France 1752 – 1817
Joseph Merceron, avocat au Parlement de Paris
[Joseph Merceron, lawyer at the Paris Supreme Court]
Painting, oil on canvas
Primary Insc: signed and dated c.r., on documents, "Ma Dreling pinxit 1791"
210.0 h x 144.4 w cm
Accession No: NGA 2001.183
- collection Joseph Merceron;
- by descent;
- sold at auction, PIASA, Hotel Drouot, Paris, 25 June 1999, lot 75;
- Didier Aaron et Cie, Paris;
- from whom bought by the National Gallery of Australia, August 2001
The portrait represents Joseph Merceron, born in Santo Domingo in 1749. He was first equerry in the militia on the island, becoming a lieutenant in 1761, and was finally made a captain in 1771. He returned to mainland France and became advocate for the Parliament in Paris in 1785. He was exiled to Troyes with the Parliament in 1787, and in 1788 he was relieved of his services. Drölling placed his seated figure at his work table, a luxurious Egyptian-style desk with sphinx, suggestive of the creations of Lignereux, Thomire, and Weisweiler. A vase decorated with bacchic scenes, an inkstand in more rocaille form, and a Histoire universelle, emphasise both the aesthetic and humanist personality of Merceron. The sobriety of the décor and a plain wall with fluted pilasters, enlivened with silky curtains as well as the sumptuous red-draped robe of a member of Parliament, confer a measure of solemnity to the painting.
With the attention given to certain details, the powder from the wig on the black robe, the trompe-l'oeil of the white sheet of paper precariously on the verge of sliding off the desk and the play of reflections, Drölling displays all his virtuosity, arriving at a representation on a monumental scale, in a manner like the Dutch artists that he so admired. He has produced here one of the most striking works in the domain of portraiture, which can be compared to another work of the period, the famous Lavoisier and his wife by Jacques-Louis David (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Finally, there is a particularity that can be explained by the events and context of the time. As one of the enemies of the Constitution on the eastern front, the Alsatian Drölling signed his name here in a most unhabitual manner, Dreling.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010