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Hyacinthe Rigaud (18 July 1659, Perpignan (Pyrénées-Orientales) – 29 December 1743, Paris) was a French baroque painter of Catalan origin whose career was based in Paris.
He is renowned for his portrait paintings of Louis XIV, the royalty and nobility of Europe, and members of their courts and considered one of the most notable French portraitists of the classical period. For Jacques Thuillier, professor at the Collège de France : "Hyacinthe Rigaud was one of those French painters who knew the highest celebrity under the Ancien Régime. This admiration was deserved both for the surprising abundance of his work and for its constant perfection. "
He was the most important portrait painter during the reign of King Louis XIV. His instinct for impressive poses and grand presentations precisely suited the tastes of the royal personages, ambassadors, clerics, courtiers, and financiers who sat for him. Rigaud owes his celebrity to the faithful support he received from the four generations of Bourbons whose portraits he painted. He garnered the core of his clientele among the richest circles as well as among the bourgeois, financiers, nobles, industrialists and government ministers, also courting all the major ambassadors of his time and several European monarchs. His oeuvre reads as a near-complete portrait gallery of the chief movers in France from 1680 to 1740. Some of that oeuvre (albeit a minority) also includes those of more humble origins - Rigaud's friends, fellow artists or simple businessmen.
Rigaud is inseparable from his best-known work, a 1701 painting of Louis XIV in his coronation costume which today hangs in the Louvre in Paris, as well as the second copy also requested by Louis XIV that now hangs at the Palace of Versailles. The exact number of paintings he produced remains in dispute, since he left a highly detailed catalogue but also more than a thousand different models which specialists agree he used. To these may be added the large number of copies in Rigaud's book of accounts, without even mentioning the hundreds of other paintings rediscovered since the accounts' publication in 1919.
The grandson of painter-gilders from Roussillon and the elder brother of another painter (Gaspard), Hyacinthe Rigaud was trained in tailoring in his father's workshop and perfected his skills under Antoine Ranc at Montpellier from 1671 onwards, before moving to Lyon four years later. It was in these cities that he became familiar with Flemish, Dutch and Italian painting, particularly that of Rubens, Van Dyck, Rembrandt and Titian, whose works he later collected. Arriving in Paris in 1681, he won the prix de Rome in 1682, but on the advice of Charles Le Brun did not make the trip to Rome to which this entitled him. Received into the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture in 1700, he rose to the top of this institution before retiring from it in 1735.
Since Rigaud's paintings captured very exact likenesses along with the subject's costumes and background details, his paintings are considered precise records of contemporary fashions. According to the French art historian Louis Hourticq,
"On his death, Rigaud left behind a gallery of major figures with whom our imagination now populates the galerie des Glaces ; Rigaud was necessary to the 'gloire' of Louis XIV and participated in this shining of a reign whose majesty he fixed."
True "photographs", faces that Diderot called "letters of recommendation written in the common language of all men", Rigaud's works today populate the world's major museums.
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