LANEUVILLE, Jean-Louis (1748-1826). Portrait of a Tennis Player (c. 1792).
Oil on canvas; (approx. 25 3/4 x 21 3/4 inches).
Provenance: Private collection, Bordentown (New Jersey); bought by Frederick Rick, Valhalla (New York); bought by Graham Arader, Arader Galleries, New York (New York).
This portrait of a tennis player, also known as paumier (lit., palm player, before the use of rackets), probably represents a master-player, in other words a professor, referee, or championship organiser, who would have been responsible for the stringing of the rackets and shaping of the balls. It could also be the portrait of a champion. We know of other such portraits, like that of Antoine-Henry Masson (1735-1793), who went to play in England, a country that quickly became very keen on this sport and the prime manufacturer of rackets: he was painted there around 1769, by John Hamilton Mortimer. There is also a portrait of Guillaume Barcellon (circa 1726-1790), member of an important dynasty of tennis players, shown in the oil wearing a wig and holding his new racket, the latest model featuring a flat top and concave corners; this portrait, by Etienne Loys (1724-1788), is dated to 1753, year of Barcellon's nomination as Tennis Player of the King (Wimbledon, Lawn Tennis Museum).
Tennis was a widely played sport in France since the Middle Ages, and became particularly popular between 1550 and 1700, a period when no less than two hundred and fifty courts in Paris could be counted (and at times more than twelve in the provincial towns). But by 1789, only fifteen courts and twenty-nine high level players were left in Paris.
The oil, probably painted around 1792 and likened to Laneuville's work by Pierre Rosenberg, imposes itself as a superb icon of the sport. Its similarity with the portrait of Michaud (#17) is quite striking -- some gray background, same direct presence -- but the intricate, almost affected costume in the Michaud oil is obviously very different from the freer, more natural appearance of the sportsman in this oil, shown here as if he had just stopped playing.
The bright red jumper, typical of Laneuville, is particularly striking, with its dark and elegant lining that echoes the cheekbones and lips of the model. The rolled-up sleeve is also extremely well rendered.