This red chalk drawing by Charles-Joseph Natoire (1700-1777), a renowned Rococo painter and the teacher of Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805), displays all his talent as a draftsman.
Charles-Joseph Natoire (1700-1777), Étude de tête et de bras (Study of a Head and Arm), red chalk and traces of white chalk, annotated “C.Natoire” in ink, 25 x 35.5 cm/9.85 x 13.98 in.
Known since antiquity, red chalk came into wider use during the Renaissance. Its ability to render volumes and shadows captured the attention of 18th-century artists, especially portraitists seeking to breathe life into their models. In this study, Natoire sought to depict Adonis of Greek mythology, his expressions and his movements as accurately as possible. Adonis is one of the protagonists in his 1740-1745 painting Vénus et Adonis (Venus and Adonis), today in the musée des beaux-arts in Nîmes and reproduced in Susanna Caviglia-Brunel’s book on the artist (Arthena, 2012).
At the time, Natoire was at the peak of his career. A pupil of François Lemoyne (1688-1737) who had won the Premier Prix de Rome in 1721, Natoire became an academician in 1734 thanks to Vénus commandant des armes à Vulcain (Venus Ordering Arms from Vulcan, musée Montpellier), which paved the way for a string of commissions, including large-scale decorative projects for the French king, aristocrats and the bourgeoisie. The Hôtel de Soubise on the rue des Francs-Bourgeois in Paris features his famous series on the "History of Psyche". In 1751, Natoire’s talent as a decorator and draftsman earned him the directorship of the Académie de France in Rome. In Italy, he stopped painting in order to draw the natural, spontaneous landscapes that inspired Hubert Robert.