Two Sisters, 1770
Jean–Claude–Richard 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)
The Abbè was a younger son but he was not without financial resources, as his father owned property in Paris and at Saint-Non (modern Saint-Nom) and La Bretèche. Born in Paris, in 1748 he was graduated in theology from the Sorbonne and took minor religious orders; later he bought a benefice, becoming in 1758 abbè commendataire of the abbey of Pothières near Châtillon-sur-Seine, Burgundy. Saint-Non spent the balance of his life as a congenial figure in Paris society, an artist and an amateur of the arts. He was a prolific printmaker, specializing in aquatint; he is recorded also as a painter, draftsman, and pastellist, but few works by him in any of these media have been identified. He is chiefly remembered for the journal of his visit to Italy (1759–61); for his association with Hubert Robert (1733–1808) and Jean Honorè Fragonard (1732–1806); and for his support of the publication of a great eighteenth-century French illustrated book, Voyage pittoresque, ou description des royaumes de Naples et de Sicilie (1781–86). He owned several paintings and many drawings by Fragonard, and in 1769 was the subject for one of the most beautiful of the fantasy portraits, or figures de fantasie (Musèe du Louvre, Paris).
Two Sisters reproduces an oil painting by Fragonard (53.61.5), which by chance is also in the Metropolitan Museum, as it looked before it was cut down to about half its original size. The pastel is signed and dated 1770, the approximate date of the painting. The identity of the sitters is not known. Typically, the girls are dressed as adults, in contemporary costumes. The doll, a Polichinelle, takes the form of a clown with a mask and a bicorne hat. Saint-Non's children are prettier and more conventional in appearance than Fragonard's; he eschews the brilliant yellow that Fragonard used for the younger girl's dress. The drawing, especially of the hands and arms, is weak but the pastel is rare and has enormous charm.