Jean Claude Richard, Abbé de Saint-Non (French, 1727–1791)
Pastel on paper, laid down on canvas
31 5/8 x 25 in. (80.3 x 63.5 cm)
Gift of Daniel Wildenstein, 1977 (1977.383)
Jean Claude Richard, born in Paris, was a younger son, although not without financial resources. His father had been receveur générale de finances for Tours and owned property in and to the west of Paris. In 1748 Jean Claude was graduated in theology from the Sorbonne and took minor religious orders; later he bought a benefice, becoming in 1758 abbé commendataire of the abbey of Pothières, from which he received a generous stipend. He then became a congenial figure in Paris society, an artist, traveler, writer, and amateur of the arts, known for his associations with painters Hubert Robert and Jean Honoré Fragonard.
The abbé de Saint-Non was a highly skilled copyist, recognized chiefly as a prolific printmaker. The Two Sisters reproduces an oil painting by Fragonard of the same title (53.61.5) as it looked before it was cut down to about half its original size, perhaps to mitigate the awkward arrangement of the older girl's back, legs, and dress bustle. The pastel is signed and dated 1770, which supplies supporting evidence for the approximate date of the painting. As the identity of the two children is not known, the painting could have been a scene of children at play, a genre also favored by Jean Siméon Chardin (1699–1769). The girls wear contemporary adult dresses in soft pastel colors. The older girl is pushing a wheeled papier-mâché horse, on which the younger child rides. Below is a Polichinelle doll, a masked clown in a bicorn hat. Saint-Non's children are prettier and more conventional in appearance than Fragonard's. A close look at the extended left arm of the older sister and the left hand of the younger reveals the limits of its author's abilities as a draftsman. The pastel is rare and has enormous charm.