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The Drevets were the leading portrait engravers of France for over a hundred years. Their fame began with Pierre, and was sustained by his son, Pierre-Imbert, and by his nephew, Claude.
Pierre Drevet, the Elder, b. at Loire in the Lyonnais in 1663; d. in Paris, 1738, was the son of Estienne Drevet, a man of excellent family, and began his studies with Germain Audran at Lyons, continuing them with Gérard Audran in Paris. So rapid was his progress, so quickly did he imbibe and assimilate knowledge, and with such precision and delicacy did he manage the graver, that in 1696 he was made court engraver. In 1707 he was admitted to membership in the Académie des Beaux-Arts, his reception picture being an engraving of Robert de Cotte.
Rigaud's portraits were in high favour at the end of the seventeenth century and Drevet was the first to encounter and surmount the difficulties of translating into black and white the natural appearance of texture and materials which the brilliant oils readily presented. He was an excellent draughtsman, and he treated flesh and fabrics, the flash of jewels and the shimmer of steel, with painter-like realism, surpassing all his predecessors in these effects. With all his elegance of detail he produced an harmonious ensemble, combining artistic feeling with skilful technic. Although his work with the burin was like that of the great Nanteuil, he attained a style of his own. Previous engravers sacrificed much to make the head prominent, but Drevet made everything salient, though never violently so. Always engraving after oil-paintings, Drevet was at times uneven, but this was because the originals were uneven. Orders poured in upon him faster than he could fill them, and throughout his life he had command of every important work produced in France. His engravings were mainly the portraits of distinguished people. Among his many superb plates a portrait of Colbert (1700) marks the acme of his art; and next in point of excellence come the portraits of Louis XIV and Louis XV, both after Rigaud. Other celebrated works of his are a Crucifixion, after Coypel, and a portrait of Charles II of England. During the last years of his life Drevet worked with his son and they produced plates together.
Pierre-Imbert Drevet, called the Younger Pierre, was born in Paris, 1697; died there, 1739. His father, the elder Drevet, gave him such assiduous instruction that at the age of thirteen he produced a superb little plate which indicated his future eminence. At first he engraved after Lebrun, but he soon developed a style of his own, spontaneous, sincere, and brilliant. Under his facile, sure, and soft graver every detail was rendered, every shade of colour and every variety of texture. The result was always an harmonious unit. He was his father's constant companion and worked with unwearying patience with him. In 1723 Pierre-Imbert finished his portrait of Bossuet after Rigaud, "perhaps the finest of all the engraved portraits of France" (Lippman). In 1724 the portrait of Cardinal Dubois was engraved. Both of these are treated broadly and freely, show magnificent handling of draperies, and possess exquisite finish. The great plate of Adrienne Lecouvreur (1730) and that of Samuel Bernard are by many authorities ranked with the Bossuet. For Bernard's portrait Rigaud himself made the drawing, a most unusual event in eighteenth-century engraving. Besides his masterly portraits, Pierre-Imbert produced many religious and historical plates, chiefly of Coypel. A sunstroke (1726) resulted in intermittent imbecility, and the talented and hardworking master - the last of the pure-line men - had thirteen years of such madness before his death. He kept on engraving, however, until the end. He was a member of the Académie de Peinture and the king assigned him apartments in the Louvre. Among his pupils were François and Jacques Chéreau and Simon Vallée.
The following are among his principal works: "Presentation of the Virgin", after Le Brun; "Presentation in the Temple", after L. Boullogne; portraits of the Archbishop of Cambrai (after Vivien); and René Pucelle, his last work, after Rigaud.
A French engraver, b. at Lyons, 1705; d. in Paris, 1782. He was a nephew and pupil of Pierre the Elder and at first followed the traditions of the two Pierres, forming about him a coterie of engravers who endeavoured to keep alive their great traditions. Later he became very hard and precise with the graver, and his work lost all its artistic and painter-like quality, everything being sacrificed for a brilliant technic. Nevertheless, many of his plates possess great charm and delicacy. Claude seemed indifferent to his art and produced but little compared with the other members of the family. When Pierre-Imbert died, his rooms in the Louvre were given to Claude, who proceeded to squander nearly all the money left him by his uncle and his cousin.
He engraved portraits of Henri Oswald, Cardinal d'Auvergne, after Rigaud, and of De Vintimille, Archbishop of Paris, also after Rigaud.
FIRMIN-DIDOT, Les Drevet (Paris, 1876); PAWLOWSKY, Catalogue raisonné; DILKE, French Engravers and Draughtsmen of the XVIII Century (London, 1902); LIPPMAN, Engraving and Etching (New York, 1906); PERNETTY, Les Lyonnais dignes de mémoire, II, 139.