Oudry was the leading painter of still-life and hunting scenes in France during the first half of the eighteenth century. Much admired by Louis XV, he portrayed favorite royal hounds and painted scenes of the king riding to the hunt, which was the monarch's sporting passion. On occasion Oudry painted portraits; The Marquis de Beringhen, his masterpiece among them, most likely played a part in launching his artistic career at court.
Henri Camille de Beringhen (1693-1770) came from a family that had served the French crown since the sixteenth century. After a military career, he inherited the title Premier Ecuyer de la Petite Ecurie du Roi (Master of the King's Private Stables) in 1724, in which capacity he organized the royal hunt. He was a success at court, and was endowed with a number of lucrative and honorary titles. It was Beringhen who introduced Oudry to the young Louis XV, and the artist soon joined the royal hunts as an observer. Beringhen was a keen patron of contemporary artists, especially Nicolas Lancret, François Boucher, and Oudry, who provided decorations for his Paris town house and his country home at Ivry.
The Marquis de Beringhen is an elaborate image, in which Oudry combined portraiture, a still life with dead game, a living animal, and a landscape. The twenty-nine-year-old marquis, seated on a knoll at the base of a tree, is dressed in a linen shirt, a pale gray hunting coat lined with teal-blue velvet and trimmed with silver braid and buttons, breeches, and thigh-length boots. Strands of his powdered hair are caught at the back of his head in a black silk ribbon. In his left hand he holds aloft a red-legged partridge; with his right he pets a pointer. In the left corner is a still life of powder horn, fowling piece, game, and a game bag. In the distance two women converse on the terrace of a country house, which probably represents not an actual place, but a suitably gentlemanly setting that Oudry devised for Beringhen.
Oudry's art is characterized by sharp observation of nature, a bold sense of the decorative, and brilliantly assured technique. There are especially lively passages of painting in the costume, such as the handling of the lace of Beringhen's shirt and the silver embroidery on his coat, and in the feathers of the partridge and the fur of the hound. The Marquis de Beringhen epitomizes Oudry's approach to painting: the sophisticated elegance of the rococo style is combined with an acute sense of observation that is characteristic of the Age of Enlightenment.
(Text by Philip Conisbee, published in the National Gallery of Art exhibition catalogue, Art for the Nation, 2000)