Antoine Paris (1668–1733) was the son of a village innkeeper. With his brother Claude he helped provision French troops, eventually controlling all land and water transport supplying soldiers from Burgundy and the Auvergne. Antoine was appointed Royal Treasurer to Louis XIV in 1722, and this portrait was probably painted in 1724, two years before he fell from favour and was banished.
Rigaud was the most prestigious portraitist in France, known for his elegant and realistic portrayals of aristocrats, financiers and members of Louis XIV’s court. He shows Antoine seated in a library beside an elaborate table, clutching blue velvet drapery and turning as though to greet an unseen visitor. The gesture of Antoine’s right hand is one thought to be most appropriate for eloquent public speech. The fine characterisation of the head, a hallmark of Rigaud and his contemporary Largilliere, seems almost eclipsed by the grandeur of the setting and the dramatic, showy manner in which the draperies are painted.
Antoine Paris (1668–1733), also known as ‘Le Grand Paris’, was born in the village of Moirans, about 23 km north-west of Grenoble. Antoine’s parents ran an inn in the village, which Antoine inherited on his father’s death. Antoine and his brother Claude helped their father to provision French troops, eventually controlling all land and water transport supplying soldiers from Burgundy and the Auvergne. In 1693, when grain supplies were scarce, Antoine was placed under the control of a court official for allegedly monopolising the region’s grain transports.
It was the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14) which made the brothers’ first substantial fortune. In 1704 Antoine was made responsible for food supplies to the army in Flanders. Antoine’s brothers Joseph and Monmartel joined the family business in 1707 and 1711. The Paris brothers’ reputation was based on their ability to raise large sums of money at short notice to provision the army. They subsequently rewrote their ancestry to acquire noble status, which was granted in 1720, and in 1722 Antoine was appointed Royal Treasurer to Louis XIV.
During the period 1721–6, Antoine was at the height of his influence and Rigaud was the most prestigious portraitist in France, known for his elegant and realistic portrayals of members of King Louis XIV’s court, aristocrats and financiers. Antoine is portrayed seated in a library beside an elaborate table with the base of an immense column to one side and a vase to the other. Clutching a blue velvet drapery he turns to the right as though greeting an unseen visitor. The gesture of his right hand is the one described by Quintilian (an ancient authority on oratory) as most becoming for eloquent speech in public. The fine characterisation of the head, a hallmark of the work of Rigaud and of his contemporary, Largilliere, seems almost eclipsed by the grandeur of the setting and the dramatic, showy manner in which the draperies are painted.
However, Antoine’s period of power lasted only about five years as the economy experienced a severe depression, and the 1724 and 1725 harvests were disastrous. The increase in the price of bread, for which the Paris brothers were said to be responsible through their speculations, resulted in famine and riots in the French capital. Antoine and his brothers fell from favour and were banished in 1726 when Cardinal Fleury became Louis XV’s first minister.
The portrait was probably painted in 1724, when Rigaud recorded payment for it, and it is still in its original frame. There is a second portrait of Antoine Paris for which Rigaud was paid 3,000 livres in 1724, which may be the Portrait of an Unknown Man by Rigaud now in the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena.
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