Paris 1673 – Amsterdam 1736
The Viola da Gamba Player
Sanguine on buff paper. Signed and dated lower right B. Picart f. 1707.
229 x 161 mm (9 x 6 5/16 in.)
The grandson of a bookseller and son of the engraver Étienne Picart (member of the Royal Academy), Bernard Picart benefited from an extensive artistic and cultural education. In 1689, he in turn joined the Academy and worked alongside Sébastien Leclerc who introduced him to medal design. Although attracted to drawing and painting, Picart joined the family business based on rue Saint-Jacques and decided to devote himself to inventive rather than interpretative engraving in order to satisfy his creativity. An abundant designer, he provided Mariette with numerous plates for Modes françoises and Modes du théâtre italien, projects that nourished his interest in observing everyday details, costumes and accessories. In 1696, he travelled to Antwerp and received the city’s Academy prize, then continued on to Holland and probably the United Kingdom. Returning to Paris in 1699, he worked in the capital until 1710. During this period, he married and started a family, losing them entirely in 1708. Picart worked on various projects: illustrating the Bible known as ‘Mortiers’; engraving plates after the Marie de Médicis gallery in Luxembourg and plates made for the Iliad published by Anne Dacier in 1712. Having perfected his drawing and engraving technique during this period, Picard pursued his own experimentation.
In 1710, Picard departed for Holland with his father. This change coincides with his conversion to Protestantism along with a desire to seize new economic opportunities: a stronghold of publishing, Holland offered the prospect of numerous projects, particularly after the deaths of several great Dutch engravers left a prime place for newcomers. He found his place with ease in the French milieu of the Republic of Letters and established himself equally well within the Dutch milieu, notably through his marriage to Anne Vincent, daughter of an Amsterdam paper merchant. Between 1711 and 1720, Picart worked on numerous publication and medal projects. In 1720, he undertook the Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde project (Religious Ceremonies and Customs of All the Peoples of the World). From 1719, he unofficially directed a drawing school, resulting in an increase in the production of académies d’hommes (paintings or drawings of nudes), impressive in their size and strength.
In the latter part of his life, Picart left the engraving to others but remained a prolific draftsman continuing to experiment with every technique. He produced beautiful red chalk works for Baron Philipp von Stosch’s Gemmae antiquae caerlatae (1724) with meticulous attention, blurring the fine hatchings with his finger; witty decorative vignettes in pen and grey wash (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, Inv. RP T 191 101); portraits in pen and wash, others in sanguine wash. He also copied numerous drawings by old masters belonging to the great collections of Parisian or Dutch amateurs, and assembled these engravings together in a work he called Impostures innocentes ou Recueil d’estampes d’après divers peintres illustres d’après divers peintres illustres.
Although unanimously admired and celebrated during his lifetime, Picart was quickly forgotten and considered a minor master, no more than a careful but unimaginative performer. In 2019, the Musée de Port-Royal exhibition of drawings loaned from numerous public collections made it possible to do justice to his visual culture, his impeccable technique and his great creativity.
Like A Man and Woman seated on the ground, sharing a book of music belonging to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (Fig. 1), this delightful study of a cellist drawn in red chalk, anticipates a corresponding figure on a famous engraving of its time, Concert in a Garden, dated from 1709 (Fig. 2) – the year preceding Picart's departure for Amsterdam. The Albertina in Vienna owns a large preparatory drawing dated 1707 (Fig. 3; Inv. 11956). The 1709 engraving is accompanied by a poem by François Gacon:
À l’ombre des bosquets dans un beau jour d’été,
Cette agréable compagnie,
Goute le doux plaisir que donne l’harmonie
Lorsque tout est bien concerté
Mais parmi les attraits d’une belle musique
Ou de Baptiste ou de Lambert
L’Amour tient sa partie et très souvent se pique
De faire que deux cœurs soupirent de concert.
In 1711, after receiving a proof, Nicodème Tessin the Younger expressed his admiration: “You gave me the pleasure of sending me an engraved piece by Monsieur Picart, which depicts a musical concert, where among other things, a woman plays the harpsichord; I have commissioned a painting to be made of it, three feet long, it will be successful beyond imagination […] The print is marvellous in its type – is it made after a painting or not? It is too resolved not to be, and yet I believe in the genius of the engraver; if we could only find one more work by him made in such good taste to make a pendant piece?” When faced with the quality of the composition, Tessin finds it difficult to believe this to be the work of a simple engraver – the composition, the beauty of the surrounding park, refined details in the costumes... everything combines to highlight Picard’s true narrative and graphic talent and whose training as a painter is evident.
In our study too, Picard’s sense of detail and costume shines through, and also in the Oxford sheet: the numerous fashion plates he produced for Mariette fuelled his interest in fashion, costume and accessories. The Oxford drawing of a singing couple is dated 1708, which led Axel Moulinier to consider it an isolated revival from the group in the Albertina’s great compositional study, with the aim of creating an independent work intended for sale or as a gift. Although drawn in 1707, our study may also be subjected to the same questions, but the figure is shown alone without his violinist companion (the group of two would have formed a more interesting image). He is not wearing the outdoor hat he dons in the engraving and he is seated on a chair instead of on the ground. These details lead us to believe that it is rather a study from life - whether the musician is a real musician playing or a friend posing for the artist as was the practice of Watteau, remains to be determined - that Picart used later on for his engraving. The draughtsmanship is masterful while remaining spontaneous; the attitude and expression are lively and natural; the drawing is extremely evocative of the regency period’s taste for a light, graceful way of drawing and more generally for the art of living. The engraving and its preparatory drawings are undoubtedly among the most significant works of the artist before his departure for Holland.
We are very grateful to Stephan Perreau for informing us that the instrument is a viola da gamba.
 In the shade of the groves on a beautiful summer day, This pleasant company, Taste the sweet pleasure that harmony gives, When everything is well tuned, But among the attractions of beautiful music, Baptiste’s or Lambert’s, Love holds its part and very often takes pride, To make two hearts sigh together.
 Axel Moulinier, “Des cris des rues à l’intimité de l’atelier : chronique de modes”, in Bernart Picard 1673-1733 dessinateur de Paris à Amsterdam, under the direction of Corentin Dury, Snoeck Publishers, Beaux-arts, 2019, p. 38.