François LEMOYNE (Paris 1688-1737)
Head study for the Love of Virtue in the Apotheosis of Hercules, circa 1733
Pastel, three pencils and stump
25 x 20 cm
Slightly insulated, on old blue paper
Our pastel is an unpublished study for one of the main figures on the ceiling of the Salon d'Hercule in the Palace of Versailles, The Apotheosis of Hercules. It is the study for the head of the Love of Virtue, who guides and pulls by the forearm an almost intimidated Hercules towards his bride, the nymph Hebe.
The explanatory text of the iconography of the composition (see Xavier Salmon, François Lemoyne à Versailles, in L'Apothéose d'Hercule de François Lemoyne au château de Versailles, Alain de Gourcuff éditeur, 2001, Paris, p.101-102), published in October 1736 in the Mercure de France, tells us as follows: The whole Work rolls on this thought: The Love of Virtue elevates man above himself and makes him superior to the most difficult and perilous works; obstacles vanish at the sight of the interests of his King and his Homeland, supported by honor and led by loyalty, he arrives by his actions to immortality. (…)
Here is the general idea of the subject.
Hercules, presented to Jupiter by the Love of Virtue, is drawn in a chariot by the Geniuses of the same Love.
The importance given by Lemoyne to his figure of the Love of Virtue can be measured by the care given to this study, enriched in pastel like the famous study for the head of Hebe kept in the British Museum (see Jean-Luc Bordeaux, François Le Moyne, Arthéna editions, Paris, 1984, n°147, fig.274). The artist begins his sketch in black stone and sanguine, enhances it with white chalk and three pencil shades, and then retouches it with pastel.
Hebe's pastel comes from the Lempereur collection, while ours comes from the past without warning, and without pedigree. It is very likely that it was part of the study cardboard owned by Lemoyne's protector and patron François Berger. In any case, it is certain that this privileged treatment in color concerns only the principal figures of the composition, of which only the head of Hebe and the head of Venus were kept as examples until the appearance of our sketch, of which it has been said that "these two leaves alone would suffice to legitimize the glory of their author and incite one to regret the disappearance of the other studies that the master had surely not omitted to execute for each of the principal faces" (see Xavier Salmon, opus cited above, pp. 95-96).
Jean-Luc Bordeaux lists 21 drawings for the ceiling of Hercules, and one can think that the number is much higher, since under n°3256 of the Paignon-Dijonval collection 27 studies were made in 1810.
The ceiling went through three phases: a first in which Lemoyne imagined The Glory of the French Monarchy (1728-29), a second with a preliminary version of The Apotheosis of Hercules (1731-32), and finally the final ceiling, to which Lemoyne added 44 figures (1733-34). With this work, Lemoyne equalled the great Italian and especially Venetian decorators, to whom we can see with the old attribution to Rosalba Carriera that he is still considered close.
The marriage of Hercules and Hebe, goddess of youth, symbolizes the renewal of France under Louis XV. The sovereign discovered the ceiling on his way to Mass, and returning accompanied by the whole Court, he was overflowing with enthusiasm and immediately appointed François Lemoyne his First Painter: this was the painter's apotheosis.
Monsieur Jean-Luc Bordeaux a confirmé d’après photographie l’authenticité de cette étude et l’inclura dans son futur catalogue raisonné révisé à paraître prochainement.