Two putti lie on a rug and caress each other. This marble statue was made by Claude Bertin in 1682.
The statue was last seen at an auction in Paris in 1803 and has now surfaced after more than 200 years. The image was known in literature through a drawing made in 1697. The image was probably a sort of masterpiece for the French sculptor Claude Bertin who worked for Louis XIV during his life but of whom very little work has been preserved.
Claude Bertin was "Sculpteur Ordinaire du Roi" for Louis XIV in the 1680s and 90s. He was born around 1650 in Paris. His father was also a sculptor, but no sculptures of him are known. His brother, the painter Nicolas Bertin (1667-1736) started his apprenticeship with him and became a member of the Royal Academy in 1703. This in contrast to Claude who never became a member.
After his appointment by the king in 1683, he moved into a workshop in Versailles. At the time, Claude Bertin was mainly concerned with repair and maintenance work. From 1685 onwards, the Versailles accounts contain all kinds of payments to Bertin that have to do with the restoration of the statues in the park or the decorations of the apartments of Versailles. This also shows that he sometimes directed teams of sculptors.
From 1687 he got a fixed salary that he would receive until his death in 1705. Claude Bertin died on June 8, 1705 at the Hotel des Inspecteurs in Versailles at the age of 55.
Claude Bertin worked in Versailles in the years when there was little to do. The construction activities were completed around 1688 and new ones were not developed until the beginning of the eighteenth century. In this light, the position with the corresponding salary was a solution for Bertin. There was hardly any room for other sculptors.
In addition to maintenance, Bertin gradually received commissions for making sculptures, especially vases. In 1691 he received almost 3,600 pounds for a payment of fourteen marble vases that were placed on the balustrade of the Orangery. These vases were transferred to Marly in 1692 and two of them were placed in the green chambers of Trianon after 1707. Four pairs of other marble vases by his hand are still in the small park of Versailles
At the same time, the sculptor showed that he could also make figures. His marble sculptures by Aristaeus, commissioned for Marly in 1694 together with a Eurydice that is no longer known and Minerva as a child, are now in Versailles, but just like this sculpture of two putti, most of his marble figurative work is nowadays only known by drawings. His busts of Cleopatra and Zenobia have been rediscovered in the last 30 years and were respectively acquired by the Louvre and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Little remains of Claude Bertin's sculpted oeuvre. Yet it is fairly accurately known what Bertin has produced. Souchal was able to reconstruct what Bertin produced on the basis of drawings made in the seventeenth century.
These drawings were made by the Swedish envoy in Paris Daniel Crönstrom (1655-1719) and can be found in the National Museum in Stockholm. Crönstrom was in Paris in the 1690s as a kind of cultural ambassador whose job was to seek out, draw and buy first-class art. He corresponded about this with his patron, the Swedish court architect Nicodemus Tessin (1654-1728). These letters, which have been preserved like the drawings, form an excellent source of knowledge about art in the last decade of the 17th century in Paris. It is a testimony of fashion and taste that was followed throughout Europe, and therefore also in Sweden.
In 1697, Crönstrom visited Bertin's studio in Versailles:
…Jáy esté à Versailles voir les statues de Sr. Bertin. que Mr Aubry vous à indiqué, C’est un excellent ouvrier et qui termine parfaitement ses ouvrages. Si vous les achetées, vous les trouverez tres asseurement mieux et plus proprement finies que celles de Le Feure; les marbres fort beaux blancs et entiers, (mais entre nous , j’aimerois mieux le vestale et la Flore que le Bacchus et l’Apollon; Le premier est selon moy trop menu et gresle par rapport à la hauteur, et l’autre, tropcourt et trop trappu. Les figures ou grouppes assis et couches sont très jolys; les bustes sont aussi fort bien et valant bien leur prix, mais il y en a un tant soit peu plus grand que le autres. Je crois que c’est Zénobie, enfin cést bonne acquisition à faire et qui n’est pas trop chère.
I was in Versailles to see the images of Mr. Bertin that Mr. Aubry pointed out to you. He is an excellent workman who completes his work perfectly. If you buy them, you will find them much better and better finished than those of Le Feure; the marble is powerful, beautiful white and full. (but between us I would prefer the Vestal and the Flora over the Bacchus and the Apollo, I think the first is too small and modest in relation to the height, and the other too short and squat. The figures and groups that sit or lie are very nice, the busts are also very good and worth their price, but there is one a bit bigger than the others. I think it is Zenobia, well, this is a good acquisition to make and it is not too expensive.
He writes very positively about the sculptures and, moreover, sent drawings of everything to Tessin.
As a result, we know exactly what was on display in 1697 in Bertin's studio in Versailles.
Souchal used these drawings in his publication. He has published this image together with another pair of putti under number one in the oeuvre.
