Maurice Quentin de La Tour's 1748 Portrait of King Louis XV is a eloquent visual enunciation of the divisive figure of King Louis XV of France who ruled France from 1715 until his death in 1774. Seen by many as a fair and moderate royal, his reputation was marred by the French Revolution that occurred just 15 years after his death deposing his grandson Louis XVI and ending in the young king's execution by guillotine. As one of the most respected portraitists of his generation, La Tour had access to the leading figures in French society including the playwright Voltaire and the king himself. Along with his contemporary Perronneau, La Tour honed his unique pastellist style following a number of journeys to London before finally settling in Paris. When pastel portraits began to dominate aristocratic tastes with the arrival of Rosalba Carriera in 1719, La Tour capitalized on the opportunity and dedicated his career to working in the form.
His figurative reproductions of his sitters reveal an exuberant vitality, occasionally gaudy, yet firmly in tune with the architectural and design trends of his day. In the circles of court society La Tour was a success; commissions flooded in from royals, intellectuals, and prominent figures, and by the end of the 1720s the artist dominated the Paris art scene. Breaking the technique away from the confines of commerce and patronage, La Tour entered a number of pastel works in the Paris Salon, including a self-portrait. However, La Tour did not succeed in raising the status of pastel works, even with his magnificent reproduction of the likeness of King Louis XV. Preparing for the production of his portraits, La Tour would aim to capture the intellectual life of his sitters, resulting in this charismatic, slightly macho, and chiselled image of the young King. Showing Louis in his armour, La Tour depicted his subject as a vital resource in sustaining the aristocratic life that in turn sustained his lucrative career.
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