Joseph Ducreux Renaissance painter wins the internet
We don’t know a lo t about Joseph Ducreux, but he sure looks like he had sense of humor. A portrait artist in during the reign of Louis XVI of France, Ducreux survives the French revolution, and worked along side of painters like Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, and Jacques-Louis David.
About Joseph Ducreux
Ducreux was born in Nancy, France. His father was a painter, and he would continue the family trade. Ducreux learned pastel from Maurice Quentin de La Tour, and painted his first portraits of Marie Antoinette at age 34. After the turmoil of the French revolution, Ducreux’s friendship with David helped him re-establish his portrait practice, and he would stay in Paris and raise a son and a daughter to be painters.
But it’s not his life that makes Ducreux memorable — it’s his faces. Wry grins and comical expressions leap from the canvas. David didn’t paint faces like this. Ducreux’s portraits, especially his self portraits, bring an immediacy and humor to the laborious process of oil painting. Historians attribute these bold expressions to Ducreux’s interest in Physiognomy, the belief that people can be judged by their appearance. But Ducreux’s portraits capture a specific moment and a single expression, a far cry from the ‘ugly people are criminals’ diagrams of the medieval pseudoscience.
How he became internet celebrity?
The sassy portraits gave Ducreux a second life. In November 2009, an internet user sarcastically captioned Ducreux’s fourth wall-breaking self-portrait with classically rewritten rap lyrics, and the 18th-century painter found life new is an internet meme. Notorious B.I.G’s 1995 Get Money made the simple, dramatic statement, “fuck bitches, get money” — which when applied to Ducreux’s Self-portrait of the artist in the guise of a mockingbird became: “Disregard Females, Acquire Currency.”
If you haven’t seen this image macro, there are more than 1000 variations at Know Your Meme. To our mind, there are few better ways to honor the work of an unusual artist than to make them go viral.
Ducreux specialized in portraits, including those of Choderlos de Laclos (author of Liaisons dangeureuses) and Maria Theresa of Austria, but he is perhaps best remembered today for his strikingly modern self-portraits, which depict him in exaggerated, meme-like postures not at all common in either portraits or self-portraits at the time.
These postures included “surprise in terror”, in which Ducreux raises his hand up defensively with mouth agape, and “the silence”, in which he puts a finger to his pursed lips (in the suspected later version his shoulder’s covered in a white dusting from powdered wig). Other self-portraits show him yawning in decidedly unsexy dishabille, with a white nightcap crowning his head, or pointing directly at the viewer and grinning. The latter, so the title tells us, is meant to depict an expression of mocking, but, at least nowadays, more readily presents itself as depicting a friendlier encounter with the viewer (though retaining the smugness), like a man catching sight of an old friend across a crowded room, or a politician trying to charm a voter.