François-Hubert Drouais belonged to a dynasty of French painters that included his father, Hubert Drouais (1699-1767), and his son, Jean Germain (1763-1788). François-Hubert was born in Paris on December 14, 1727. During his relatively short career, he established himself as one of the leading portrait painters of the age of Louis XV. He is presumed to have studied at various times with Donat Nonotte (1708-1785), Carle Van Loo (1705-1765), Charles Joseph Natoire (1700-1777), and François Boucher (1703-1770). He mastered the rules governing portrait painting in the ultra-refined society of mid-eighteenth-century Paris and Versailles.
By the late 1750s, when he presented his candidacy for membership in the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, he had become the chief rival of Jean- Marc Nattier (1685-1766), whom he would eventually succeed as portraitist to the royal family, Louis XV's last two official mistresses, and members of the nobility and the high-ranking bourgeoisie. Unlike Nattier, however, he made only infrequent use of the mythological and allegorical trappings of history painting. Graceful poses, sumptuous costumes, richly decorated interiors, or lush garden settings are distinctive features of his best works, and a brilliant technique enhances their allure.
It became very fashionable in the Paris of the late 1750s and the 1760s to have one's portrait painted by François-Hubert Drouais. His art epitomizes the rococo at the moment of its decline. The full-length portrait of Madame de Pompadour (1721-1764) (London, National Gallery), which he finished in 1764 after the sitter's death, is a virtuoso performance of extraordinary elegance. He was also perfectly capable of capturing the inner life of his subjects. The two diploma pieces he presented to the Académie on his election in 1758--portraits of the sculptors Edme Bouchardon and Guillaume Coustou (Musée des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon), his handsome likeness of his wife Anne Marie Françoise Doré (Paris, Musée du Louvre) of c. 1758, and his bust-length portrait of Louis XV (Versailles) of 1773--are all refreshingly sober images. Drouais' success at court continued after Louis XVI's accession to the throne in 1774, but he died shortly thereafter on October 21, 1775, at the age of forty-eight. He had been a regular exhibitor at the Salon, where his works were judged, often harshly, by such critics as Denis Diderot (1713-1784).
Drouais' son, Jean Germain, became Jacques Louis David's (1748-1825) most promising pupil and assisted the master in the execution of The Oath of the Horatii (Paris, Musée du Louvre). Unfortunately, the young prodigy died prematurely in Rome.
[Joseph Baillio, in The French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century, The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue, Washington, D.C., 2009: 135.]
Conisbee, Philip, et al. French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2009: 135.