This study by the prolific French artist, François Boucher, offers a rich insight into the practice of collecting drawings in eighteenth-century France. The head of the turbaned man is sketched with black and red chalk, with the white of the paper used as a third shade. The sheet features the annotation, “Boucher” in the lower right corner. The use of red and black chalk is a two crayon (deux crayon) technique a variant on the French painter Antoine Watteau’s technique of using red, black and white chalks (trois crayons). In this method, the red emphasizes the skin tone while the black is used for a chiaroscuro effect. In fact, Boucher participated in the engraving of Watteau’s drawings, an immense project initiated by the collector Jean de Julienne, with the number of plates eventually tallying up to over 600 engravings.
This particular drawing is not a portrait but belongs to a typology of drawings produced by François Boucher. The current date of 1757 locates this drawing before the establishment of the Competition for Expressive Head Studies (Concours de la têtes d’expression), instituted by the art critic and amateur, Anne Claude Philippe de Tubières, Comte de Caylus on 27 October, 1759. This competition at the Royal Academy of Paintings and Sculptures sought to spotlight the expressive qualities of the human head and facial features. The drawing below by the amateur Charles- Nicolas Cochin depicts one of these competitions in progress.
Boucher also drew directly from a live model for his figure drawings and studies for his paintings. However, this drawing has not yet been linked to any finished works. Rather, close connections can be made between this drawing and engravings in the crayon manner (a mode of engraving that imitated drawings in red chalk). Such engravings, like the one below, were collected but were also largely intended for didactic use, and included in instructive drawing manuals that were used in various academies and studios in Paris and the provinces.
Another element in unpacking the Cooper Hewitt drawing is the frame. The mount features a stamp by Jean-Baptiste Glomy (ca. 1720-86), a Parisian marchand-mercier and framer. Glomy specialized in matting drawings with gold fillets with washed borders and invented a novel method of framing drawings under glass. This latter method was called Glomiser églomiser, in which the gilded borders were applied directly on the glass rather than on the drawing, allowing collectors to easily switch out the drawings in the glass frame. The growing diversity in presenting drawings directly responded to the rising demand for drawings and the increasing tendency to hang drawings in frames rather than storing them bound in portfolios.
As such, it is likely that this drawing, rather than a surviving preparatory study, was produced or re-matted with the intention to be sold and collected as an independent object. This study of a head is thus an example of how sometimes the framing of works on paper can reveal just as much, if not more, about them than the subjects illustrated.
Cabelle Ahn is a graduate intern in the Department of Drawings, Prints and Graphic Design at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. She received her MA in Art History from the Courtauld Institute of Art and is currently studying eighteenth century decorative arts at the Bard Graduate Center.