When visiting the Rococo gallery of any given art museum, I’m accustomed to seeing certain artists represented in their collection. In one such gallery would not be surprised to discover a reclining nude by Boucher, a garden party by Watteau, or an unabashed erotic scene by Fragonard, and on occasion I might even find myself face-to-face with Nicolas de Largillière, painted by the artist himself.
As one of the most sought after French portrait painters during the age of Louis XIV, Largillière produced as extensive body of work featuring a variety of subjects, but what intrigues me most are his many self-portraits. Sure, such paintings might strike one as vain—and my fellow Art-for-the-Monther daphnep recently composed a very insightful entry analyzing this practice in historical context—but nonetheless, Largillière’s self-portraits demonstrate the artist’s keen attention to posture and body language, and I imagine he likewise paid this same consideration to his own clientele.
In Largillière’s portraits I always make note of his hands, which he often emphasized through a combination of careful placement and deep shadows. In the long tradition of portraiture, hands not only allow the subject a way to hold up items which might indicate their trade or social status, but they're also useful in communicating the subject's emotional state, further engaging the viewer. At any rate, I just really like Largillière's way of showing hands, and in some of his portraits I find myself more interested in the hands than the facial likeness of his sitter. With that in mind, I was obviously thrilled to discover his Study of Hands, an assortment of hands seen from a variety of perspectives while performing different activities.
Foremost, I like that Largillière deemed this subject worthy enough for its own canvas. In this painting I count eleven hands, six of which could make for three distinct pairs—the two in the upper left, the two holding a plate in the middle, and the two at the bottom which appear bound outward from one another. Aside from these pairs, none of them seem to be interacting with one another, operating as individual studies which serve to form this very unique composition. Pretty cool.
A majority of these hands appear to be clutching notes or grappling onto unidentified surfaces, which exhibits Largillière’s thorough understanding of fingers and muscles stressed in various states. Even those hands which seem more unnaturally posed, namely the one found in the middle far left, still possesses an elegant, painterly quality which allows me to excuse its awkwardness. And on a final note, I really enjoy the detail of the cuffs and the subtle shading on the folded notes. Excellent