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Christophe Huet

French, 1700 - 1759

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In spite of the efforts by Louis Dimier over a century ago to identify this very little-known painter and decorator, Christophe Huet is still sometimes confused with other members of his family who were artists. Dimier distinguished between Christophe Huet and his brother Nicolas (1770-1830), a painter of flowers and fruit, who was known as Huet Le Jeune. Nicolas' son, the painter and engraver Jean Baptiste Huet I (1745-1811), has likewise been confused with his uncle, since both artists produced images of animal subjects. Christophe, if quickly forgotten after his death, was the most successful artist of the family, and he enjoyed a solid reputation in his own day. Moreover, within his twin areas of specialization, decorative and animal painting, he was one of the most prominent artists of his generation. He found patrons in the highest levels of society, including the duchesse du Maine (1676-1753) and the marquise de Pompadour (1721-1764), who owned several of his animal paintings and for whom Huet painted a salon chinois at the Château de Champs.

Although Huet is best known today for his chinoiserie and singerie, it is likely he received his early training from one of two animal painters, Jean Baptiste Oudry (1686-1755) or François Desportes (1661-1743). In 1753 a critic linked Huet to Oudry, but there is more evidence to suggest that Huet's master was Desportes. The work of Desportes was well represented in Huet's collection, as Roger-Armand Weigert in 1952 showed from the inventory drawn up after the artist's death. On several occasions Desportes collaborated with the decorator Claude III Audran (1658-1734), including at the menagerie of Versailles, where Huet later went to draw animals from life. If Desportes was responsible for Huet's artistic formation, so, too, was Audran, alongside whom Huet worked at the château d'Anet. More important, as one of the first artists of eighteenth-century France to develop a form of decorative painting in which monkeys performed human activities, Audran was a primary reference point when Huet was inventing his Singeries, ou, Différentes actions de la vie humaine représentées par les singes, published in 1741 by the engraver Jean Guélard (active 1710-1730).

To judge from the number of Huet's submissions to the Salons of the Académie de Saint Luc in 1751, 1752, and 1756, his reputation as an animal painter must have been considerable. In 1756, only three years before his death, the artist presented twelve animal pictures, many of which were recorded as belonging to unnamed members of the aristocracy. Huet executed the pictorial decoration in a number of eighteenth-century townhouses in Paris and châteaux in the surrounding area, but the chronology of many of his works has yet to be established. The chinoiseries at the Château de Champs consist of single Chinese figures, scenes of hunting and game playing, and light arabesque ornamentation formed of shells and palms. In the salon of the Hôtel de Rohan, where Huet integrated Chinese pastoral scenes with animals, medallions, and floral decoration, he reached a particularly high level of inventiveness. Following closely upon the heels of Huet's collaboration at the château d'Anet with Claude III Audran in 1733, he worked at the Château de Chantilly painting oriental landscapes and animals in the grand salon.

The majority of Huet's activity was decorative and animal painting, but the inventory of his possessions indicates that he also worked as a portraitist. The three portraits recorded-one of each of his parents and a third of himself in the guise of a hunter-may indicate that he produced these objects for his personal pleasure.

[Frances Gage, in French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century, The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue, Washington, D.C., 2009: 259.]

Artist Bibliography

Dimier, Louis. "Christophe Huet: peintre de chinoiseries et d'animaux." Gazette des Beaux-Arts ser. 3, 14 (1895): 352-366, 487-496.
Weigert, Roger-Armand. "Un collaborateur ignoré de Claude III Audran: les débuts de Christophe Huet décorateur." Études de l'art 7 (1952): 63-78.
Dictionary of Art 1996
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: 259.

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