The Best Portraits in Engraving

Among his works are important masterpieces. I name only Bossuet, the famed eagle of Meaux; Samuel Bernard, the rich Councillor of State; Fénelon, the persuasive teacher and writer; Cardinal Dubois, the unprincipled minister, and the favorite of the Regent of France; and Adrienne Le Couvreur, the beautiful and unfortunate actress, linked in love with the Marshal Saxe. The portrait of Bossuet has everything to attract and charm. There stands the powerful defender of the Catholic Church, master of French style, and most renowned pulpit orator of France, in episcopal robes, with abundant lace, which is the perpetual envy of the fair who look at this transcendent effort. The ermine of Dubois is exquisite, but the general effect of this portrait does not compare with the Bossuet, next to which, in fascination, I put the Adrienne. At her death the actress could not be buried in consecrated ground; but through art she has the perpetual companionship of the greatest bishop of France.

Jacques Bénigne Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux

(Painted by Hyacinthe Rigaud, and Engraved by Pierre Imbert Drevet.)

With the younger Drevet closed the classical period of portraits in engraving, as just before had closed the Augustan age of French literature. Louis XIV. decreedBalechou. engraving a fine art, and established an academy for its cultivation. Pride and ostentation in the king and theBeauvarlet. great aristocracy created a demand which the genius of the age supplied. The heights that had been reached could not be maintained. There were eminent engravers still; but the zenith had been passed. Balechou, who belonged to the reign of Louis XV., and Beauvarlet, whose life was protracted beyond the reign of terror, both produced portraits of merit. The former is noted for a certain clearness and brilliancy, but with a hardness, as of brass or marble, and without entire accuracy of design; the latter has much softness of manner. They were the best artists of France at the time; but none of their portraits are famous. To these may be added another contemporary artist, without predecessor or successor, Stephen Ficquet, unduly disparagedFicquet. in one of the dictionaries as "a reputable French engraver," but undoubtedly remarkable for small portraits, not unlike miniatures, of exquisite finish. Among these the rarest and most admired are La Fontaine, Madame de Maintenon, Rubens and Vandyck.

Two other engravers belong to this intermediate period, though not French in origin: Georg F. Schmidt, born at Berlin, 1712, and Johann Georg Wille, born in the smallSchmidt. town of Königsberg, in the Grand Duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt, 1717, but attracted to Paris, they became the greatest engravers of the time. Their work is French, andWille. they are the natural development of that classical school.

Schmidt was the son of a poor weaver, and lost six precious years as a soldier in the artillery at Berlin. Owing to the smallness of his size he was at length dismissed,Schmidt. when he surrendered to a natural talent for engraving. Arriving at Strasburg, on his way to Paris, he fell in with Wille, a wandering gunsmith, who joined him in his journey, and eventually, in his studies. The productions of Schmidt show ability, originality, and variety, rather than taste. His numerous portraits are excellent, being free and life-like, while the accessories of embroidery and drapery are rendered with effect. As an etcher he ranks next after Rembrandt. Of his portraits executed with the graver, that of the Empress Elizabeth of Russia is usually called the most important, perhaps on account of the imperial theme, and next those of Count Rassamowsky, Count Esterhazy, and De Mounsey, which he engraved while in St. Petersburgh, where he was called by the Empress, founding there the Academy of Engraving. But his real masterpieces are unquestionably Pierre Mignard and Latour, French painters, the latter represented laughing.