Portrait of Jean-Louis Buisson
Oil on canvas
32 x 25 ¾ inches (81.3 x 65.4 cm)
Signed, dated, and inscribed on the verso: ‘J. L. BUISSON / âgé de 29 ans / mort en 1777. / peint par Gardelle en Fevrier 1737.’
Robert Naville (1884-1970), Geneva, Switzerland, by 1942.
Private Collection, Switzerland (until 2017)
Private Collection, USA.
W. Deonna, “Le peintre Robert Gardelle (1682-1766), avec une liste de portraits par Nicolas Largillière et conservés en Suisse,” Bulletin de la Sociéte d’histoire et d’archéologie de Genève, vol. 8, 1943, p. 25, cat. no. 17, as in the collection of Robert Naville by 1942 (no. 14 in the Naville collection).
As the inscription on the reverse of the canvas reveals, this handsome portrait by Robert Gardelle depicts the military officer Jean-Louis Buisson (1708-1777) at the age of 29. Several members of the Buisson family of Geneva had distinguished careers in the French army. Jean-Louis began his service as an auxiliary major (‘aide major de brigade’) under Louis XV. This portrait, which was painted in February 1737, may have been commissioned to commemorate his promotion to major (‘major de la garrison’) and entrance into the Conseil des Deux Cents de la République, a legislative assembly of the bourgeoisie of Geneva, in that year.
This portrait is a mid-career work by Robert Gardelle, a significant but little-known portrait painter in Geneva in the 17th century. Gardelle was born into a family of artists in Geneva that originally hailed from Lyons in the Rhône region of France. His artistic training brought him to Berlin in 1702, where he undertook commissions for Baron Gustaf von Marefeld. In 1714 he entered the studio of the portrait painter Nicolas Largillière (1656-1746) in Paris. Gardelle later returned to Geneva and became the primary portraitist of his native city, taking on numerous private commissions. Many of his portraits are today in public institutions, such as the Geneva Library or the Musée d’Art et d’histoire de Genève in Switzerland.
Although Gardelle’s oeuvre has mainly been examined within a Calvinist context, one of the most salient aspects of his portraits is their relation to French portraiture of the day. As is wholly evident in this impressive work, Gardelle absorbed the influence of his teacher in Paris and other portrait painters in Largillière’s circle, including Hyacinthe Rigaud (c. 1659-1743), Jean-Marc Nattier (1685-1766) and his compatriot Jacques-Antoine Arlaud (1668-1743). The sitter here appears in a fashionable three-quarter profile, set against a brooding sky. He proudly flaunts his gold-trimmed military garb, the sleeve of his armor gleaming with a flash of light. His high status is made clear by the red velvet coat that adorns his armor and his Louis XV-style wig, tied with a prominent blue bow.
 Jacques Augustin Galiffe, Notices généalogiques sur les familles genevoises, depuis les premiers temps, jusqu’à nos jours, vol. 6, p. 516.