The Mackelvie Society in partnership with the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki is delighted to announce a rare opportunity to add a prestigious ‘Grand Tour portrait’ to the Mackelvie collection, filling a major gap in Auckland’s holdings of 18th century European portraiture.
Painted in Rome in 1763, Louis-Gabriel Blanchet’s twinkling portrait of a self-possessed Glasgow antiquarian, William Rouet (1714-1785) in continental court dress captures the glamour of international travel in the ‘Age of the Enlightenment’. A part-time tutor and full-time scholar and renowned expert in classical art, Rouet relished the company of other impassioned collectors, drawn irresistibly to the archaeological sites of Italy’s south and to the motley cast of dealers around Naples and Rome selling their latest ‘finds’.
A traveller’s ‘bucket list’
‘To have a portrait painted of yourself in Italy was on every wealthy tourist’s bucket list in the eighteenth century’, says Auckland Art Gallery curator Dr Sophie Matthiesson. ‘In an age before photography and easy travel, everyone wanted something impressive to show for their experiences when they got home’. The ultimate trophy she says was ‘a flattering portrait that displayed the sitter’s taste and relaxed adaptation to the worldly milieu of Rome.’ This portrait is not only by Louis Gabriel Blanchet, a leading rival to the famous Rome portrait painter Pompeo Batoni, it is by the artist who specialised in portraits for the Stuart court, in particular portraits of Bonnie Prince Charlie, pretender to the British throne. ‘Most of Blanchet’s portraits are in royal collections because they depict royal sitters’, says Matthiesson. The current portrait is an anomaly, she notes, and probably reflects Rouet’s access to high places because of his expertise.
A ‘natural fit’
This stunning portrait is a natural fit for Auckland’s art collections, argues Matthiesson. The Mackelvie collections, which are spread across the Gallery, Library and Museum, include dozens of examples of painting, micro-mosaic, cameos and sculptures that were made in Italy and collected during the Grand Tour. Guido Reni’s magnificent Saint Sebastian (1625) purchased first by British Consul Joseph Smith and later by the Duke of Hamilton, is perhaps the most famous example’ she says, ‘but there are many other luxury objects that were gathered by well-heeled tourists and later collected by James Tannock Mackelvie in the 1870s and 1880s for the people of Auckland.’ These range from tiny cameos, ivories and micromosaics to a pietra dura (inlaid stone) table. Some examples of this collecting trend will be on view in the forthcoming exhibition, Manpower: Myths of Masculinity, due to open in October at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. ‘What we are missing is a sense of who collected these things, and why’ says Matthiesson. ‘Blanchet’s portrait of William Rouet puts a human face to ‘collecting mania’’, a passion that James Tannock Mackelvie certainly also shared a century later. And the affinities didn’t stop there. Matthiesson notes that both Glaswegians had a penchant for sculptures of Hercules and suspects that they probably struggled to stick to their budgets.
Building a collection
The Mackelvie Collection is constantly growing. In the spirit of its charter, it aspires to offer excellent examples of historical international art for the enrichment of New Zealand’s art publics. Painted by a leading French artist of the Stuart court in Rome, Blanchet’s portrait of William Rouet, painted during his travels to Italy in 1763, captures an age of internationalism before the era or trains and planes. It celebrates the rise of the middle classes, sociability and civic portraiture, but above all the personal pleasure of collecting and discovery. ‘Few paintings encapsulate the passions of the eighteenth century better than this neoclassical portrait’ notes Matthiesson. ‘This is a portrait that feels like it has always been here’. Although its true home might be the walls of the Scottish National Galleries Matthiesson says: ‘I’m sure we will always be willing to lend it to them, and in the meantime the people can enjoy Mr Rouet here in Auckland.’
A new partnership for Auckland
The Mackelvie Society has been recently formed to enrich the Mackelvie collection. In this first joint venture, the Society and the Auckland Art Gallery are seeking sponsors to help finance portions of the portrait with the goal of raising NZ $50,000. Mackelvie Trust Chair, Andrew Smith believes this is an opportunity not to be missed. ‘Each piece of this painting has such a depth of history embedded within it’ says Smith. ‘Art is such vital part of our culture. Through it we learn about ourselves’.
Help us secure this major acquisition
29 sections of the painting are available for sponsorship. Learn about each section by clicking on it and reading a short piece by an expert art historian. Interested in fashion? Read about Rouet’s blue velvet coat, his wig or his lace. Love a classical sculpture? Read about the Hercules, the Roman bust or the engraved rings.
Portrait of William Rouet by Louis-Gabriel Blanchet is currently on loan to the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and will feature in the forthcoming exhibition, Manpower: Myths of Masculinity curated by Dr Sophie Matthiesson and Emma Jameson. Join us in securing this major new acquisition for the Mackelvie Collection and New Zealand’s finest home of historical international art.
To sponsor a section of Louis-Gabriel Blanchet’s portrait of William Rouet (1714-1785), please visit www.mackelviesociety.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org / 0211496707
The Mackelvie Collection
An art collection bequeathed to the people of Auckland by James Tannock Mackelvie in 1885. The collection has grown considerably since this time, including the purchase of bronzes by Alexander Archipenko, Jacob Epstein, Henry Moore and more recently, Elisabeth Frink. At the centenary of the Mackelvie Collection, a Picasso etching from the Vollard Suite was added to the collection. The collection is a valuable part of Auckland’s heritage and is shared between Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland War Memorial Museum and Auckland Libraries Heritage Collection.
The Mackelvie Society
A philanthropic supporter’s group established in 2019 to generate backing for the Mackelvie Art collection. The Mackelvie Society and its members enrich the collection by:
- Supporting the preservation and enhancement of the collection
- Keep the Mackelvie Collection alive and growing through acquisition
- Raise awareness of the collection and fulfil the wishes of James Mackelvie for the collection to be a “teaching collection”.
The Mackelvie Trust
The trust established to maintain the Mackelvie collection through conservation and acquisition. The trust oversees the Mackelvie Society.
About the Artist: Louis-Gabriel Blanchet
Born in Versailles, Blanchet was an accomplished draftsman and history-painter who established a thriving portrait practice in Rome. He became a leading painter of European royalty and aristocracy. Blanchet established a portrait type that became popular with aristocrats on the “Grand Tour” of Europe – a customary rite of passage for young British elite of the day.
About the painting: William Rouet
William Rouet was a well-connected Scottish scholar who was engaged by his friend, the Earl of Hopetoun, to accompany his two sons in a role of ‘tutor’ on their Grand Tour of Italy in 1762. This painting is assumed to have been commissioned by the Earl’s sons as a gift to their father.
William Rouet enjoyed a reputation in elite Roman circles as a connoisseur of rare antiquities. In this portrait, Rouet appears as a fashionable gentleman surrounded by several fine objects that attest to his refined and fashionable taste.