it it does more or less today as well).
- – He sketched in the streets of Paris ‘sur la vif’ (on the hoof & from life).
5 avril 1758
Plume et encre noire sur traits à la pierre noire
” Why does a fine sketch please us more that a fine picture? It is because there is more life in it… Why can a young student, incapable of doing even a mediocre picture, do a marvellous sketch? It is because the sketch is the product of enthusiasm and inspiration, while the picture is the product of labour, patience, lengthy study and consummate experience in art. ” – DIDEROT, 1767.
- He painted city-life & in this was something of precursor of modernism, which was essentailly urban (see ‘The Painter of Modern Life’ by Baudelaire).
Watercolor over pen and ink, brush and gray wash
Musée du Louvre, Département des Arts Graphiques,
“The life of Gabriel was always out of the home; when he was not in the streets, he was in the Café de Vendôme, in which I was also present, in the public milleu of writers & artists discussing, chattering, gossiping about all the philosophic chit-chat that could be squeezed into the tiny margins of his pages of drawings.” – Goncourt Brothers, 1859 (my translation)
- He wasn’t scared of crowds. Loved a good spectacle.
H. 30,8 cm ; L. 50 cm
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts © 2007, Museum of Fine Arts
my translation in haste …
” But I saw him accompanied by a type of draughstman who was busy scratching away in the margins of a booklet the greatest paintings of the History of Salon (- Ah , that’s our friend Croquetel (…) who doesn’t know him? Who hasn’t seen him, sketching, drawing in the parks, the salons, the auction-rooms, the public places?
- He had a fine mastery of tonality, which is essential for a good watercolourist.
- He used pastel, gouache, pencil, watercolour & ink together. al sorts. And in any order. Sometimes dry medii over wet, other times wet over dry.
Inscriptions : à la plume et à l’encre grise sous l’image au milieu : SPECTACLE DES TUILERIE / 1760 ; à gauche : le faste se repose en ces jardins charmants / les circles sont formés autour de chaque belle ; et à droite : nonchalamant assis, milles couples d’amants… / S’y jurent à leur aise une flame eternelle.
L’un des cent mille Croquis de Gabriel Jaque de Saint Aubin, l’un des plus intrepides dessinateurs du Siecle. il Croquoit Sur la marge des Catalogues, les tableaux et desseins qu’on exposoit en vente, S’il aloit a la promenade, Son crayon metoit a contribution les passants. les Seances Academiques n’etoient pour lui qu’un tableau mouvant dont il faisoit une Esquisse. au sermon il dessinoit le predicateur. en un mot, il eut toutte Sa vie, un priapisme de dessein.[Charles-Germain s’approprie la remarque de Greuze] C’est dommage qu’il ait negligé l’ordre et la propreté dans Ses compositions. il est mort en fevrier 1780, âgé de 56 ans.
- Greuze thought it a shame that he neglected “order” & “cleanliness” . He was not accepted by the estabilshment of the Academies, didn’t win the Prix de Rome etc. & thus was excluded from the most lucrative of art markets.
- I did the above sketch after St.Aubin to try & figure out just how he used mixed medii. Normally I personally don’t like the feel of wet over dry ( prefering dry over wet which has dried eg chalk pastels over dried watercolour). St.Aubin smudged a lot & used his fingers. This is a fairly dirty way of working… I soon realised that my fingers were getting dirty& decided to stop, as getting dirty in the Louvre wasn’t really my intention. And whilst I was there there was gaggle of self-important specialists, maybe museum curators or cataloguists… waving their pens about over clipboards…I decided they were better game than St. Aubin, so I did them as dirty a way as mixed medii would allow.
- Eighteenth century Paris was the center of much scientific research. Saint-Aubin’s sketches are amongst the few images of this period that remain. They capture something of the turbulence of period. Here’s a picture of the King in the academy of surgeons.
- The artist was something of a news reporter. Remember these drawings were made before photography.
Pierre noire, encre de Chine, aquarelle et gouache H. 18,1 cm ; L. 24 cm Paris, musée Carnavalet © Georges Poncet
- He is in his way a precursor of Modernism, as his non-idealising regard on the subjects & events of his own day. This approach has the grain of the nineteenth century Realism aka Manet.