- Museum number
Head of the Hebe, study for the 'Apotheosis of Hercules`
Pastel over red, black and white chalk on blue paper; framing lines in pen and black chalk
- Production date
- 1734 (circa)
Height: 309 millimetres
Width: 256 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- A pastel study for the head of Hebe, the bride of Hercules, represented in the 'Apotheosis of Hercules' on the ceiling of the Salon d'Hercule at Versailles which Lemoyne completed in 1736, illustrated Bordeaux fig.89. The drawing probably dates from the early months of 1734 when Lemoyne finalised his plan for the ceiling prior to beginning work in March 1734. The present drawing is the only known 'trois crayons' or pastel study related to the ceiling, but there are references to others for the same commission in the same medium. These include one in the Mariette sale (15 November 1775, lot 1293) described as a pastel study of Hebe which was later in the sale of the Prince de Conti (8 April 1777, lot 1079, where it was presumably unsold, and again in his second sale 15 March 1779, lot 219). The present drawing was thought to be from Mariette/Conti, but this is now doubted as it does not bear Mariette's collector's mark and it differs from the more upright position of the head shown in Gabriel de Saint-Aubin sketch of the work in his sale in the margin of his copy of the Mariette catalogue (Boston, Museum of Fine Arts), as well as the one he made in the second Conti catalogue (illustrated in Bordeaux fig. 274a).
Lit.: R. Bacou and F. Viatte, in exhib. cat., Paris, Musée du Louvre, 'Le cabinet d'un grand amateur, P.J. Mariette 1694-1744', 1967, no. 244; J.-L. Bordeaux, 'François Le Moyne and his generation: 1688 -1737', Neuilly-sur-Seine, 1984, no. D 147, p. 171, fig. 274; X. Salmon, in exhib.cat., Versailles, Musée National du Château de Versailles, 'François Lemoyne à Versailles', Paris, 2001, pp.96, 106-7, 194-5, fig.84; H. Kurita and M. Koshikawa, in exhib.cat., Nagoya, Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art and Tokyo, National Museum of Western Art, 'French drawings from the British Museum: from Fontainebleau to Versailles', 2002, no.77; P. Stein, in exhib. cat., New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and London, BM, 'French Drawings from Clouet to Seurat', 2005, no. 43 (with further literature).
Pastel enjoyed a golden age in the eighteenth century, both as a medium for finished works, comparable to paintings, and for studies of heads, with areas of paper left in reserve. Other artists who produced this kind of pastel study - not for portraits, but for narrative pictures - were Charles de La Fosse (1636-1716), Antoine (1661-1722) and Charles-Antoine (1694-1752) Coypel and François Boucher (1703-70), but few studies match the beauty and vitality of this Hebe where colours bloom in the porcelain flesh tones and flowers cascade down with her hair.
Hebe is one of no less than 142 figures that populate Lemoyne's ceiling for the Salon d'Hercule at the Chateau de Versailles. Completed in 1736, the `Apotheosis of Hercules` was the most successful large-scale ceiling decoration painted in eighteenth-century France. Legions of flying figures fill an expansive continuous space, suffused with golden light and cream-coloured clouds. Architectural ornament and `trompe-l`oeil` figures in grisaille suggesting pale stone sculpture make up the borders. Lemoyne's achievement was widely admired and earned him the title `premier peintre`, yet he committed suicide the following year.
The genesis of this complicated project was studied by X. Salmon in 2001.(n.1) His analysis allowed him to assign the numerous preparatory studies to one of three stages: before the painted maquette, after the maquette, but before Lemoyne began to lay out his sketch on the ceiling in 1733, and after he realized he had miscalculated and needed to add an additional forty figures. As well as the London pastel, a drapery study in Rouen has occasionally been linked to the figure of Hebe.(n.2)
The vast majority of the surviving figure studies for the ceiling are in black and white chalk on blue paper. In a few cases, perhaps at a late stage and for certain of the more important figures, Lemoyne would use trois crayons, as in the recently identified Head of Venus,(n.3) although Benard's catalogue of the Paignon-Dijonval collection lists seven `studies of the heads of men, women and one child in red, black and white chalk coloured with pastel on coloured paper`, (n.4) leaving open the possibility that others of this type will come to light.(n.5) The present Hebe appears to have been begun as a drawing in `trois crayons`, and then worked up in pastels in the head and neck. It was undoubtedly made late in the preparatory process, as the position of Hebe's head is different in the maquette. Yet, from the evidence of the raven black hair in the pastel, changed to chestnut in the painting, we can be fairly certain that the pastel does not postdate the ceiling. Its exceptional quality may be a result of Hebe's importance to the composition as the bride presented to Hercules by Apollo.
Pastel over red, black and white chalk on blue paper, framing lines in pen and black ink
Text by P. Stein, 2005 as cited above
1 Salmon, 2001, op.cit.
2 Bordeaux pointed out the similarity of their poses (see Bordeaux, 1984, op.cit., p.172, no. D 149), although more recent scholars have preferred to associate the Rouen study with the figure of History; see Salmon, 2001, op.cit., pp.114, 196, fig.99. While the question may never be resolved, the present author tends to see the Rouen drawing as an early study for Hebe's pose, made just after the Versailles maquette, but before the revisions to the composition.
3 Salmon, 2001, op.cit., pp.40, 66, no.23.
4 M. Bénard, `Cabinet de M. Paignon Dijonval. Etat détaillé et raisonné des dessins et estampes`, Paris, 1810, p.139, no.3254.
5 Another head of a woman in pastel, long conflated with the London Hebe, was in the P.-J. Mariette and Prince de Conti sales (see exhib.cat., Musée du Louvre, Paris, `Le Cabinet d'un grand amateur, P.-J. Mariette, 1694-1774`, 1967, p.148, no.244). G. de Saint-Aubin, who sketched the pastel in the margins of both of those sale catalogues, noted that it was not a study for Hebe, but rather for a figure in Lemoyne's painting for the Salon de la Paix at Versailles. See E. Dacier, éd., `Catalogues de ventes et livrets de Salons illustres par Gabriel de Saint-Aubin`, Paris, 1919, part X, pp.74-5.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1967, Paris, Musee du Louvre, 'Mariette'
1968/9, London, Royal Academy
1984, BM, 'Master Drawings & Watercolours', no. 121
2001 May-Aug, Versailles, Chateau, 'Francois Lemoyne a Versailles'
2002 April-June, Nagoya, Aichi Prefectural Mus of Art, 'French Drawings from the BM
2002 July-Sep, Tokyo, NM of Western Art, 'French Drawings from the BM'
2005/6 Nov-Jan, New York, Met Mus of Art, Clouet to Seurat/BM
2006 June-Oct, BM, Clouet to Seurat/BM
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- The drawing was apparently bought in at the Prince de Conti's first sale
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number