black and white of portrait of a young man standing in front of an open window; PL arm rests on ledge; wears buttoned up coat, high waist pants neck scarf with upturned collar; faint clouds in sky through window

Self-Portrait, c. 1804

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2018 Accession Highlight

Charles de Barante was a teenager when he created this self-portrait. He was a skilled amateur, preparing for life by learning to draw, as a gentleman should. Unfortunately, his life was cut short. Not long after making this drawing, Barante entered a military school recently established by Napoleon Bonaparte, the emperor of France. A few years later, he was helping to lead a cavalry charge across a river in northeastern Italy. French infantrymen followed. But the French were thrown back by charging Austrian cavalrymen. As Barante and others turned their horses in retreat, the French infantrymen fired at the Austrians without regard for their countrymen caught in the crossfire. Barante took a bullet and fell dead on the spot.

In our time it is hard to imagine a youth aged 16 or younger drawing a self-portrait with the skill and self-possession exhibited in this work by the young and ill-fated Charles de Barante. This work demonstrates the value assigned to skilled draftsmanship in France during the Napoleonic era. The drawing is a remarkable survivor, perhaps preserved with extra care due to the untimely death of its creator. In any case, it is an object frozen in time, still in its original Empire frame and protected by the original glass.

Charles’s engaging mien is sure to cause our visitors to linger with this large-scale work, which acts as a strong punctuation mark of high-quality amateur draftsmanship among the masterpieces in Mia’s fine collection of French drawings of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This is one of just four drawings by Barante known to have survived.

black and white of portrait of a young man standing in front of an open window; PL arm rests on ledge; wears buttoned up coat, high waist pants neck scarf with upturned collar; faint clouds in sky through window