“It’s so magical, I don’t know why, to go into a theater and have the lights go down. It’s very quiet and then the curtains start to open. And then you go into a world.”
Today as yesterday the magic of theatre wins the hearts of countless spectators, play after play, from generation to generation.
Playwrights, actors and directors are surely the cornerstones of dramaturgy, but they couldn’t do anything without good scenographers and costume designers by their side.
Whether sumptuous or austere, stage costumes are today a fascinating field of studies, the history of which we can investigate thanks also to the graphic witness of artists like Jean-Louis Fesch, a virtuous portraitist who sketched, among many, our drawing.
It is a drawing on paper (glued on cardboard) in gouache and ink depicting two comedians playing the roles of Orpheus and of a Demon, sketched by Jean-Louis Fesch and Whirsker (his associate) in Paris, between 1770 and 1778.
Jean-Louis Fesch (1739-1778) was a Swiss painter, portraitist, caricaturist and miniaturist. Also known under the names of Jean-Louis Faesch and Joahnn Ludwig Wernhard Faesch, he was born in Basel (Switzerland) in 1739 into a family of lawyers.
His first training was in the field of law, becoming a jurist. Having always had an inclination for the arts, in particular for drawing and painting, he decided though to turn his life around by undertaking a career as a painter. In the 1860s he chose to settle in Paris and practice his art as a portraitist, caricaturist and miniaturist, a profession called at the time “peintre à six francs” (transl. six francs painter).
Passionate about the theater, he loved to portray comedians on stage, becoming a true specialist of the subject; he also portrayed the famous tragedian Le Kain of the French Comedy as well as the Italian actor Carlo Antonio Bertinazzi (known as Carlin). His collection of over a hundred grimaces and interpretations of the famous English actor David Garrick was a great success throughout Europe.
In his drawings the representation of the costumes, often in striking colors, is very faithful to reality, reflecting the meticulous gaze and the almost maniacal care of the artist for details.
His work is a faithful testimony of the theatrical art of the eighteenth century.
The actors were portrayed standing, in profile or three-quarters, wearing the stage costume characteristic of their role. To facilitate identification, Fesch used to write the name of the character under the figure of the actor, often adding the title and act number of the opera.
His associate Whirsker, with whom he collaborated for many years, continued his work.
Jean-Louis Fesch died in Paris on May 20, 1778 at the age of thirty-nine. The Departments of Performing Arts and Prints of the National Library of France, the library-museum of the Paris Opera still retain a number of his drawings today.
The back of the frame bears the label: “Cadres, bois sculpté – Henri Cornet – 37, Rue de Constantinople – Paris – Dorure Encadrements”.
Height: 16,5 cm
Length: 18,5 cm
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