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  • CLAUDE-LOUIS DESRAIS (1746-1816)


    Signed l.l. Desrais

    Pen & ink with wash

    26 x 19 cm



    Herbert Feist (1903-1981), New York;

    Thence by descent





    Born in Paris, Desrais was active almost exclusively as a draughtsman, with a prolific output across his lengthy and commercially successful career. Although inscrit as a student at the Académie Royale in 1764, he seems to have received the majority of his artistic instruction at the hand (or at least in the studio of) Francesco Giuseppe Casanova (1727-1803), the Italian battle painter who was also the younger brother of the celebrity Giacomo Casanova.


    Between 1768-1772, at which time he became something of a protégé of Charles-Nicolas Cochin (1715-1790), he exhibited his drawings at four of the annual Expositions de la Jeunesse: these were free presentations of paintings in Paris under the Ancien Régime. The exhibitors positioned their works at the corner of the Place Dauphine and the Pont Neuf, on the day of Corpus Christi. The exhibition lasted only a few hours (from six o'clock to noon at most). Having ‘announced’ himself to the critical establishment, Desrais at first worked in a neoclassical style, as was the vogue in that time in Paris. However, he soon abandoned this and became, as Anne Leclair noted, “one of the most sought-after illustrators of the last third of the eighteenth century, specializing, even under the Empire, in fashion plates, portraits of famous men and military and historical scenes.” [1]



    Desrais was among the several artists commissioned to produce illustrations for the seminal Galerie des Modes et Costumes Français, a series of fashion and costume plates that was distributed in Paris from 1778 to 1787, during the reign of King Louis XVI of France and Marie Antoinette. Although they vary in their presentation, the majority of images included in this series are tableaux vivants in which Parisians from various walks of life flaunt their quotidian fashions. These plates were completed by a group of prominent, eighteenth-century designers and engravers and are accompanied by descriptive text. Although no private or public collection possesses a complete edition of the Galerie, the series is widely recognized for its high aesthetic value as well as its innovation within the overarching field of the fashion plate. René Colas, who compiled the major reference work Bibliographie générale du costume et de la mode (1933), called the series "the most beautiful collection in existence on the fashions of the eighteenth century." [2]

    • NOTES

      [1] Anne Leclair, 'Durameau, de La Rue or Desrais: A Riddle Solved', in The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 126, No. 972 (Mar., 1984), pp. 152, 154-158

      [2] Stella Blum, Eighteenth-Century French Fashion Plates: 64 Engravings from the "Galerie des Modes," 1778-1787, Mineola (1982), p. v

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