Detail from Mr. De la Flute. Joueur de plusieurs instrumens. (Monsieur De la Flute. Player of several instruments.) by Jean Duplessi-Bertaux, 1814. Dayton C. Miller Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.
This small etching depicts a musician wearing a bicorn hat who plays many instruments. He is apparently a street musician and people have gathered around him to hear his performance. He is seated on a chair and plays a recorder. A harp stands before him, which he plays as well. His left foot operates a pedal to a drum, and bells are tied around his right knee. On a small table next to him on the left are cymbals which he operates with his right foot. What appears to be a Jew's harp lies in the foreground. A woman with a dog in her arms stands at the left and holds a folded leaflet, perhaps a music score, or lyrics. A boy next to her, perhaps her son, appears to be singing. They may be the wife and son of the musician and perhaps they perform as a family group. On the far left and right are bystanders of different social classes, judging from their dress. At the right are a gentleman and his dog, a soldier, a woman wearing a bonnet and having keys at her waist, and a barefoot man. In the right background are two men, perhaps artisans, and another dog. On the far left is a man with a wide-brimmed hat and another young boy.
This etching appeared as a plate in a collection of etchings by Duplessi-Bertaux entitled Recueil de cent sujets de divers genres, composés et gravés par J. Duplessi-Bertaux, published in Paris in 1814. It is a charming book which consists of eight or nine "suites" of etchings of different subjects, each "suite" consisting of ten to twelve plates. Two suites are devoted to workers, the first depicting stone cutters, masons, and iron workers; the second depicting other occupations such as roofers, carpenters, wheel makers, knife sharpeners, or water carriers. There is a suite on military figures -- dragoons, grenadiers, sapeurs, or chasseurs. A suite on street vendors includes flower, fruit and tisane sellers, a laundress, and men who sell umbrellas and parasols. There is a suite that includes scenes from village life -- traveling actors, a country wedding, local gendarmes, and bandits. A suite of about twelve etchings depicts scenes from the theater with the actors and plays identified, while another suite contains images of street beggars. The last suite of four etchings depicts military scenes in roundels.
The image in the Miller etching, M. De la Flute, comes from a group of about ten etchings of games and popular entertainment -- the jeu du diable in which participants juggle a spindle on a rope held in each hand, card or "shell" games, acrobats, street musicians, badminton, and even a tooth puller. Though unnumbered, this is the ninth etching in this suite. Characteristic of all of Duplessi-Bertaux's etchings in this book is the elongated proportions of some of the figures. In the instance of the Miller etching, note the seated man at the far left whose legs and torso seem unusually long compared to the other figures.
The Miller etching has been trimmed to the image and text just beneath it, but its dimensions match those of the print (image only) in the book of Duplessi-Bertaux's collected etchings. The plate dimensions of the etching in the book are 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 inches (8.5 x 10.6 cm.), and the full sheet in the book measures 7 1/4 x 8 3/4 inches (18.5 x 22.5 cm.) -- probably the original dimensions of the Miller etching before the sheet was trimmed.
About the Artist
Jean Duplessi-Bertaux, engraver and painter, 1747-1818
A very brief biography of Jean Duplessi-Bertaux is given in Bénézit, saying only that he was a French engraver and painter who was born in Paris in 1747 and that he died in Paris in 1818; that he engraved many plates of voyages to Greece, Italy, and Egypt for a book by M. de Choiseul; that he entered works in the Salons of 1795 and 1805; and, that he made several engravings of events during the French Revolution. Bénézit includes a long list of landscapes, military scenes, and portraits by Duplessi-Bertaux.
Portalis gives a more detailed biography of Duplessi-Bertaux which is summarized here. Known as Jean Duplessis-Bertaux, according to Renouvier, and as Joseph Duplessis-Bertaux according to Leblanc, Portalis states that he first studied painting under Joseph Marie Vien (1716-1809), a history painter and etcher, but he gave up painting to study engraving under Jacques-Philippe Le Bas (1707-1783), a draughtsman, engraver and etcher. The engravings of Duplessi-Bertaux were often compared to those of Jacques Callot (1592-1635), a painter and engraver, whose work he studied and copied. Duplessi-Bertaux also studied the work of Jean Leclerc (1587-1633), a history painter, portraitist, and engraver. In the work of both Callot and Leclerc, Duplessi-Bertaux studied the movement and placement of small figures in large spaces.
In 1770, Duplessi-Bertaux was a professor of drawing at the Ecole militaire and his early engravings were of religious subjects, or copies of paintings by LeBrun, Rubens and Teniers. In 1778, he provided the illustrations for Recueil des meilleurs contes en vers, published by Cazin in Paris. This edition is probably a small 4-volume collection of 17th- and 18th-century French poetry for which Portalis says Duplessi-Bertaux designed and engraved tiny vignettes to illustrate the writings of La Fontaine, Vergier, Grécourt, and Piron. This is a very small 2-volume book, with tiny, unsigned, and very detailed engravings at the head of each poem. Duplessi-Bertaux may have provided only the drawings for this work, as the engravings look very different in style from the Miller etching.
According to Portalis, Duplessi-Bertaux was also among the engravers who contributed plates to a folio book compiled by the abbé de Saint-Non (1727-1791), Voyage pittoresque....He also contributed plates to Voyage en Grèce et en Orient by the comte de Choiseul in 1782. Further review of these two publications is needed to document the plates, or possibly head pieces and tail pieces, engraved by Duplessi-Bertaux. A cursory search through these books did not reveal any signed engravings or etchings by Duplessi-Bertaux, nor did any of the plates in these books resemble the style of this artist as seen in the Miller etching.
Portalis also states that Duplessi-Bertaux was an ardent revolutionary who documented many events during the French Revolution. Among his engravings are the Taking of the Bastille, the King recognized at Varennes, and the Assassination of Marat. He was known especially for his Tableaux historiques de la Révolution française, which documented the major events and figures of the French Revolution. Published in two volumes in 1817, it was illustrated with 160 etchings and engravings as well as 65 portraits by Duplessi-Bertaux and other artists. Later, Duplessi-Bertaux engraved many of Napoleon's campaigns, after his own drawings, and after those by other artists such as Carle Vernet (1758-1836), a history painter, caricaturist, and lithographer, or Charles Monnet (1732-1808), a history painter, decorative painter, landscapist, and draughtsman.
- See Duplessi-Bertaux, Recueil de cent sujets de divers genres, composés et gravés par J. Duplessi-Bertaux, published in Paris in 1814. Rare Book Division. LC call number: NE650.D75A55. [back to article]
- See Roger Portalis, Les Dessinateurs d'illustrations au XVIIIe siècle. Amsterdam: G. W. Hissink & Co., 1970, pp. 184-189. This is a reprint of the Paris edition of 1877. LC call number: NC980.P65 1970. [back to article]
- This set is not in the Library of Congress, but there is a copy at Yale. He also produced the drawings for Le fond du sac by Nogaret, published by Cazin in 1780. LC call number: PQ2015.N5F6 Office. [back to article]
- Abbé de Saint-Non (1727-1791), Voyage pittoresque, ou Description des royaumes de Naples et de Sicile, that was published in five volumes from 1781 to 1786. Rare Book Division, Library of Congress. Copy 1: DG821.S14. Copy 2: Rosenwald Collection, no. 1697. [back to article]
- Voyage en Grèce et en Orient by the comte de Choiseul in 1782. Rare Book Division. DF721.C54 Pre-1801 Collection, folio. [back to article]
- This is not in the Library of Congress, but can be found at the New York Public Library, Harvard, Bryn Mawr, or Notre Dame. [back to article]