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Portrait of a Man
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Joseph Vivien
French, about 1725
Pastel on blue paper
36 x 26 in.
97.PC.72

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This distinguished gentleman does not address the viewer, but gazes out fixedly at a point beyond the frame. The slight turn of head, the pursed lips, and the left hand at his jacket convey a sense of ease, comfort, and confidence. The sitter's dress reinforces his assuredness. The cascading curls of his abundant powdered wig fall below his shoulders. The wig's downward flow is echoed in the turquoise ribbon punctuating his white shirt. The bright blue of the ribbon, as well as the crisp white lace cuff, enliven the muted palette of grays and greens. The simple backdrop, free of furniture or other exterior trappings, ensures that the viewer focuses on the life-size portrait.

For many years, this gentleman was believed to be Samuel Bernard, one of the wealthiest financiers in Paris. But comparisons to documented portraits of Bernard suggest that the pastel depicts another sitter, one who has yet to be identified. Given that Joseph Vivien was among France's most sought-after pastel portraitists and commanded high prices for his work, the sitter would certainly have been of significant wealth.