Nicolas de Largillierre

Dates1656 - 1746
BornParis, France
DiedParis, France

Nicolas de Largillière once told a friend that he never wanted official commissions; private clients were less troublesome, and payment was quicker. Unlike his friend court painter Hyacinthe Rigaud, Largillière worked for Paris's wealthy middle class. He grew up in Antwerp, then worked in England as Sir Peter Lely's assistant, painting draperies and still lifes and developing a lustrous version of Anthony van Dyck's style. This Flemish training imparted the warm hues, broad, thick brushstrokes, and sinuous curves that gave Largillière's paintings their dynamism. He returned to Paris in 1682, gained Académie Royale membership in 1686, and ultimately became its director.

By the late 1680s, Largillière had established his reputation among the bourgeoisie. He produced 1,200 to 1,500 portraits in his lifetime, gradually becoming less formal and more relaxed in describing pose and costume. He also painted group portraits to commemorate solemn occasions, landscapes, still lifes, and religious works. When Largillière ordered his student Jean-Baptiste Oudry to depict a bouquet of all-white flowers, Oudry reported learning a basic lesson in color. By carefully observing their subtle variations and then trying to paint them, Oudry came to understand how to express highlights, shades of gray, and shadows as his teacher Largillière did.