Jean-Jacques-François Le Barbier,
called Le Barbier l’aîné (French, 1738–1826)
L’Offrande à Pan (The Offering to Pan), ca. 1770
Pen and ink with various shades of brown washes
Museum purchase with funds provided by the 1072 Society, 2015
By Dennis Harper, curator of collections and exhibitions
Jean-Jacques François Le Barbier, called Le Barbier l’aîné (the Elder), demonstrated artistic talent at a young age, winning two first prizes at the École des Beaux-Arts of Rouen at seventeen. He moved from his native Rouen to Paris to study under Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. Between 1761 and 1768, he traveled extensively in Italy (several drawings document his time in Rome). In Switzerland in 1776, he worked with Pierre-François Pâris and Claude-Louis Châtelet on Zurlauben’s travel guide, Tableaux de la Suisse ou voyage pittoresque fait dans les treize cantons du Corps Helvétique, executing drawings of views, monuments, and costumes. After returning to Paris, he was elected to the Academy in 1780, and became an Academician in 1785, exhibiting regularly at the Salon between 1781 and 1814. In the period between 1806 and 1810 he focused on religious themes and subjects of Royalist inspiration. His most famous work was a representation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, a fundamental document of the French Revolution, which he illustrated in 1789.
The present drawing illustrates a tendency in Neoclassicism that art historian Robert Rosenblum called “Neoclassical Eroticism.” The discovery of the frescoes at Pompeii in 1748 introduced a new sensuality in French art. Erotic subjects inspired by the antique were combined with themes emblematic of the Rococo, an exaltation of pleasure and flesh. This drawing is a prime example of Le Barbier’s work, circa 1770–75, and can be compared to a pair of oval drawings in the Louvre, titled Baccanale, depicting Bacchus with a faun and satyr, and L’Offrande à Venus, signed and dated 1769, which exhibit his characteristic use of contour in black ink with brown washes and small curvilinear touches in the interior of figures that define volume and mass. It can also be compared with a drawing that is a design for a candelabrum depicting a nymph and two satyrs on the base. Le Barbier used the subject of The Offering to Pan several times, but in each drawing he employed a very different composition.