Joseph, Baron Ducreux (born in Nancy on June 26, 1735 and died July 24, 1802 on the road from Paris to Saint-Denis), is a portraitist, pastelist, miniaturist and engraver of Lorraine, and after 1766, French. His less formal portraits reflect his fascination with physiognomy and show an interest in expanding the range of facial expressions beyond those of official portraiture. He drew the last portrait ever made of Louis XVI before the king’s execution.
Ducreux had to study his art first with his father, also a painter. In Paris in 1760, he worked with Maurice Quentin de La Tour, a specialist in portraiture. As far as Ducreux’s technique for oil painting is concerned, the influence of Jean-Baptiste Greuze is very important. Specializing in portraiture, Ducreux has as models of his first pastels: Pierre-Jean Mariette, the Count of Caylus and Angel Laurent Lalive de Jully. These works must be copies after Georges de La Tour. His well-known self-portraits of the late 1780s show his intention to break with tradition and his interest in physiognomy. This pseudo-science is based on the physical and more particularly the face of someone to define his character and his personality. Ducreux tries to capture and render the personality of his models.
In 1769, Ducreux was sent to Vienna to paint Marie Antoinette before she left her native land to marry Louis XVI. A baron, he became the Queen’s first painter in thanks for his services through the Queen, although he was not a member of the Royal Academy of Painting.
The French Revolution caused him to settle in London, where he drew the last portraits of Louis XVI just before his execution. Back in Paris in 1793, Jacques Louis David joined forces with him and helped him pursue an official career. The residence of Ducreux becomes an informal exhibition where the artists are portrayed. Ducreux also played a political role; His relations were considerable; He painted the court of Germany, that of England, that of France; He has known all the prominent figures of his time, in all ranks; He left valuable documents for the historian.
De Latour’s pupil was also known to have the most irascible character of the world, and to be almost always angry; Méhul made his portrait in the character of the Irato or the Importe, whose words are by Marsollier. The painter’s habit of often repeating his own portrait in different attitudes made it wonderfully easy for him to attain resemblance and to grasp the expression of physiognomy. The self-portrait known as the Mocker is the most remarkable of this artist.
Joseph Ducreux had several children: his eldest son, Jules, was a painter of battles; Captain of infantry at the age of twenty-six, General Dumouriez, to whom he was attached as an army historiographer, made the greatest use of him. His character, his talent as a painter, his assiduous work, and his vast acquaintances made him hope for a brilliant future, when he died shortly after the battle of Jemmapes. Dumouriez gave him the saber which he carried to this very battle. His plans, his works, and his drawings ended in the archives of the Ministry of War.
His other son, Leon, the godson of the Duke and Duchess of Feltre, was a soldier under the immediate orders of his brother. As a painter of flowers, he died – in languor, it is said, in Strasbourg, at his godmother’s, also in the wake of the war. The last son of Ducreux, Adrien, a pupil of his father and of Greuze, announced the happiest dispositions for painting when he died at the age of sixteen.
His eldest daughter, Rose-Adelaide, also illustrated himself in painting, but died at the age of thirty-one. Only one child survived Joseph Ducreux, Antoinette-Clemence Ducreux, goddaughter of Queen Marie Antoinette. Remarkably pretty and amiable; She was a painter of flowers, miniature, and portrait in pastel; She served as a model for Greuze at the age of 15 for The Village Accordion, which is simply his portrait. She married her first cousin, Maignan Ducreux, godson of the Duke of Orleans.
Joseph Ducreux died of a stunning apoplexy on the road from Paris to Saint-Denis, leaving in Nancy descendants in collateral line which, for nearly a century, inhabited the house known as the Adam, located at 57 Rue des Dominicains, remarkable for its sculptures.
Self-portrait as a mocker has known on the Internet a certain notoriety from 2009, in the form of meme, notably because of a resemblance between its posture on the portrait and that of some rappers; Famous rap lyrics are then associated with him, rewritten in a Victorian literary and outdated English.
Ducreux specialized in portrait painting, and his early portraits were done in pastel, and include those done of the connoisseurs Pierre-Jean Mariette, the Comte de Caylus and Ange-Laurent de la Live de July. These works may have been copies after De La Tour. From 1760 onward, Ducreux kept a list of his works, but throughout his lifetime, he rarely signed his paintings. Thus, many of his works remain erroneously attributed to other artists.
Other portraits by Ducreux include those done of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos and Maria Theresa of Austria, as well as those mentioned above of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Ducreux also made several well-known self-portraits in the 1780s and 1790s, including one (now in the collection of the Getty Center in Los Angeles; c. 1783, right) in which he painted himself in the middle of a large yawn. In another, Portrait de l’artiste sous les traits d’un moqueur (c. 1793, Louvre; above right), the artist guffaws and points at the viewer.
As evidenced by these self-portraits, Ducreux attempted to break free from the constraints of traditional portraiture. Interested in physiognomy, the belief that the study and judgment of a person’s outer appearance, primarily the face, reflects their character or personality, he attempted to capture the personality of his subjects, as well as his own, through his warm and individualistic works. Le Discret (ca. 1790), for example, is the portrait of a man asking for silence. His expression is timorous, his finger is pressed against his mouth in alarm as he silently demands discretion or prudence.
In this, these portraits recall the tronies of Dutch Golden Age painting, and the “character heads” of his contemporary the Austrian sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736–1783), some of whose busts were self-portraits with extreme expressions.