This painting is an eighteenth-century copy of a portrait of Jean Michel de Grilleau (1710–1769). The original still belongs to his descendants in France.
Jean Michel de Grilleau was the son of an influential merchant, banker and consul in Nantes. He spent his first working years in France and Spain, and in 1738 he and his brother were appointed French representatives in Bilbao by King Louis XV. Jean Michel left Spain in 1742 and settled in Orléans, where he married Marie-Elisabeth-Victoire Seurrat. Thanks to his marriage, he entered Orléans high society and in 1746 he was admitted as chevalier of the Order of Saint-Michel.
The original painting shows Jean Michel wearing the ribbon of Saint-Michel, which he does not in our version, suggesting that the original was made before 1746, was copied, and then later modified to include the honour.
The sitter is depicted in front of a landscape background, wearing a blue-grey coat, his powdered hair tied back with a black bow over a black cravat and his hands hidden by a garnet coloured drapery. The viewpoint is quite low, making it appear as though he is slightly looking down on us.
The painting was bought by the National Gallery in 1924 as an original by Tocqué, but in 1939 it became apparent that another version of the portrait existed in a private collection in France. There the sitter was identified as Jean Michel de Grilleau (1710–1769), who was believed to have commissioned the painting, which has remained with his descendants ever since. Our painting is probably an eighteenth-century copy.
Jean Michel de Grilleau was the son of an influential merchant, banker and consul in Nantes. One of 11 children, he spent his first working years as a ship owner in Nantes and a merchant in Bilbao, as well as owning an important trading company in Spain with his uncle and his younger brother, Joseph-Thérèse. In 1738 King Louis XV appointed Jean Michel and his brother as French representatives in Bilbao. Jean Michel left Spain in 1742 and settled in Orléans, where he married Marie-Elisabeth-Victoire Seurrat. Thanks to his marriage, he entered Orléans high society, and in 1746 he was admitted as chevalier of the Order of Saint-Michel. Later that year he bought a patent of Conseiller secretaire du Roi, a prestigious sinecure that conferred nobility. In 1762 he became the first secretary of the new Société Royale d’Agriculture d’Orléans.
The original painting shows Jean Michel wearing the ribbon of Saint-Michel, which he does not in our version. This suggests that the original was made some time between Jean Michel’s arrival in Orléans in 1742 and his admission to the Order in 1746, and the copy was probably made at about the same time. The original was probably modified some time after 13 December 1746 to incorporate the newly acquired ribbon of the Order of Saint-Michel.
Our painting resembles other portraits by Tocqué dated to around 1740, such as the Portrait of an Officer (Van den Bergh Museum, Antwerp), in which the background, the black cravat, the frogging and the shape and material of the blue jacket are similar. However, it is unlikely to have been painted by Tocqué himself. It was probably commissioned by Jean Michel to give to an associate or relation to broadcast his rising social status.
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