The image of two putti is dated 1682. A year later, Bertin was appointed by the king. In 1697 it was still in his studio and presumably remained there until his death in 1705. This indicates that he never wanted to part from them. He probably regarded this image as a sort of masterpiece. The drawing from 1697 shows that the Louis XIV fire-gilt bronze foot was mounted on the statue at that time. Presumably it was put around it shortly after Bertin's death by a subsequent owner.
With this, the image disappeared from view for about 100 years and could only be seen at the Lespinasse d'Arlet auction in Paris in 1803. Here it had the following description:
Un groupe de deux jolis Enfans assis à terre et se carressant. Ce morceau plein de grâce et de naturel dans la pose et le caractère des Enfans, présente un des bons Ouvrages de Bertin, en 1682. Il est richement monté sur un socle de bronze doré d’or moulu, et taillé à huit pans, suivant la forme du marbre.
"A group of two beautiful children who sit on the floor and caress each other. This piece full of grace and naturalness in the pose and character of the children, presents one of the good works of Bertin, from 1682. It is lavishly mounted on a base of gilt bronze of ground gold and carved on eight sides, in the form of marble. "
The auction took place anonymously in 1803. Through annotation on various auction catalogues it is known that this was a member of the Lespinasse dÁrlet de Langeac family. This family lived in the prestigious Hotel de Langeac in Paris in the eighteenth century. From 1785 they were the landlord of Thomas Jefferson, first ambassador in Paris on behalf of the United States. He would live there until 1789.
The collector who auctioned off parts of his collection in 1803 and 1808-1809 appears to be not Auguste Louis Cesar Hippolythe Theodore after recent research by Darius Spies, as is often mentioned in literature, but Égide de Lespinasse de Langeac, a man with multiple careers as a pastor, diplomat, poet, university director at the Sorbonne and an art connoisseur who was regularly forced to sell parts of his collection to satisfy his impulsive tendency to buy new things.
An In Memoriam from 1842 by Piot in the "Le Cabinet de l'amateur et de l'antiquaire: revue des tableaux et des estampes ancienne" makes clear who this collector was. A diplomat who had been in Vienna, Moscow and St Petersburg, a knight in the order of Malta and a great collector with an exquisite taste. In addition to the statue of Bertin, furniture by Boulle, clocks by Bertout and beautiful porcelain, Lespinasse de Langeac had a fantastic collection of paintings. In addition to various paintings by Italian masters, this included the most beautiful French paintings and various paintings from the Dutch golden age, including two Vermeers, a painter who in 1803 did not yet enjoy the fame that he has now. Vermeer would only be "rediscovered" by Theophile Thoré in 1866.
In addition to being a collector, Egide de Langeac was also a gentleman dealer, presumably to finance his desire to buy and to have the first purchase right. For example, he belonged to the trio of buyers who bought the entire Baron van Leiden collection in 1803, to auction it a year later. A guess that failed. The three buyers were left with many paintings and ultimately barely made a profit.
Apart from the Van Leiden collection, which was intended purely as speculation, the following works were once part of the exquisite collection of Égide de Lespinasse de Langeac:
Jean Baptiste Stouf, Belisarius, marble ca 1785-1791, Getty Museum, inv.no. 2005.19
Wilhelm Schubert von Ehrenberg, Ulysess at the palace of Circe, oil on canvas, 1667, Getty Museum, inv.no. 71.PA.20
Frans van Mieris the elder, Pictura, oil on copper, 1661, Getty Museum inv.no. 82.PC.136
Johannes Vermeer, Woman in blue reading a letter, oil on canvas, ca. 1663, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, inv.no. SK-C-251
Johannes Vermeer, Mistress and maid oil on canvas, 1666-67, Frick Collection New York, inv.no. 1919.1.126
Willem van de Velde, Marine, ca 1661 London, England, UK. National Gallery, inv.no. 978
Jan Steen, tavern with card players and a Violin player, ca 1665 Royal collection London, inv.no. RCIN 405825
Jan Steen, Jesus in the Temple, canvas, ca 1659-1660 Kunstmuseum Basel, inv.no. 906
Jean Baptiste Greuze, Le gâteau des rois, 1744, Musee Fabre, Montpellier, inv.no. 836.4.27
Maurice-Quentin de La Tour portrait en pied de la marquise de Pompadour, pastel, 1748-1755, Paris Louvre, inv.no. 27614
Pieter de Hooch, Woman and maid in a courtyard,ca 1660-5, St Petersburg Hermitage, inv.no. 943
Pierre Julien Terracotta buste of a young woman veiled Metropolitan Museum New York inv.no. 1978.1
Eustache Le Sueur, Poliphile devant la reine Eleuthérilide, ca. 1636-1645, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen, inv.no. 867.3.1