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Jean-Louis Laneuville (French, 1748–1826),
Portrait of Ruamps de Surgeres , 1792
oil on canvas, 25½ x 21½ in.; 64.77 x 54.61 cm
Museum purchase, 1960.268

A pupil of Jacques-Louis David, Laneuville’s reputation is based on a handful of austere portraits that clearly express the moral seriousness of the French Revolution. The grace and artifice that had characterized the portraiture of the ancient regime was banished in favor of forthright composition and unflinching realism. In their emphasis on moderation and discipline, David and his fellow Neoclassicists took ancient republican Rome and its stern Stoic philosophy as their ideal model for a virtuous society. Following classical statuary in the formula they developed for depicting the dedicated reformers of the early Revolution, no accessories such as charming landscape backgrounds or personal decoration is allowed to deflect attention from the personality of the sitter. At the same time, this idealizing of a long-dead civilization is very much in keeping with the dominant artistic movement of the period: Romanticism. 

This half-length portrait of the convention delegate Pierre-Charles Ruamps de Surgeres is a superb example of this new style. Centered in the frame against a neutral background, this serious young man is presented forthrightly yet sensitively. His dark hair falls naturally onto his plain brown coat, which itself contrasts with the red waistcoat and crisp white cravat. Here, clearly, is an exemplary representative of the new order. Known for his fiery temper, Ruamps de Surgeres was an ardent proponent of the execution of Louis XVI and was appointed to the dreaded Committee of Public Safety. Even so, he was against the Terror, and his outspoken opposition led to his imprisonment. Released after six months in the general amnesty of 1795, he returned to his native Charente and ended his days farming in obscurity.

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