"Portrait Of A Gentleman With An Early Guitar C.1795; Circle Of Antoine Vestier (1740–1824)"This painting is possibly one of the earliest paintings to represent a six single-string guitar.
This exquisitely rendered large portrait depicts a charismatic young gentleman with a guitar. His fashionable clothing speaks visually to his social status and the fine characterisation provides a sense of the sitter’s amiable character. It is as if the portrait has captured a snapshot in time, whilst the young musician has broken off from playing to turn the pages of his music, and any immediately outpouring of feeling or creation of music is paused, and momentarily glance across at the sitter. The portrait is French, in style and colouring, and the fashions of the sitter. It is worth noting that France greatly excelled in the arts during the 18th century and were pre-eminent in Europe, producing some of the highest quality and most sought after works.
This is a painting about young love. The title on the sheet music reads “Romance d’Amour” and it is likely a composition by the sitter written specially for his loved one – a young man in love, and perhaps practising his guitar so as to be able to serenade his loved one. The rough, thickened grey line under the first system of notation evokes an impression of writing which could be lyrics for the music.
There is an infamous composition called Romance d’Amour – also called "Romance Anónimo" (Anonymous Romance), "Estudio en Mi de Rubira" (Study in E by Rubira), "Spanish Romance", "Romance de España", "Romance de Amor", "Romance of the Guitar", "Romanza" and "Romance d'Amour" - however its tune bears little resemblance to the music in the painting (also, the infamous Romance d’Armour is thought to have originated during the late 19th century).
This portrait is datable to circa 1795 not only on stylistic grounds but the fashionable buttoned-up formality of the sitter, the hairstyle, which was now worn longer and more natural, a departure from the omnipresent powered wig, and the guitar. In the 1790s, the guitar was reduced to six single strings and the fingerboard was extended onto the belly. The young man may well be showing off what was then a very new instrument – with
the new extended fingerboard and rich sonorous potential of six strings; even though the design shown retains the influence of the old lute – with the headstock angled backwards. This is possibly one of the first paintings of a six single-string guitar.
He has pride not only in his ‘modern’ instrument but his ability to play and to read the music in front of him which is painted with considerably more detail and accuracy than usual and even may suggest that the painter had music-reading ability. Often sheet music notation in paintings is schematic or placed too far away for the viewer to see.
The music is written in a form that is recognisable today: a five-line staff. This was also new for the guitar at the time.
In 1786, Federico Moretti (1769-1839) released a first manuscript version of his Principles for the Guitar published in 1792 as Principj per la chitarra by Luigi Mareschalchi. Before Moretti, guitar music had been written either in tablature (i.e. lute-style) or in staff notation, with little attempt to separate the different parts and without precise indications of the full duration of all notes. The sheet music in the portrait would, therefore, appear to be very up-to-date in its Morettiinfluenced notation technique with recognisable bar lines, clear durations of notes (crotchets andquavers are identifiable), two-note chords, and even (at the start of the second system) four marks which could possibly be interpreted as sharps denoting the key of E major. As such it was a respectable and respected instrument, accepted in cultivated circles by this period, despite some of its roots being in the folk guitar.
The unembellished naturalness of the portrait is very pleasing. A fine example from the last quarter of the 18th century in France.
Antoine Vestier (1740-1824) was a very successful miniaturist and painter of portraits born in Avalon, France. He painted mainly portraits and was well known for his exquisite small-scale works that he devoted himself to from about 1789. His daughter was also a painter. His work is held in many museums most notably in his native France. At a young age he showed remarkable talent in painting and having garnered the attention of the wealthy noble, the Count of Chastellux, he was able to leave his native Burgundy and study in Paris. After 1766 he became the painter of the powerful d'Hozier family and in 1774 he exhibited at the Salon of the Académie de St Luc. Two years later he travelled to London and it is believed he was a friend of Thomas Gainsborough. Vestier exhibited at the Salon de la Correspondance and later became a member of the Royal Academy of Painting in 1785, the same year he returned to Paris. He held the prestigious position of painter to the French King and was housed in the Louvre but the French Revolution had a large impact on the trade. Emigration depleted the number of potential clients and what clients remained were humbler and official commissions dried up. As Vestier was one of the few portrait specialists at the Academy, and still fashionable, he maintained a good business. Portraiture appears to be the one genre whereby a market survived and many great history painters, such as Jacques-Louis David, turned to portraiture to make a living. Boilly claimed he was forced to paint portraits to support his family. Many took up the painting of miniatures too, perhaps due to the more parsimonious nature of the clientele available. He died in Paris on 24th December 1824.
Provenance: French private collection
Measurements: Height 105cm, Width 89cm framed (Height 41.25”, Width 35” framed)